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Help Me: How Do You Choose a Gym? [Plus: Top 10 Funniest Gym Signs!]

Posted Jun 11 2013 1:52am


Choosing a new gym here in Colorado has been one of my top priorities since we moved here. I know that may sound silly to some of you but for me the gym is basically my second home. (Okay third home, church is my second home although since we’re technically not in our home-home yet maybe it gets bumped up the list?) It’s where I workout, yes, but it’s also where I make friends, where my kids learn to operate in our community, where I learn new things and try new things, where I do research and where I have fun. Honestly, while my morning (lung-popping) runs and hotel-bathroom yoga and red rock hikes and park playouts and FitnessGlo workouts have been good in the interim the truth is that I’m a very social person and I don’t like working out on my own.


So I made a list of what I need in a gym:

1. Clean, safe facility within 15 minutes of my house. (No coyotes allowed!)

2. Great childcare. My kids are too young to be left alone and so if I don’t have childcare I basically don’t get to workout.

3. A decent selection of group fitness classes. Zumba, Turbokick, BodyStep, Yogalates and whatever other compound-named class you can think of – I’m not that picky! I love them all! I just need a bit of variety to sate my ADD.

4. A good weight floor. This didn’t used to be important to me but if doing The Great Fitness Experiment has taught me anything it’s that woman cannot live on cardio alone. They don’t need to be fancy but I need some dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, a squat rack, and a couple of weight benches at the very least. I’d prefer a TRX, some VIPRs, a Bosu, a cable tower and a pull-up bar but I can improvise those if needed.

5. A sense of community. Those gyms where everyone plugs in their earbuds and pretends they’re the only person there definitely have their place but that’s just not what I personally want. I need to know the regulars’ names. I love it when people say hi to me or miss me if I miss a day. I love it when my kids are excited to go and see all their friends.


All of those needs turn into a pretty long list of requirements and frankly that’s a pretty tall order for any establishment much less a building designed as a sweat receptacle. I’ve been in a lot (a lot a lot) of gyms in my lifetime and each comes with its own personality, its advantages and disadvantages. At the beginning of my gym rat career I worked out in some pretty crappy strip-mall type places thinking I needed “just the basics.” Oh honey, this diva needs more than one mismatched set of dumbbells and a squeaky treadmill to be happy. But on the other end of the spectrum, I’ve had a difficult time feeling like I fit in in high-end gyms (not to mention I can’t afford high end gyms). And yet, I was pretty confident I could find the perfect niche for me here. Why? First because Colorado is known for being fitness-tastic! But mostly because I had all this in Minnesota, so I know it exists!


Unfortunately these high expectations led to probably my most epic meltdown thus far.

Because of my great experience with my YMCA in Minnesota, that was the first place I checked out here. This is how it started:

Front Desk Person/Tour Guide: So here’s the class schedule for our only studio….

Me: But the only classes listed between 7 a.m. and noon are yoga and Pilates! (Side note: You know I love both yoga and Pilates but they’re essentially the same workout. Sure Pilates strengthens more than stretches and yoga has the whole mindfulness component but from a physical standpoint, they do about the same thing for you. I enjoy them. But twice a week, tops.)

FDP/TG: Oh that’s just what our morning mommy crowd likes. We’ve tried other classes but those are the only ones they want.

Me, trying to be optimistic: Oh, there’s a mommy crowd?

FDP/TG: Mommy clique, really. Good luck breaking into that group. Those are some stone cold b******. (Some sales pitch, huh? But I had to appreciate her honesty.) But we do offer free towels!

Now, it all fairness to the Mommy Clique of Doom, they might not be all that bad. It could just be the opinion of one disgruntled worker but the fact that they’d managed to bar every single class except stretch-n-tone was enough to make me wary.


But this is what ended my Y tour:

FDP/TG: So this is our child center. You can use it for up to two hours per day for a maximum of three times per week. Oh and you have to call a week in advance to reserve a spot.

Me: But what if I want to workout more than three times a week? Or if I don’t get a spot?

FDP/TG: Do what the rest of the moms here do and bring your nanny. (Did I mention this Y is in a very ritzy neighborhood?) She can sit and drink coffee in the lobby.



I sat in my car in the parking lot and frantically texted all the Gym Buddies, sobbing. “The Y here is awful!!! What am I going to do?!” (Also, when I asked the tour guide about the weight floor she said – and I swear I’m not making this up – “I’m not sure we have one?” They did but it was one tiny 10-ft closet shoved in a corner with one weight bench, some mismatched dumbbells and a bar with nothing to load on it. So I can see why she was fuzzy on the details.) The silence from the Gym Buddies was deafening. I’m sure they weren’t ignoring me (it might have even been my stupid jerk phone which I swear sends text messages via paper airplane) but it made me realize how alone I really am. Dorothy, we’re not in Minnesota anymore. I was going to have to figure this one out on my own.


Next up was the community rec center which was super nice and reasonably priced and offered all the childcare I could need plus an indoor pool that made my kids swoon. The downside was a lack of group fitness classes during the day (and coming back in the evening is rough for me as that is when my kids have all their stuff), a pitiful weight floor with the lame rule that you can’t use any of the “special” equipment (i.e. the kettlebells, the TRX, the plyo boxes and all the other stuff I like) without being with a personal trainer and a sum total of 6 treadmills. Not that I love the dreadmill but I do use one for sprints and if there are only six that doesn’t bode well for sharing purposes. Basically it seemed like my kids would love it but it wouldn’t be ideal for me.

After that I checked out a series of boutique gyms (too expensive, too single-focused and too pushy with the personal trainers), some strip mall gyms (one even had group fit classes but alas no childcare) and one super fancy deluxe gym that nearly made me faint when I saw the fee list.


Which leaves me here: Three weeks into my new adventure and still totally gym-less. So what do I do? Do I go with a so-so gym and hope it gets better? Do I reevaluate my “need” for a gym and learn to love home workouts? (Heaven knows I’ve got plenty of equipment to set one up and it would save us a ton of money.) Do I find me a CrossFit box knowing that at least they’ll let me touch a kettlebell?


I asked some of my new acquaintances where they work out and the nearly universal answer is that they run, bike or hike outside. And Colorado is so beautiful (seriously, it is ridiculously gorgeous here!) that I know I will enjoy all of those aplenty. It’s just that if I want to lift weights or go without my kids, I’m kind of stuck. Now, I’m not trying to be whiny or ungrateful. I really love it here – the people are super friendly and helpful, the scenery is breathtaking, our house is in a fab neighborhood with great schools, our church is awesome here and I love the abundance of fresh produce. I know we’re going to make a great life here. But I just need to work out this one little kink!

Advice, please! How important is your gym to you? How do you pick a gym? What are the most important things for you in deciding where to workout? Any other options that I’ve missed? Have you ever had a bad gym tour? Share and make me feel better:))



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