You ate your weight in holiday goodies, but that was OK because you vowed to start exercising in the new year. But it’s been so cold. So you say you’ll start running outside in just a few weeks, when the weather gets better. Didn’t you say that last year, before all that barbecue and beer got in your way?
Meanwhile, your weight keeps on doing a Jackie Wilson impression … going higher and higher.
If you’re ready to stop kidding yourself and get moving, the gym membership cries out for you, and never quite as loudly as it calls in Western New York right now. Well over a dozen fitness chains clamor for your attention, along with dozens of local health studios and hundreds of personal trainers.
But how are you going to find the best fit for you?
“People need to find a place where they feel comfortable and are going to participate,” says Karen Hughes, Catholic Health director of outpatient rehab and sports outreach. “That definition for each person is a little bit different.”
Some may want to work on cardio equipment only, and want it available anytime, even overnight. Some like group activities and classes. For others, “if they don’t have an appointment with a personal trainer, they’re never going to go,” Hughes says.
It’s important to weigh several factors as you prepare to start looking for a fitness plan that suits your needs:
1. Atmosphere: “When you walk into a place, you want to feel like you belong,” says Mary Anne Cappellino, wellness director of the Buffalo Athletic Club (BAC). Someone new to the gym experience may want to avoid a club where the staff and most patrons look like power-lifting hulks; for others, that’s the perfect spot.
2. Location: A fitness site should be near home or along the way to other important destinations. This is one of the most important considerations because convenience saves time, Cappellino says, “and you don’t have time to not exercise.”
3. Try it out: Ask a club to use its facilities free for a short time. LA Fitness – a new force on the regional gym scene – allows visitors to its website to download a free two-week membership for themselves and a friend. Other gyms offer attractive discounts for two or three months at their facilities, and fitness studios and boutiques often sell a package of several classes at a discount rate.
4. Sharpen your pencil: Cost is one key to fitness, and the bottom line can be elusive. Is there an upfront enrollment fee? Extra fees for classes or child care? Is there a minimum term? Is a fitness trainer eager to sign you up for a one- or two-year commitment 10 minutes after you first walk in? Sometimes that means a lower cost – but not if you stop using a gym. And do the math. If your club has 10,000 members and 15 trainers, you’re not likely to get lots of face time.
5. Insurance: Check your health insurance plan; many cover at least part of gym membership costs.
6. Programs: “Classes are huge,” says Cappellino, who estimates 90 percent of those who join the BAC do so because of the classes offered. Make sure those you want to take are offered at times that fit into your schedule, and if the cost of those classes is included in the cost of your membership.
7. Friends and benefits: Go with a buddy. Hughes says you will push each other to keep your exercise commitments.
8. Equipment and cleanliness: LA Fitness in Clarence and Buffalo, and the new Independent Health Family Branch YMCA in Amherst, have the upper hand here because they’ve opened most recently. Some of the budget gyms and studios have modest showers, or none at all. Know if you can live with that. Look closely at the equipment as you take a tour. Ask how often equipment gets changed out.
9. Child care: For some, this doesn’t matter, but for parents, a gym without child care can be a deal breaker.
10. Hours: Some budget-conscious gyms – including World Gym and Anytime Fitness – stay open for 24 hours. When looking at a gym schedule, remember to ask about weekend and holiday hours, especially if those times will work well for your workouts.
Hughes reminds people bent on improving their health through fitness to check with their doctor before starting any exercise program. And if you can’t afford to join a gym right now, she urges, just do something.