One of the first places many people scurried for after lockdowns was the gym. In fact, gyms, restaurants, bars and hair salons were the places to be, sometimes in that exact same order.
The pandemic meant training at home. Online classes took off and will most likely be here for the long haul. Fitness equipment companies rubbed their hands in glee as sales for dumbbells and exercise bikes went through the roof.
However, nothing quite beats the gym.
For starters, gyms have all the equipment. At least, they should.
Plus, for many, there’s the social benefits of doing something productive in a lively environment with familiar faces. For others it’s simply therapeutic to get out of the house and into the fortress of solitude and sweat.
Either way, we really missed our gyms.
Which begs the question – how much to spend on gym membership?
After being cooped up like battery hens for an eternity, many will fork out anything to get access to the leg-press machine and kettlebells.
But the days of handing over big bucks to glitzy fitness franchises may be coming to an end. Customers are demanding value for their hard-earned money and now have the luxury of being able to choose from a plethora of gym options.
Yes, it is your money, but here’s what you should be looking for in a gym. And what you can probably do without. We’re looking at basic equipment here, not classes.
Any gym worth its salt should have a decent mix of resistance machines and free weights.
The machines should cover the major muscles -chest, back, quads (thighs), hamstrings and shoulders.
At the very least, these should include:
Machines are ideal for those just starting out, recovering from an injury, or coming back to exercise after a long spell. Much easier on the joints and they allow you to perform each exercise with a full range of motion.
Mosey over to the free weight area and you should expect to find a dumbbell selection from 5 kilos up to at least 25 kilos. Heavier than 25 kilos is a bonus and lighter than 5 kilos is unnecessary. Carrying bags of shopping can cover that.
Once you’ve mastered machines, free weights are pretty much the way to go. They bring more muscles into play as you have to balance and control the weight throughout each movement.
Basically, free weights make you stronger.
Ideally, the free weight section will include a bench press and power rack.
The power rack can be used for a wide range of exercises such as squats, rows, deadlifts and overhead presses.
An absolute must have.
An added bonus is if the gym has these:
- Smith Machine
- Treadmill / Exercise bikes
- more than one exercise bench
- more than one power rack
Treadmills aren’t absolutely essential, as you can still walk or run outside. However they’re a great option if weather restricts you or if you want to combine some cardio with resistance training in the one workout.
Exercise bikes are again great if the weather limits you or…you don’t have a bike. Obviously.
If a gym ticks these boxes, then it’s worth your money.
You can do without
Here are some extras that plenty of gyms package into their lofty prices. The good news is that you don’t really need them.
- Biceps / Triceps machines. Thanks, but no thanks. There are plenty of other ways to work these muscles.
- Abdominal machines. Completely unnecessary. Try crunches or a plank. Next.
- Pool. Classic money sucker. Go to a pool instead – bet it’s cheaper.
- Spa / Sauna. Completely up to you if you want to pamper yourself. Lovely yet very unnecessary.
- Showers. But I need my shower! No you don’t. There’s one at home, isn’t there? You’d be surprised at how these ramp up the membership fees. Embrace your smell and wait till you get home.
From here, it’s just a matter of choice. Atmosphere, location and opening times. Staff and clientele might be other factors.
As for how much you should be paying depends entirely on where you live and how high you prioritize your fitness.
Cities are more expensive, inner cities even more so.
Shop and ask around. There will be something that meets your budget, even it means skipping a restaurant or shopping spree a few times a month.
Just remember – a shiny 10 kilo dumbbell at Gold’s Gym in Tokyo gives you the exact same benefits as the slightly worn 10 kilo dumbbell at Wozza’s Workouts in suburban Bunyip Plains.
Hamish Austin is a freelance writer and qualified group fitness and personal trainer.