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How To Choose The Right Gym Membership For You

workout
(Image credit: Unknown)

Budget

What is it? The type of place that packs them in and keeps it cheap. Don’t expect saunas, swimming pools, fluffy towels or (if you sign up to the swipe-card-entry, 24-hour kind) many staff – but better-known options do offer a comprehensive array of dumbbells and machines, and some are even starting to run classes.

Typical gym-goer? Get-it-done types who wear headphones, make zero eye contact and keep water fountain breaks to a minimum – alongside plenty of people for whom the gym isn’t a huge part of life.

Go if… You’re self-motivated enough to not care about your surroundings – or you get most of your training from running, cycling or training elsewhere, and need a cost-effective option near the office/home for convenience.

Don’t go if… You prefer your gym trips to be a spa break experience – or you’ll never remember a towel.

Mid-market

What is it? Your Fitness Firsts and Virgin Actives – pricy but nice, with an emphasis on smart staff, inventive classes and new kit. Unless you want Fortnum & Mason moisturiser in the changing rooms, this is as high-end as you need to go.

Typical gym-goer? It’s a heady mix of bench press-obsessed office workers and notebook-toting serious lifters in compression tops. Figure out who knows their stuff by looking at their shoes: flat soles are better for serious leg work.

Go if… You want more than just barbells and bro-time. These are the gyms for you if you fancy the occasional yoga or spin class, or a go on an air-bike or SkiErg.

Don’t go if… You’re planning to “force” yourself into lifting by spending the money. Build the gym habit on the cheap, then invest in yourself.

RECOMMENDED: The Best Gym Trainers

Independent

What is it? Anything that isn’t a chain. This can mean super-friendly – your local, labour-of-love gym where everyone knows your name – or ultra-hardcore, with chalk buckets, Incredible Hulk graffiti and Metallica on auto-play.

Typical gym-goer? The kind of gent who wouldn’t fit through the door of a Bikram yoga class: a singlet-swaddled, barn-shouldered chap who benches more than you squat. Don’t be scared – if you treat them right, these men can be your best assets.

Go if… You train better when you’re surrounded by like-minded lifters, and you grunt when you max out.

Don’t go if… You’re easily intimidated, or you’re more into comfort than results.

CrossFit

What is it? Known as “boxes”, CrossFit gyms are usually short on machines but heavy on functional kit including ropes, rowers and kettlebells. You’ll typically be limited to private coaching sessions or hour-long Workouts Of The Day, usually including elements of gymnastics, calisthenics and weightlifting.

Typical gym-goer? CrossFitters are a committed breed: they know all their PBs, carry precision-engineered skipping ropes and expensive lifting shoes, and talk incessantly about mobility drills. They also get a bit… competitive.

Go if… You need motivation. There’s essentially no choice but to get involved with the classes and you’ll always have a benchmark to aim at, with multiple metrics in need of improvement.

Don’t go if… You like to put your headphones on, find a quiet corner and get after it on your own – it’s not an option.

Joel Snape
Joel Snape

From 2008 to 2018, Joel worked for Men's Fitness, which predated, and then shared a website with, Coach. Though he spent years running the hills of Bath, he’s since ditched his trainers for a succession of Converse high-tops, since they’re better suited to his love of pulling vans, lifting cars, and hefting logs in a succession of strongman competitions.