How to choose a gym that's right for your needs

If you want a personal trainer, check up their personalities and prices before you join a gym.
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If you want a personal trainer, check up their personalities and prices before you join a gym.

There are the big name gyms, the 24-hour ones, the low-tech bodybuilder caves and the community facilities with pools and other amenities.

When trying to chose a gym, there are lots of options in every New Zealand city and they all come at different price points. So what's right for you?

PRICE

Despite all the other important factors in choosing a gym, for many people it comes down to price. Gyms in New Zealand differ dramatically in their pricing structures. City Fitness starts its memberships at $6.99 per week while the "posh" gyms like Les Mills go well over $20 per week. One consideration to make when deciding if a gym is priced right is the frequency at which you'll go: if you can cost every workout at the equivalent of $3-5 per session, it's probably worth it.

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PROXIMITY

Proximity to your home or workplace (wherever you'll be right before workouts) is another important consideration. If you can't get to a gym within 20 minutes, you're not going to go as frequently as you want to. You'll also need to include parking availability (and cost, if applicable) into the proximity factor, as finding a car park may add on more minutes and dollars than you're prepared for. Think about the round-trip time you'll need to allow, including showering, to do one workout.

CLASS QUALITY AND FREQUENCY

Do you want to attend exercise classes, whether they're pump or Pilates? Go along to one (guest passes can always be negotiated for prospective members) and see how the quality stacks up to what you're used to. Free yoga at a gym, for example, won't likely be taught by the same kind of qualified instructors you find at dedicated yoga studios. Ensure you're happy with what you're getting. Also check weekly timetables to make sure the classes you're interested in are at convenient times for your schedule.

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MACHINE AGE AND VARIATION

How old are the machines at a gym you're hoping to join? While new doesn't necessarily mean best, rusty old gym machines can make an entire workout experience unpleasant. So choose accordingly. Also be aware of the variation of available machines – how many different kinds of legs machines does a gym have, for example? – and also count the number of high-use machines like squat racks and variable-incline benches.

GYM CULTURE

The culture of a facility is what will keep you going back to the gym; day in, day out. Gyms can have all kinds of cultures, for example laid back or pretentious, and busy round-the-clock or perennially quiet. Some gyms feel posy, some feel overwhelmingly senior, and some have no vibe or culture at all. Find what works best for you and makes you the most inspired.

PERSONAL TRAINERS/GYM INSTRUCTORS

If you want a personal trainer, check up their personal profiles and prices before you join a gym. You can only use the trainers on staff at a particular facility, and you need to find someone who understands your fitness objectives and will push you accordingly. Similarly, if you require help with form or an occasional "spotter", you'll want a gym with approachable instructors that frequently do the rounds of the gym floor.

EXTRA BENEFITS

In addition to access to gym facilities, what else does your prospective gym offer? Does it have a towel service, access to a pool, sauna, boxing ring, massage chairs, wi-fi, online class booking, free membership freezes, personal training sessions, guest passes, or access to other clubs? Find out the extra benefits and gauge whether you'll use them and how they'll contribute to your weekly fee.

T&Cs IN THE CONTRACT

Gym contracts in New Zealand have come under scrutiny in the last few years – a Consumer NZ review found "gym contracts can be peppered with terms that risk breaching the Fair Trading Act", particularly surrounding clauses about 30-day notice periods, services and pricing changes and cancellation fees. Before signing a contract, read the terms and conditions in full, and know they are negotiable and a membership consultant can cross out/add to some T&Cs (e.g. a shorter term) at your request. But only before you sign, so be prepared to walk if you're unsatisfied with what you're offered.

Lee Suckling has a master's degree specialising in personal-health reporting. Do you have a health topic you'd like Lee to investigate? Send us an email life.style@fairfaxmedia.co.nz with Dear Lee in the subject line. 

 - Stuff

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