What Do I Want In A Gym?

It is that time of year when a lot of runners are starting to think about moving inside for at least some of our workouts. Yeah running on a treadmill and lifting weights, while it is just not the same as running outside, it is something that many of us do as the temps start to drop or the weather gets nasty.

Sure I could go out back of the garage and use the exercise equipment I have setup back there or just keep running outside, instead of spending money on a gym membership.

However, since I am getting wimpy as I get older and I want to enjoy my workouts more than suffering through being cold and miserable or risking injury in sloppy/slippery conditions – I have decided to do more inside running and workouts this year.

Which means more time on the treadmill and at the gym. Since I have decided that I am going to train this way, it also means that I want to be a member of gym that I want to go to and feel comfortable at.

Every gym has their own unique personality, some I fit in well at, others I don’t and some – well let’s just say I am not cool and leave it at that.

What do I look for in a gym?

  • location – is it convenient to where I am
  • cost – this is important on a fixed budget
  • equipment – especially cardio
    • are there enough? I hate waiting for equipment
    • how old is it? are there always signs on the machines – down for repair
    • is it sign-up, reservations or do you have to hope you get one, especially during peak times
    • what are the time limits on cardio equipment use – 30 minutes when busy?
  • cleanliness – cannot be over-stated, the damn place needs to be clean and there are no excuses for one that is not.
  • sauna – does it have one and does it work properly, is it co-ed or not?
  • staff – do they give a shit about you the person and your goals, or are you just another number or sale – who passes through the door, who makes them do something other than play with their smart phone or interrupt them when they are working hard at flirting with co-workers/other members.
  • locker – can I rent a locker, so I don’t have to carry as much crap in my gym bag
  • security – can anyone off the street, just come in? Do things come up missing, lots of members complaining about stealing, does everything have to be locked all the time, even when you are in the showers?
  • intangibles
    • is actually working out frowned upon and sweating/breathing hard or pushing yourself looked at with disdain by staff or other members
    • are people friendly, especially other members
    • if you want to be left alone – is your privacy respected

All of those things and more play into whether I choose to join a gym or not and no price is not always the over-riding or most important factor in my choice.

I have been a member of one of those gyms that offer the $10.00 a month memberships for a while now and although I have been very satisfied with the equipment i.e. treadmill and weight machines. In other words, I was able to do what I needed to do pretty much when I needed to, however there was just something missing.

Very seldom did I do more than go in, do my workout, and then leave. No it didn’t have a sauna, I couldn’t rent a locker, hardly any socializing with other members and I think I spoke to a staff member a total 5 times beyond a courtesy hello/goodbye in the entire time I was there.

Honestly, I didn’t look forward to going to the gym, I went there to do a workout and then get to hell out.

There was no personal connection or feeling of “this is my gym”

I cancelled my membership there yesterday.


Mostly, I did not feel any connection anyone there or that I was valued much beyond the $10.00 per month membership fee.

Also, while I was in rehab for my Achilles, part of my physical therapy included a courtesy gym membership at Champions in Waterville. I was a member there for several years before I retired and when I would go there for PT or a workout it was like “old home week”.

I enjoyed the easy banter with the staff and other members, the staff’s willingness to help me put together a program to compliment my rehab, being actually interested in how I was doing and knowing my name (something that didn’t happen in all the months I was at the other place – not a single staff member called me by my name in over a year).

The more I went back to Champions, the more I just felt like I belonged there.

Once my PT was over my complimentary membership expired 30 days later and I had gone back to working out at the other gym. Last week, I got a call from the membership director and we talked for a while and when I told her that I wasn’t going to come back, there was real disappointment in her voice. Not because she was loosing a sale, but because “I wasn’t coming back”.

We talked for a little while longer and while I told her I couldn’t re-join due to financial considerations – the cost was double the monthly membership cost I was paying and it is over 3.0 more miles to drive, which in the winter time can be a big deal, there were just too many obstacles that I couldn’t seem to overcome, but especially the cost…

To be honest, I missed the atmosphere and the je ne sais quoi that I had enjoyed at Champions during my rehab. On Saturday night, we were out for my wife’s birthday and somehow we started talking about the gym. TheWife told me if I wanted to that I could quit my present gym and go back to Champions. She knew that I wasn’t happy where I was and that I had always liked Champions. It is nice to have a GREAT wife.

