Gyms of all kinds are mushrooming, but most of us don’t know how to tell them apart. To make matters worse, all gyms look very similar to untrained eyes. A few factors to keep in mind before you sign up:
• Are the staff passionate? Think of it this way: Would you hire this gym trainer as your personal trainer?
• Are they qualified? Ask where they have trained, for how long, and whether it was hands on, long distance or online (would you undergo surgery if your doctor had just trained online?)
• Do they practise what they preach? Looking “big” and “well-built” is fine, but is the trainer’s physique balanced? Some signs of imbalanced musculature: arms always flexed, a slumped-forward posture, bulky torso and matchstick legs—the upper body has been bulked up to impress, ignoring the lower half.
• Do the trainers regularly check on your progress?
• Do they correct your form and posture ever so often?
• Do they know how to work around an old injury or other medical issues? Many instructors will act as though they are authorities on injuries; they are not.
• Are they readily available throughout, or do you have to go ask for them, hunt them down?
• Do they try to push a package without regard for what you want or what suits you? Most memberships are six months to a year. Are they trying to push a lifetime deal or three-year bonus?
• Are they friendly and approachable? Because you will need some help or advice every now and then.
• This is the most important part of strength training and conditioning, whether for health or rehabilitation. Let the trainers convince you that training techniques will be applied with sound reasoning.
• Make sure the gym has the equipment you regularly use. Are dumb-bells, barbells and bench all you need? Or do you need a wide variety of machines at hand?
• Always enquire about the equipment and the company that makes it. This is not so much to learn about the equipment as to assess how much the trainers actually know about the tools they are using.
• Check plates and weights for rust. See whether all the machines are running smoothly.
• If the gym doesn’t keep records of your training, it’s a pretty useless exercise.
• Be very clear and honest to yourself about your objectives. If all you need are weights, but the neighbourhood gym has sauna, aerobics, swimming pool, martial arts, Pilates and a dance floor, why pay for what you won’t use? Get a deal that suits you more.
• A gym shouldn’t be so crowded that you have to wait forever to use various machines. The best way to assess this: Visit during the hours when you would actually go for a workout.
You might think this is a given with a big name brand, but you’d be surprised how even posh-looking gyms fail in the locker rooms and shower stalls.
No more than 15-30 minutes from either work or home, or you won’t get round to it. Also check it’s open for a couple of hours around the time you intend to visit (so you can make it even if you’re running late).
The author is a practitioner of musculoskeletal medicine and sports and exercise medicine. He is also CEO and medical director of Back 2 Fitness.
Also Read Treadmill’s earlier columns
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