Health & Fitness: Should I Join the Gym?

Well now, we've all made our New Year's Resolutions—and just how's that working out for you so far? Making some progress organizing your office? How many chapters are you in on that novel you've been meaning to write? How about those fitness initiatives? Join a gym yet? The more important question is have you been back since signing that contract?

Don't be embarrassed, you're not alone.

All across the country, you'll see many health clubs running "Midnight Madness New Year's Specials" on their memberships.  "Join for a dollar!" "First month free!"

They know what they're doing, and it's actually really smart business. Millions of people make the resolution to get fit for the upcoming year, so for this small amount of money we all think, "Why not?" Of the hundreds of members who take advantage of these bargain basement rates, only dozens ever set foot in the club after joining, and only handfuls make it past February.

Why is that? I find that if you answer a few simple questions for yourself, you'll either find yourself a happy "gym bunny" or a couple hundred richer for not wasting your hard earned cash.

The most important question you can ask yourself? How's the location.

It matters far more than you think. If you think you're going to drive 30 minutes each way to exercise, just go through the logistics: you have maybe an hour to yourself each day? Maybe a bit more? So how does that make any sense? Doesn't matter how cheap it is, or how beautiful, or how many yoga, pilates or sculpting classes they have. If you never get there, you're wasting your money. We have many gyms in our area, so try to go with one that you might at least have a chance of making it to.

Does the club have services I need? Day care is a big one for a lot of us. Not only having the space, but it being a place we'd be comfortable leaving our little ones counts for a lot. If you can hear or even worse see your cute little joy's face contorting in anger and frustration as you're trying to squeeze out that last sit-up, I'd be willing to bet you're not going to make it for long. And for those without these cares, make sure you check out the day care as well. Not so fun on "date night" when the baby at the table next to you is wailing? Try it every morning at 8 a.m., just when you thought those years were well behind you.

Also, do they have towel service?  How about a juice bar?  If these are options you really care about, and they don't have them, ask yourself if you can live with bringing your own.  f not, search a little further.

Next, what inspires you?  Is it the classes?  The cardio equipment?  How about the machines?  Check out whatever matters the most to you, and make sure it's more than enough for what you need.  You might think to yourself, "Well, it's good enough."  Another thing that might make you lose interest is outgrowing your health club. If you're really into free weights and the club's dumbbell selection stops at 20 lbs., you might want to reconsider.

Most importantly, does it feel good to you? How's the vibe? Do the owners/managers of the club seem to care if you join beyond the gaining of your money? How clean is it? Are there things about the club that bother you?  Are too many TV's in view, distracting you from your work?  Do sweaty behemoths leave puddles in their wake, forcing you to clean up after them?  Is there anyone you'd like to even say "Good morning!" to when you arrive?

If you feel out of place or uncomfortable, don't assume you'll get used to it, or change the culture. If you don't like the wall-to-wall mirrors and hate looking at yourself or you hate the music, don't expect the owners to remove a section for you or constantly play "radio disc jockey."

There are so many club options for you to choose from, why should you even try?  If a pair of shoes hurt like hell in the store, don't make the mistake I have, believing the "they'll break in" line.  Pick out a pair that won't have you limping around convincing yourself you look good while hobbling like Quasimodo.

So, what if you cannot find a match no matter how many clubs you try?  There's a deal breaker at every gym you try? Well, aren't you impossible! No, not at all. For many, what they discover is that the public gym scene is not their gig at all. There's nothing wrong with that. Again, there are many more options.

Private instruction studios for weight training, yoga and pilates are abundant in the area, as are running support groups and boot camps.  Or maybe just getting fit by yourself in the basement is the answer. No shame in that, in fact quite the opposite. That takes dedication!

So, how can you see past all the gimmicks and equip your home with what you need to get fit?  Well, that's another column for another day.