Picking your health club
In order to get fit, be sure your gym is a good fit. Here's what to look out for, depending on your lifestyle.
Working out (Rick Tuma/Chicago Tribune illustration)
Congratulations! You've decided to start working out. Now you need to decide where to go. There is a health club out there for you. The trick is picking one that serves your needs, because when it comes to health and fitness, one size definitely doesn't fit all. We asked three fitness industry experts what to look for when picking a place to work out.
For active parents and their kids (toddlers through teens)
Expert: Dr. Henry Williford, department head of physical education/exercise science at Auburn University at Montgomery and co-author, American College of Sports Medicine's "Selecting and Effectively Using a Health and Fitness Facility."
Child supervision: It's the main issue here. For older kids (ages 13 on up) who are allowed to use weights and cardio equipment, is there someone watching to see if they're using proper technique? Is there an intro to exercise program for kids? Generally when people get injured it's because of poor mechanics.
Day care facilities: If youngsters can't use the gym, is there a supervised area for them to hang out? If so, are activities offered so they can do more than just sit in a room? Are day care providers background checked? Do they have CPR and first-aid skills? Some facilities give a pager to parents in case of emergency.
Facilities: Are there separate shower/changing facilities just for older kids and family locker rooms for younger ones and their parents to use together?
Classes for kids: Does the health club offer a variety of exercise programs and classes for kids? And are some specifically aimed at the obese/overweight child? Does your family membership cover classes for kids?
Geared for kids: Is equipment appropriately sized for kids? Are there kid-friendly workout machines, such as Wii Fit, so they don't get bored? Is there a gym area just for kids? Overall, is this facility a place where you feel comfortable with your child, or leaving your child to exercise/take classes?
Child care: Are there extra fees for child care? Do they charge by the child or the hour?
Hours: For working parents, do club and child care hours work for you and your child? Are there things for both of you to do after work/on weekends at this club? Are there summer programs and after-school activities?
The average exerciser: Single or married, no kids, ages 18-50
Expert: Dr. Michele Olson, professor of physical education/exercise science at Auburn University at Montgomery and co-author, American College of Sports Medicine's "Selecting and Effectively Using a Health and Fitness Facility."
Accreditation: You are the health club industry's biggest market. Find out if the facility is accredited by IHRSA (International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association) and/or if they follow ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) standards. If yes, the facility is interested in the health and wellness of its members and not just interested in staying in business.
Is the staff qualified? Trainers should have an undergraduate or graduate degree in exercise science or physical education and a certification from a reputable body, such as ACE (American Council on Exercise), ACSM, NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association), Cooper Institute or NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine). The health club manager should have a degree in business and/or health promotion, so the gym won't go out of business in three months.
Trainers and specialists? Are there other specialists on staff to serve your needs, such as a physical therapist, massage therapist, athletic trainer and/or registered dietitian? Are you looking for a swim coach or Pilates instructor? Does the club offer programs and have trainers that match your goals?
Hours: Will these hours fit your work schedule?
Locker rooms: If it's a family-friendly facility, are there locker rooms, cardio areas and weight rooms that are adults-only? If kids share facilities, are they required to be supervised, or are they running around and apt to drive you crazy?
Location and safety: If the club is 45 minutes out of the way, you're much less likely to exercise. If you can drop by on your way to/from work, there are fewer excuses not to go. Is parking convenient and safe at night?