An Insider’s Guide on How to Find a Gym

Whether you achieve your fitness goals or not is largely because of one overlooked factor: Where you choose to work on them. Our inside man's got 5 years working at a gym, and he's got some things you should know.

Each January 1st, we make the same resolution: This year, I’m gonna get jacked! But life interferes or new episodes of 90210 air (guys watch that show, right?) and you find yourself just as fat and/or out of shape the following July as you were in January.

Oh, well. There’s always next year.

If you’re putting off joining a gym because you’re self conscious, feel no shame in the way you look. Chances are everyone in the gym, from the skinniest chick to the most muscular bodybuilder, has some sort of body dysmorphia. No one is happy with the way they look. Everyone starts out like you: scrawny and embarrassed or chubby and embarrassed. You sense people are looking and judging. They aren’t. Gyms are chock full of narcissistic people who are too busy checking themselves out in the (numerous) mirrors to notice you.

Here are a few suggestions on finding the perfect gym …

Don’t Wait For January

Sales consultants know that January 1st means a big increase in sales. They expect you to join in January, which means there won’t be any discounts, perks, or special offers. You waited until everyone else waited to join. They’re not going to reward you.

The best time to join is in the summer when business comes to a standstill. People tend to exercise outdoors—hiking, swimming, and biking. Or they simply hook a TRX to a tree and workout in the park.

Even if you’re away in the summer, it doesn’t hurt to take advantage of a sweet deal like a lower monthly rate and/or no initiation/processing fees. You might even be able to join and freeze your account so you don’t have to start paying dues until it gets cold outside.

Figure Out Your Goals

Generally speaking, there is a specialized gym just for you. If your desire is to be in amazing shape, try Crossfit. If you want to bike the Tour de France, find a spinning studio nearby. And if you desire to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jay Cutler, you can embrace the iron and find a true bodybuilder gym.

But there’s the possibility that you don’t know what you want. This is where Big Box gyms come in handy—if they’re good. And that’s a pretty big if. Most big box gyms tend to offer everything to appeal to everyone; yet they do nothing well.

If you want to try a little of everything and think a Big Box gym might be your best bet, first read reviews online. Ask some members if they’re happy and (if you need one) ask the guy at the front desk who the best personal trainer is. You don’t want to be referred to the guy who has failed his certification five times in a row when you could train with @A_Athletics.

Here Comes the Money!

So how much is this whole getting in shape thing gonna cost? It depends on what you need. Do you need a sauna, swimming pool, tennis court, rock climbing wall, tanning booth, and a masseuse on the premises? If you do, expect to pay a lot more. If you don’t … don’t join that gym.

I can’t tell you how many times someone moved from a small town to Washington, D.C. and gawked at the seventy dollar a month rate. “I’ll just go somewhere cheaper,” they’d say. Know this: All gyms are busy during peak hours, but if you find a gym in a city that is absurdly cheap, it probably comes with a catch—like, no space to move. I’d wager that, especially during peak hours, you’d feel more like a sardine than Mr. Olympia.

(TIP: Gyms are typically a madhouse from six to eight in the morning and evening Monday-Wednesday. Things tend to slow down Thursday and Friday nights. A sales consultant might downplay how busy the gym gets during your ideal workout time to land a sale. Visit the gym during the time you’re likely to workout to learn more about the user volume.)

A Few Questions to Ask

  • How much does it cost to break my contract?
  • What is the guest fee? (You’ll want to know this for two reasons: One, if you have a guest. But sometimes, if you ask ahead of time, the sales consultant will just slip you a guest pass. Two, is it high enough to discourage creeps, weirdos and would-be thieves?)*
  • How heavy do your dumbbells go? (If you’re planning on lifting heavy or gettin’ absolutely jacked, it’s a good question to ask. A lot of sissy gyms don’t offer dumbbells that go over 75 lbs. Even if you can’t lift heavy now, there’s a chance you will be able to in the future.)
  • I travel for work—can I use your locations in other states?

*Thieves: The idea behind high guest fees is to discourage thieves. Unfortunately, thieves see the high cost of admission as a good investment, especially in ritzy neighborhoods. Don’t be fooled—just because your gym is in a nice neighborhood doesn’t mean it’s safe to leave your Omega watch in an unlocked locker. It will be stolen.

