If you want to find a gym where you can workout regularly, then you already know that exercise is critical for maintaining a strong, healthy body and reduce the risk of developing certain diseases. Joining gyms is one of the most effective ways to help you achieve your fitness goals, whether you're just embarking on a new exercise program or you're an athlete training for competition. Finding a gym that offers you what you need in an environment you feel comfortable in however, can be a little a tricky.

Location, Location, Location
Above all, you want to select a gym that's conveniently located near your home or your office. If it's not easy to get to, you'll be less likely to go on a regular basis. Consult your local yellow pages and make a list of gyms in your area that are less than a 20-minute drive from where you'll be leaving for your workout. Don't default to the closest one however, while a convenient location is critical it's hardly the only thing you'll want to consider before signing up.

Peak Hours
Plan to visit each gym on your list at least twice: once during the week and once the weekend. Try to schedule your visit for the time of day you're most likely to go and see how it relates to the gym's peak hours. For some gyms that might be lunch time; for others, the early evening hours bring in the crowds who've just gotten off work. If that's not possible, ask staff members when peak hours are, especially if you'd rather workout with fewer people around.

If you do visit potential gyms during peak hours, scan the workout area to get a sense of how much equipment is in use at a given time and whether there seems to be a long wait to gain access to treadmills, elliptical trainers and other equipment you'd like to use. Some gyms limit the amount of time any one member can spend on piece of equipment during peak hours (usually 30 minutes) and the members who are waiting schedule their turn on a signup sheet. You want to be sure the average wait when you visit is one you're comfortable with.

Spend some time talking with staff members or if you're comfortable doing so, with members who are working out while you're there. Members who appear unhappy and staff that's more interested in discussing the latest celebrity scandal than providing you with information are signs to move on.

Equipment and Facilities
At a minimum, you'll want your gym to offer cardiovascular machines (treadmills, elliptical trainers, stationary bikes, etc.) as well as strength-training equipment and free weights. When you tour the gym, you want to examine the equipment for wear and tear, disrepair and machines that are out of order. Pass on gyms where the equipment appears to be old, dirty or not well maintained.

Be sure you take time to visit the locker rooms or changing rooms and check them for cleanliness, including mold or mildew in the showers. Even if you don't plan to use these facilities, you still want a gym that's committed to keeping all areas clean for its members.

Extras
Once you've determined that a gym provides the basics you're looking for, consider any extras you might want to take advantage of, like swimming pools or personal training. Some gyms also feature indoor tracks and offer aerobics, yoga and Pilates classes. Depending on the gym, these may or may not be included in your membership. Other extras to look out for include childcare, saunas and towel service.

If you're interested in personal training or taking classes at the gym, be sure you ask about the trainers' and instructors' qualifications. If the gym isn't able to provide you with this information, you should keep looking until you find a gym that can.

Try Before You Buy
Almost all gyms have trial membership offers for prospective members that give you free or low-cost access to the gym for a limited time. If you have friends or co-workers who belong to the gym you're considering, you may be able to try the gym on a guest pass, although it may require that you accompany them on their visit. Examine all the gym memberships carefully, and make sure you understand what's included in the price and what isn't, what the payment terms are and the gym's policy on early termination or cancellation.
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HOW TO FIND A GYM YOU WILL ACTUALLY GO TO
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