Shopping for a Gym? How to Pick One You’ll Actually Want to Go to



‘Tis the season for new goals, new fitness programs and new gym memberships. Luckily the fitness market here in Philly continues to expand in a big way with studios and gyms that fit everyone’s needs. So how are you going about assessing which is the best fit for you? Here are six ways to shop for a gym that will get you looking at the right factors to ensure your studio or gym can truly help you get what you want. Otherwise, it could be another year of wasted money.

1. Structured Group and Personal Training

As far as gyms go, it’s no longer enough to just have a warehouse filled with equipment that you get access to. Thanks to structured fitness programs and studios with more specific focuses, most people now realize that having someone provide the program, instruction and motivation is much more effective. You want to find a place that offers this service with great group- and personal-training options. The amount of work you will get done and calories you will burn in a group class or with a trainer doesn’t hold a candle to what you would do on your own.

Even though you may pay more for diversity and programming, it will pay off in the long run when you are actually going and seeing results. Big box gyms offer super low prices because they expect you to not show up. Fitness studio environments and trainers keep you accountable by compelling you to reserve a spot or make an appointment, keeping fitness a priority.

2. Triple-Threat Trainers: Knowledge, Communication and Charisma

So now that you’ve found a place that offers group and personal training, make sure the trainers actually know their stuff. You should be able to read about them on the facility’s website. Do they have educational backgrounds in fitness? Look for national certifications and degrees. The second thing to look for in a great fitness coach is their communication skills and followings. You can’t necessarily be taught charisma, but it is so important to really enjoying your training, be entertained and look forward to coming back for more. So does the trainer seem energized and engaged in the class or with a client she’s training, or is she bored and looking at her phone?

A trainer’s ability to cue the movement, correct poor form and explain what’s going on in your body should be on point. You should never be out of the loop with what you’re supposed to be doing at any given point. A good trainer keeps you moving and right at your personal challenge point to get results. Top trainers also practice what they preach, look the part and have enthusiasm about their own personal fitness. What they do and how fit they are will either inspire or demotivate you.

3. Uplifted Space

Each studio or gym space will have a certain feel, and that feeling should jibe with your style and values. But it also has to feel uplifted.

By “uplifted,” I mean that all the design and environmental aspects should add up to make you feel good, like you really want to be there. First and foremost, the space needs to be clean, i.e. you wouldn’t hesitate to do push-ups on the ground or take a shower. Sweat is a breeding ground for bacteria, and the equipment at a gym gets sweat on the most, so take a good look at the gym’s wipe-down policies—and whether or not members and staffers seem to adhere to them. Yelp reviews often contain good info on the cleanliness factor and if anyone has contracted a foot fungus or ring warm.

Be sure to take a tour of a gym or studio before you commit. While not everyone acknowledges how much of an impact an environment has on our moods, motivation, workouts and wellness, it’s huge, so take heed of your feelings and intuition. The space should be organized and have a flow that makes sense, as this is a sign that the owners care about their members’ experience. What kind of music is played and at what volume? Is the lighting and color scheme pleasing or harsh? Is it too cold or too warm? What’s the vibe of the staff and clients? All this will greatly effect your consistency and performance, so pay attention.

4. Diverse “New School” Equipment

Machines are so 2000’s. It’s all about functional exercise these days. You want a gym that embraces change and how fitness is evolving. Find gyms and studios that have and make use of “new school” functional equipment, like suspension trainers, ropes, kettlebells, free weights and bands. You don’t want to see a room filled with only “old school” stationary equipment.

Of course, you should recognize that there’s a big difference between fads and trends. Run far away from a gym that is always bringing in the newest high-tech fitness toy and selling you on how the equipment will get you fit. Equipment does not get you fit—programs and trainers do. There should never be a shake weight sight!

5. On-site Nutrition Help

You can put this under the category of “nice to have” but not “need to have.” If the gym you’re eyeing has on-site nutrition help, consider it a bonus—and one you should take advantage of. Having an on-site nutritionist and easy ways to access him, both in one-on-one and group programs, is the number one key to weight-loss and muscle-gain transformations. Any educated trainer or person will tell you that you only really see the results of your improved fitness when you adjust your diet according to your goals. All clients on our transformations wall at Unite Fitness had to make adjustments to their diets, and that is why years ago Unite added various nutrition programs to our studio. Nobody accomplishes much without help, and a good nutritionist can accelerate the transformation process.

6. Friendly, Fair Customer Service

A gym or studio membership is an extra amenity that you are paying for to support your healthy lifestyle. It is a gift of fitness and self-esteem. You want to feel clear, empowered and relaxed when you are at your gym or studio or dealing with them via phone or email. The staff should above all else be friendly and positive to a fault. They should empathize with any predicaments that arise. When you go, you want to see smiling faces or hear smiles through the phone. Does the staff know member’s names? A gym or studio should be one of your go-to happy places.


Juliet Burgh is the nutrition director and partner at Unite Fitness, a Philadelphia based fitness studio franchise offering its trademark group training, The UNITE Workout, as well as personal coaching and nutrition programs. Studios are located in Philadelphia and Mt. Laurel, NJ with new studios in the works and regional franchise territories available.