Location, Location, Location

I know what you’re thinking because I’ve seen the thought process unfold dozens of times: I’ll just join the gym closest to my office. That way, I can workout before work (assuming you wake up when your alarm goes off) or after (assuming you’re not stuck in some lame ass meeting, pushing to make a deadline, or absolutely exhausted).

In my experience, these folks realize the value of an extra hour of sleep instead of an early morning muscle-busting workout. And when the clock strikes five, the last thing they want to do is go to the gym in their business district where they won’t be able to workout because annoying coworkers will be there.

It’s better to join a gym closer to your home. That way, if you wake up early, there’s always a gym nearby without the hassle of schlepping your suit with you. And If you prefer to come home after work, unwind for a little and workout before dinner, you have that option, too.

And let’s not forget holidays and weekends. If your gym is located in a business district, chances are they’ll be closed or have limited hours. Plus, you don’t wanna make your work commute on a day off just to go to the gym.

Finally, does the gym provide parking? If you’re #30 on the list for boot camp, that means 29 others—in addition to the regular crowd—will be looking for a spot. If parking is reasonably priced, it pays to pay for parking. Time spent looking for a spot will result in losing yours in boot camp.

Of course, there’s no reason to concern yourself with parking if your gym is down the street from your house.

Getting Out of the Sales Office

Sales consultants can be pushy. The best ones are the ones who let you get up and leave without feeling pressured to join. They’re confident enough in their abilities or their club to know that if you really want to join, you’ll be back.

But unfortunately, there are some sales consultant losers who are convinced that you want to join … you just don’t know it yet. If the “let me think about it” line doesn’t grant you freedom, just remember this: You can’t join the gym if you haven’t got your credit card on you…

Talking to the Pretty Ladies

Word of a creepy guy spreads around the gym with breakneck speed. Trust me, I spent five years working the front desk at a gym. If you ask out every girl you see, you will be labeled as the creep.

I can’t tell you how many times I assured female members that the guy who kept looking at them while they were working out wasn’t a sociopath. So keep your eyes to yourself. I know it can be hard, but just … try not to gawk.

A Few Quick Gym Rules

These aren’t the Corporate rules that are posted all over the gym walls. You can go ahead and break most of them. These are the unwritten gym rules that every meathead needs to know …

Always put your weights away. If you can leg press 900 pounds, you can put the weights away.

Don’t walk in front of someone while they’re working out. If there’s no other way around, stand off to the side and wait for them to finish and then excuse yourself and squeeze by.

If someone asks you for a spot, say yes.

Always let someone work in with you. If you work in with someone else, take note of the weight they selected before you joined them and make sure you return the pin to their poundage when you’re done with your set(s).


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Put a towel down behind your head on the bench. I know gyms can be pretty rugged places, and for the most part, rusty barbells and cracks in the foundation can be cool. If your gym has blood on the walls—that’s awesome and I want to workout there. But a greasy splotch on the bench? Gross.

Respect certain policies a.k.a. don’t be a dick to other members. If everyone else calls to reserve a spot for Emily’s spin class and you forgot, guess what you’re not doing tonight? Don’t sneak in or throw someone’s towel (the standard for “This is my bike. I have a reservation and a pass. I’ll be back.”) on the floor, or insist that you signed up, but the idiot at the front desk forgot to put your name down.

And that pile of free guest passes at the front desk. Just take one. Don’t take thirty and think you can just continue to bring in your girlfriend for free. That’s what dicks do. And you’re not a dick, because you read Primer. And Primer doesn’t condone that sort of dick behavior.

Final Thoughts

The gym can be a pretty amazing place. The combination of great members, great staff and equipment that works is a match made in heaven. Some gyms aren’t so lucky. The members are dicks, the staff members are morons and everything is always broken.

If you can nab a gym like the former, stay there. You’ll be motivated through the friendships you create to continue to workout and get jacked.


Kenneth Suna

Kenneth Suna is a writer and self-employed stock trader who lives in Washington, D.C. His novel, Roman, was recently published. He is the founder of, an online magazine which features human interest stories and social commentary. Follow him @KennethSuna