Does this sound familiar?
You read an article, watch a video, or maybe just look in the mirror, and suddenly you’re committed: it’s time to get in shape — you’re joining a gym. So, you head out to the local Gold’s Gym or Planet Fitness, slap down your credit card, and start mapping out your daily 1-2 hour trek toward your college freshman physique. But, then… fill in the blank.
If you’re currently paying for a gym membership you’re not using regularly, you’re not alone. Estimates place the annual cost of Americans’ unused gym memberships at $1.8 billion. That’s because just over half the population pays for a gym membership, but about 17.5 percent of them either don’t go to the gym at all, or go as little as once a month. About 43.8 percent go less than twice a week, which is probably the minimum usage that can count as effective (unless you’re regularly exercising elsewhere.)
So, whether you’re currently paying for one, or you’d like to make the commitment without letting life get in the way, here are some tips for getting the most out of your gym membership.
Choose your gym wisely
If you don’t like going to the gym you’re paying for, or if it’s difficult to get there for some reason, it stands to reason that you’re not going to go as often as you should. If you’re not already locked into a membership, take the time to choose a gym based on factors other than just what costs the least or what pops up first on Google. Here are a few important factors to consider:
- Location - is it close to your home or work, or at least convenient to somewhere you need to be a few times a week? Also, is it in a neighborhood you’ll feel comfortable visiting at the times you’re likely to want to workout?
- Hours - is it open at times that work with your schedule?
- Amenities / equipment - does the gym have the kinds of equipment, classes, or resources you’re most likely to use, or are interested in learning about?
- Clientele - does it seem to be geared toward the hardcore grunting gym rat, the social walker who’s going to chat on the treadmill, or somewhere in between? And, where in that range are you going to be most comfortable?
- Staff - is there adequate staff to provide help, training, and other services? Or, does that not matter to you?
Set a realistic schedule and goals
The number one reason people end up paying for a gym membership they’re not using is because they set up an initial schedule or goal that was simply too ambitious. Then, when they inevitably fell short, they got discouraged and gave up. This is human nature, and it’s not something most of us are capable of battling with willpower alone.
If you’re starting from zero — as in, you haven’t broken a sweat voluntarily in years — then it’s not reasonable to expect to instantly start getting up every day at 4:30 to pump iron across town. Your pillow and snooze button are way too comfortable and inertia is a powerful force.
Instead, set a goal to stop by the gym on the way home from work once in the first week. Plan to stay for 30 minutes. Or less. Just get there and do a little something. The following week, shoot for twice. Down the road, extend your visit… you get the picture.
Take the time to learn
A fully-equipped fitness center can be overwhelming to the uninitiated. There are dozens of machines, racks of weights, piles of rubber mats, and other tools you may have never seen or used before. Then, there’s the people, all of whom seem to know ten times what you do. And, they all seem to be staring at you. (That’s just your imagination, of course. They’re actually all staring at themselves in the two thousand mirrors that line the walls. But, it’s still intimidating.)
Of course, it doesn’t need to be overwhelming or intimidating at all. Assuming you picked an appropriate gym for your current level, the staff should be more than happy to give you a guided tour of the facility, teach you how to use the equipment, and answer any other questions you have. Many gyms also staff personal trainers who can offer dedicated assistance to both learn how to use the equipment safely and effectively, and to help you put together a training program that’s ideal for you and your goals. Take advantage of those provisions.
Recruit a workout partner
Battling inertia on your own is always going to be harder than battling both inertia and embarrassment. That’s why joining forces with a friend or spouse and heading to the gym together is such a huge motivator. You keep each other accountable to your scheduled workouts, making it much harder to decide you’re too tired, too busy, or too not-wanting-to-go-to-the-gym to go to the gym.
Take a class or two
Another common service offered by many gyms is fitness classes, where a trainer works with a group of members at a scheduled time each week. Classes can be activity-based, like Zumba, hot yoga, or Tai Chi. Or, they can be more freeform, where the “class” time is more of an opportunity to workout as you see fit with access to the scheduled instructor during that period.
In both cases, taking advantage of these classes can help you get more out of your membership in several ways:
- You’re committing to be at the gym at a certain time (there’s that accountability again.)
- You’re getting guidance doing something healthy (so, you’re adding to what you can do on your later.)
- You’re with like-minded people who are probably in a very similar situation as you (and fitting in always feels good.)
It sounds silly, but it’s the most important tip in this list: if you don’t enjoy going to the gym, your membership is going to end up being wasted, no matter how much you use it. Being fit is a lifelong commitment. Even if you force yourself to go to the gym three times a week for the entire year you agreed to, any benefits you experienced are bound to fade away when you inevitably decide to give it up the next year.
So, no matter how you go about using your gym membership — even if you decide not to buy one — make sure you’re having fun. Getting fit is a positive thing. Enjoy it.