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Harvard Commentaries
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Focus on Fitness Focus on Fitness

Selecting a Fitness Center

July 09, 2013

By Paulette Chandler M.D.

Brigham and Women's Hospital

Whether your workouts have become stale or you are trying to find the motivation to begin a fitness program, it might be time to get to the gym. A commitment to a fitness center might be just the incentive you need to ramp up your physical activity. Access to instructors and trainers, a wide variety of equipment and all kinds of group exercise classes can make working out much more fun than doing it alone at home. The community atmosphere of others like you working to get into better condition can be a great motivator. Yet, with so many fitness centers to choose from, which one is right for you?

Define Your Fitness Goals

Before joining a gym it is important to determine your needs and define some fitness goals. After all, you want to choose a gym tailored to your specific interests and needs. When defining your fitness goals, ask yourself a few key questions:

  • Are you most interested in aerobic fitness?
  • Do you want to focus on weight training?
  • Are you interested in a wide variety of exercise classes?
  • Do you need access to specific types of sports such as tennis or swimming?

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How To Locate a Good Gym

Once you've identified your fitness goals, you are ready to comparison shop for a fitness facility. The best way to find a gym is often word-of-mouth. Ask friends, co-workers or neighbors about fitness centers in your home or work area. I also suggest looking in your phone book or local paper, which often advertises membership specials and enrollment incentives. When researching a fitness center, consider some important questions:

    • Location: Is the location convenient?


    • Hours: Can you go when you have free time? Before work, after work, or during lunch? How busy is the facility during the times when you can work out?


    • Price: Is it within your budget? Does it have what you want for the price? Remember, a gym does not have to be costly to meet your needs.


    • Equipment: Does the facility have up-to-date equipment? Does the center have a pool or tennis court if tennis or swimming is your area of interest?


    • Classes: Does the facility have the variety of classes you are specifically interested in, and are they offered at convenient times?


    • Staff: Is the staff friendly and helpful? Does the personal-trainer staff offer orientations or consultations to help get you started in a fitness routine? If you have special needs, can the fitness staff accommodate you?


    • Credentials: Are the trainers exercise physiologists or certified by a credible fitness organization? The fitness industry is currently working to standardize the certification process. Gyms often require one of the following certifications: American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), American Council on Exercise (ACE) or the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).


  • Environment: Is the environment comfortable, intimidating or competitive? Do you want a facility that feels like a spa or would you prefer a city gym? Do you mind a co-ed environment?
  • Accessory services: Does the center offer massage, nutrition consultations, showers, on-site child care or other services that you would use? Does it provide entertainment while working out such as TVs or music?

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Strategies for Achieving Your Goals

Once you have chosen a fitness facility, get started right away. Then you need to stick to it. Here are a few strategies to help:

  • Create a schedule. After familiarizing yourself with the gym's equipment and classes, write down a weekly workout schedule.
  • Find a workout partner to help keep you motivated to go to the gym.
  • Try a variety of classes. Exposing yourself to new ways of working out is a great way to find an activity you don't dread. Who knows, you may even find something you truly enjoy.
  • Drown any reluctance to working out with positive thoughts of the great personal benefits of a good exercise program, such as enhanced self-esteem, stronger body or weight loss.
  • Work hard.

Don't forget your option to try before you buy! Many centers offer a temporary pass that permits you to check out the staff, classes and equipment. Whether you want a buff body or simply want to look and feel healthier, joining a gym is a great vehicle to help you achieve your fitness goals.

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Paulette Chandler, M.D., M.P.H., is a clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and an attending physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

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