It’s worth putting some time and effort into choosing the best gym for you. After all, you’ll be spending 3 hours a week (ideally) in your new gym, so you want it to have the best possible combination of features and benefits. First decide what your main priorities are. If you want low cost, you’ll probably have to compromise on crowd-free luxury equipment.
And if price is no object, you can have the best of all worlds in some of London’s top-price gyms, unless your priority is to train at a hard-core bodybuilding gym like Muscleworks in Bethnel Green whose emphasis on heavy free-weights and bodybuilding machines cannot be rivalled by even the most expensive gyms in London.
Make sure the gym is within 30 mins travel from home or work, depending on when you plan to train. What about parking facilities and are they free? How close is the gym to public transport, and is your train/bus/tube as frequent at weekends if you plan to train then?
2. Not too busy
Some gyms are a victim of their own success, and become packed at peak times. It’s not ideal if you’re unable to use the machine/free weights you want because there’s a queue of people waiting to exercise ahead of you. Visit the gym on the days/times you plan to use it, to make sure it’s not too busy. I use Fitness First Liverpool Street London EC1, which is a great gym, but gets absolutely packed between 12 noon and 2pm, and again between 5pm- 6pm, so I avoid these times.
Generally the more expensive the gym, the less crowded it will be.
3. Variety and quality of equipment
Make sure the gym has a wide range of equipment, including cardiovascular machines (treadmills, rowing machines, cross-trainers), a wide range of free weights in a large training space with large mirrors to see what you’re doing, and a range of resistance machines.
Consider what you want to spend most of your gym time doing. If it’s free weights, it’s crucial you see how many dumbbells/barbells there are. Check the benches too – are there incline benches as well as flat? Are there enough dumbbells of the weights you need? Is all the equipment up-to-date and not worn out? These things are essential if you are to get your money’s worth. I was a member once at Soho Athletic Gym in Camden, and they were great at repairing broken equipment quickly. Other gyms are not so good, and the same broken equipment can sit there for weeks on end.
Virgin Active gyms in London have invested a lot of money into new equipment. And Fitness First is refurbishing its Liverpool Street EC1 gym during Dec 2013 and investing in a whole range of new equipment. This branch of Fitness First, being so near the investment banks UBS and RBS, is very popular among city bankers who want one to one personal training.
Make sure there are plenty of professional and well-motivated gym instructors and personal trainers available to answer your questions. If you don’t get a good feeling about the staff who show you round, don’t join. You’re going to need staff advice and help when you become a member, so make sure you choose a gym with good people.
Some of the most enthusiastic staff and personal trainers I’ve ever come across are at Fitness First Liverpool Street, London EC1.
If you’re looking for group classes, check what’s available, at what extra cost if any, and at what times. You might want to try aerobics, boxercise, spinning, circuit training. Make sure these are available, if you want group classes.
The Third Space, Sherwood Street, Soho, London W1 has a great range of classes ranging from boxing, cycling, dance, combat, and swimming. So if you’re after a wide range of classes, this gym is a great option.
6. Changing Rooms
Ask to see the changing areas, and check out the showers and toilets to make sure they’re spacious and clean. Nothing worse than having to get showered and changed in a cramped, dirty environment. Make sure too that shower gel and shampoo are available in the showers. Are free towels available each time you visit? All these little things add up when you’re visiting regularly. And what about lockers? Do you need your own padlock? Most gyms these days have a swipe card system, but some still require you to buy your own padlock for your locker.
The more you pay, the better the changing rooms. Gyms like Equinox in Kensington High Street, London W8 has fabulous changing rooms, and the membership fee reflects this. The Broadgate Club (London EC2), Virgin Active’s flagship club, has fantastic changing rooms too.
Some of the hardcore bodybuilding gyms in London have more rough and ready changing rooms, but luxury is not necessarily the top priority for those who want a hardcore gym with heavy weights for serious muscle gain.
7. Membership Fees
Check whether you’re tied into a minimum term contract, and make sure you’re happy with the terms. Are there any special offers coming up soon? If you can train during the day, see if there’s an off-peak membership. There are a lot of budget-gym chains popping up all over London, which offer very low monthly membership rates, such as easyGym and The Gym, but they tend to get very busy at peak times.
You want your gym experience to be as pleasurable as possible. Decide what’s most important to you, and don’t settle for second best.
Dominic Londesborough is a freelance personal trainer in London.