How to Find the Best Gym Environment
At the start of a new year, gyms and other fitness facilities typically see an influx of new and returning exercisers. If you count yourself among those who are excited about their New Year’s resolutions and are eager to get started or re-started, you may be weighing your options for joining a gym.
Man and woman talking and running on treadmills at gym(Getty Images)
One often-overlooked consideration when choosing a gym is how welcomed and inspired you feel when you step through the doors.
After all, if exercise feels like a chore or the facility itself does not align with your personality, needs and objectives, you’ve just introduced a new barrier to long-term participation.
Finding The Right Gym
Before exploring things to look for in a facility, it’s important to understand why the right environment is so crucial. One of the best indicators of long-term adherence to an exercise program is social support, which can come in the form of a workout partner, a walking group or a group fitness class, for example.
Social support can also be present within the facility itself if you see friendly faces when you walk through the door, feel safe and valued in the space and feel like the environment sets you up for success.
For many people, finding a welcoming, inspiring and empowering fitness facility is challenging for any number of reasons, whether those are related to age, race, cultural background, gender, sexual orientation, faith, socioeconomic status, education level, size, or physical or intellectual ability.
What to Look For in a Gym
Before signing up for a membership at a fitness facility, consider what should be present in a welcoming gym environment. Not all of these will pertain to you, but taking the time to identify which are most important will help you find the right gym for you. Here are some elements that you might look for:
- A clean and well-maintained facility. Ask questions about the facility’s cleaning and disinfecting protocols, as you want to be sure it reaches your personal comfort level when it comes to sharing equipment like machines, free weights and yoga mats. Also, keep an eye out for too many “out of order” signs, which may indicate a problem with machine maintenance.
- Advertisements and signage that feature people who look like you. If the gym’s signage is not reflective of who you are, this may be an indication that you’re not in their target market and may struggle to feel at home there.
- Bathrooms and locker room areas that feel like safe spaces. Gender-neutral amenities may be an important consideration.
- Classes or options that meet your specific needs and schedule. For example, older adults, college students and young parents all have different needs and routines. Also, does the facility offer classes for all levels of fitness and experience?
- Ease of access to the facility. This includes whether the gym has enough parking spaces available and a well-lit parking lot. Anything that makes it harder for you to consistently get to the gym is something to consider, even if it’s only a matter of driving a few extra minutes on your way to or from work. Also, feeling safe as you enter and exit is vital.
- Ease of movement within the space. Be mindful of whether rooms feel too tight or if you feel like it’s difficult to move between machines or comfortably navigate the space. This may be particularly important if you have a disability or are living in a larger body.
- Staff that reflect the community and create a friendly and inviting atmosphere. For many gym-goers, it’s important that the facility and its staff feel like an organic part of the surrounding community. If appropriate, are staff members bilingual or multilingual?
- People interacting and enjoying physical activity in a way similar to the way you do. Think about whether the space is too quiet or too loud for your liking and whether it feels like a place where you’d like to spend time for a few hours each week.
Other Important Gym Considerations
Beyond these checklist items, pay attention to the types of services offered and the way you are spoken to when asking questions or visiting the facility. For example, are they pushing weight loss in all of their communication?
If you are more interested in holistic wellness or improving your day-to-day function, that facility’s approach may not align with your goals. Other examples might include gyms that focus on high-intensity exercise or training for athletes. Pay attention to whether you seem like part of a facility’s target market.
The best facilities create a sense of community, so pay attention to how you feel when you interact with employees or watch members exercise. Does it inspire you to join in and get moving? If so, that facility may be the right match for you.