On Monday, I went back to my other gym, just to see if, I felt any different about things – to give them one more chance. When I walked in, the staff member at the counter barely acknowledged me, while eating her oatmeal, took my number and went back to eating and gave me that “what do you want look”, when I stood there for a second, then I just walked off.

The whole time I was there I talked to one other person for a total of 5 words, did my treadmill workout, foam rolled and walked out. As I went out the door, one of the 4 staff at the desk said “see ya later”

When I got home, I called the membership director at Champions and told her I was coming back and you know something, there was real joy in her voice and would be in that afternoon. When I arrived at the front desk, I was greeted by warmly by the front counter person, who is new and didn’t know me from Adam and while I was waiting for the membership director to come back from lunch, 3 other staff asked if they could help me and took the time to talk and gab with me, instead of just walking off.

When I met with her to go over the paperwork, you could tell that she was actually glad I was re-joining “my gym”. After doing the paperwork and all that, I changed to go workout again (yeah I did an upper body weights workout), talked to some guys in the locker room, did my workout, sat in the sauna and as I walked out the door, there were a bunch of the staff that I knew standing around the counter and one of them said “welcome back Harold” and I went over and gabbed and yacked for about 10 minutes, before I finally got out of there.

I knew that I had made the correct decision for me – I want more from a gym than just a cheap membership rate or fancy equipment. I want to make a connection with other human beings and be more than a damned number in a computer.

No I didn’t receive a special deal or rate at Champions to write this post and I know that not everything is always great there all the time, especially if I am there during a busy period and have to wait to finish my workout or worse have to wait for a treadmill, but I feel that I am valued for more than the money that I pay for my membership.

I am back at “my gym” and you know something, it just feels right to me. Now I just have to remember to bring home that damn towel, that is in my locker at least once every couple of weeks ;-).

6 thoughts on “What Do I Want In A Gym?

  1. I know exactly what you mean about Champions. I have had two memberships there, once when I was rehabbing after an injury, and then during the winter of 2012 when there were just too many days in February when there was snow on the pavement. I really liked being there, and I’ll go back there if I am going to a gym.

    I have discovered that although the weather may be colder, I just put on more and more layers, and don’t actually feel colder when I run. Last winter I was out a couple of times when it was 7 degrees F — the thing that keeps me indoors is whether there is good footing or not. The main roads melt down to the pavement fairly quickly if they have been plowed, and if I have to sidestep every minute or so and run on a slushy shoulder, I still feel more in control than runnning on a treadmill that moves (when I go to the gym I use the ellipitical). My outdoor running gear (speaking to your earlier post) is mostly cheap (long underwear from K-Mart for $10. the pair is the layer I add when it’s below 20 degrees, and I have one “tech” jacket.

    It’s been great reading about your progress as you have come back from your injury, and I only wish my times were as good as the ones your are posting even now.


    1. Hi Robin, out in Sidney, the roads are just to unsafe if there is a lot of snow or crap on them to run safely, so I end up going into Waterville to do many of my longer runs, so it was just another plus on the plus side for Champions. The cold doesn’t really bother me and like you I just dress differently to stay warmer, but bad footing will keep me on a treadmill more often this winter, I am tired of strained muscles or slipping and falling – the older I get, means I don’t bounce nearly as well.

      Thank you for the huge compliment and I have feeling that you will catch me before you know it :-), but I won’t let you do it easily, you will need to work for it ;-). Stubborn old fart aren’t I hehehhee.

  2. Great points – those cheapie gyms are everywhere, but you need to be sure YOUR needs are met. If all you want is a quick in/out for a machine, maybe they are fine – don’t know, never went to one.

    For the first year or so after we moved from MA to NY I was in the local Corning YMCA, and it was a great place, nice people, still see people I know from there. But the cost (~$1k / year even with the corporate discount) was high – especially once my kids school schedule and my work schedule started to mess with my ability to go.

    For me it was just as well as now with my running habits I have no desire to be in a gym, but from talking to friends the two main gyms in the area (Y and HealthWorks) have got that level of quality and personal touch that makes a huge difference over the cheapies.

    1. Thanks Mike, I never was a big gym guy, but I find that as I get older I prefer to not beat myself up as much outside in the crappy weather. I plan to only go there 2-3 times a week, but I tend to run my longer runs in Waterville because there are no shoulders on the roads where I live and during the winter it can be an adventure to run close to home. This gives me a nice place to park and warm-up after I get done in the sauna, if I do run outside. The other place was fine to go do your workout, then leave, but I want more than that from my gym and am paying a little extra for what I want.

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