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Know thyself: Find a gym that fits you

If you joined a gym back in January, chances are good that you're no longer going. (According to, 67 percent of those who sign up for health club memberships don't use them.)

That cute little Lululemon ensemble you bought for inspiration? It's living a life unfulfilled in your bottom drawer.

The class reunion you planned to go to in August? Well, maybe you'll make it in 2026.

What happened?

You chose poorly, my friend. You joined a gym that wasn't a match for your needs and wants, and that one failure was enough to blow up your No. 1 New Year's resolution, your best "beach body by spring break" intentions and your last-ditch "svelte by summer, I swear" steadfastness.

Now it's September and time to do a little soul-searching. Or, better yet, some soulmate searching.

"You can work out anywhere," says Jeremy Stair, a personal trainer and owner of Rage Fitness, formerly EpocFit, in Tampa. "What keeps you going to a particular gym is finding people who will keep you accountable, along with equipment and classes you like."

That means knowing what kind of workout personality you have and finding a place that suits it. So we asked Stair; Ed Bogacki, owner of Gold's Gym in Tampa; and Ashley Ryneska, spokeswoman for YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg, to give us some tips for finding a gym that fits, along with a few basics to look for when gym shopping.

Find your fitness personality

Knowing what might make you fail can help you succeed, our experts say.

If you're self-conscious …

Maybe you're overweight or out of shape, or maybe you're just shy. Every gym is intimidating at first, so don't make your decision based on who you think might be staring at you, Bogacki says. Everyone there is after the same thing: a better body and improved health. So focus on finding a gym that offers the equipment and classes that will get you where you want to be.

Besides taking a tour, you can do a little reconnaissance by checking out Facebook photos and watching YouTube videos to get a feel for the gym and how the classes work, Stair advises. And if you're still feeling anxious, consider hiring a personal trainer who will come to your home and work with you until you're ready to transition to the gym.

If you want a challenge …

Happy with your progress so far but want to take it up a notch? Some kind of cross training (weights plus cardio equals fat burning) is the best way to go, says Stair, who thinks people who follow the high-intensity CrossFit regimen are "the most fit people in the world." Just make sure you have a good coach who pushes you but also protects you, he says.

If you're motivated by competition, a gym that occasionally offers contests will provide an added incentive, Bogacki says. Many people get revved up by friendly rivalry, whether they're playing for cash, prizes or pride.

And look for a gym that is always evolving, with staff who can help you find new ideas and methods for training. "Left to our own devices, we often stick with the familiar and comfortable rather than seek new workouts or exercise variations," Ryneska says. "Often all someone needs is a fresh new approach to reach the next level of fitness."

If you're easily bored, stay away from repetitive programs or gyms that offer tons of equipment but no training. "If we aren't getting our desired results, we're more inclined to become discouraged and quit. To remedy this, find a program that speaks to you and stick with it," Ryneska says.

If you're all about having fun …

All three of our experts recommend joining a class — Aquacize, spinning, Pilates, Zumba — if you want to get social at the gym. If you're looking for a class with a more intimate feel where you might make some friends, try a smaller gym or avoid the busy morning and evening hours at larger clubs.

Classes also can add some structure to your workout, Stair says, so you aren't just wandering around wondering what to do next.

Finding a gym or club that has all the amenities you want — a pool, basketball court, day care, etc. — goes a long way toward building an enjoyable experience as well, Ryneska says.

If you'd rather go it alone …

If you're not a joiner, you'll probably be happiest with a gym that has good equipment and lots of it, Bogacki says.

Stair agrees. At a big gym, you can put in your earbuds, avoid eye contact and get your workout in without socializing, he says. "But you still need to push."

If you want to avoid the crowd ...

Join now — not in January, when the newbies are swarming.

A 24-hour gym also could be a good choice, but, Bogacki warns, make sure you know whether it's staffed around-the-clock or if you'll be left on your own when you show up late at night.

If you only want to play with girls/boys ...

There are gender-specific gyms out there, Bogacki says, if that's your thing. But if you're a woman who only wants to work out with other women, you'll also find there are plenty of classes that fit the bill at coed gyms. Even yoga and spin classes, which some men find appealing, will be 50-50 at best, he says.

"Men think about building muscle," Stair says. "They stay away from classes that aren't masculine enough." Zumba and other dance classes are definitely a safe bet, he says. And daddies seldom crash Mommy and Me groups. So go ahead and get out for some girl time.

Contact Kim Franke-Folstad at



to look for

when choosing

a gym

1 Location, location, location. You're much more likely to actually go to the gym if it's close to your home or work — or conveniently located someplace in between, says Ed Bogacki, owner of Gold's Gym in Tampa.

2 Is the gym itself in good shape? Make sure the showers and locker rooms are clean. And when you go for a tour, watch for machines that are out of order or have torn upholstery. Bogacki says those are definite red flags.

3 Look beyond the tour. Ask lots of questions. Consumers need to shop for two distinct values, says Ashley Ryneska of the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg: "a supportive environment that ensures achievement, and a culture that creates a true sense of community and belonging." Of course the guy giving the sales pitch is smiling — but are the customers and staff just as engaged and happy?

4 Focus on today and tomorrow. Make sure the gym's staff, equipment and classes will continue to challenge you once you've built up muscle and stamina. "Can the staff readily customize a workout that accommodates your personality style and availability?" Ryneska asks. "Or can they only demonstrate the equipment?"

5 Reputation. Read online reviews. Ask friends you trust. Do a little research before you buy in. Get a feel for how stable the gym's staff and ownership are, Bogacki cautions. If turnover is high or the chain is in trouble, move on.

6 Access. "Everyone needs a coach," says personal trainer Jeremy Stair, who owns Rage Fitness in Tampa. Whether you like the in-your-face Jillian Michaels type or someone who's more goofy or touchy-feely, find a gym with staff who will push you to progress. Ask if someone will be working the room or otherwise available to offer help. If you want more attention, a personal trainer can cost anywhere from $25 to $70 per session, but there are ways to bring the price down. You can ask for a shorter session (a half-hour instead of an hour), purchase a package with multiple sessions or train with a small group (just $110 for eight weeks at the Y, versus $45 to $52 for individual sessions).

7 Cost. If a gym doesn't fit within your budget, you're doomed to back out as soon as the "special introductory offer" goes away. So shop around. Negotiate. Prices vary from gym to gym (the average is about $55 per month, according to, and most gyms offer several membership options. Ask about discounts for members of the military, students and seniors. Family memberships tend to be less expensive. You also can ask about a "specialty" or "restricted use" plan and avoid paying for what you know you won't use. A long-term contract usually costs less than going month to month, but you'll likely have to make a nonrefundable deposit — something to keep in mind if you're shaky about your commitment.

Know thyself: Find a gym that fits you 09/15/16 [Last modified: Thursday, September 15, 2016 6:47pm]
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