How to Find a Gym that Works for You

Going to the gym can be intimidating, but sometimes the process of finding a gym and knowing what to look for in a gym can stall you before you even lace up those trainers!

In this article, I’m going to talk about what to look for in a gym and how to choose a gym that works for you.

Recently I moved across the country and was faced with the task of finding a new gym to call home, so this topic is very close to my heart!

What I recommend (when literally making any decision in your life) is to create a criteria matrix. This is sort of like a grading rubric in school, but better.

You can get the google sheets version of this criteria matrix here

For this decision we are going to look at the following criteria:

  • Vibe – Is this a place I want to go every single day for the rest of my life? I might be being a little dramatic with that statement – but it’s important you actually want to show up to the place you’ll be paying to go to.
  • Equipment – Do they have everything I need to have a good workout?
  • Availability – Is the gym easy to get to and do their hours or classes fit into my schedule?
  • Support – Do they have what I need to support me in my goals?

For each gym, we are going to evaluate each item and assign a value of 0, 1, 3, or 5. Why these weird odd numbers? It creates more of a separation.

Doesn’t have – The gym completely fails in this category

Must-have – The gym has the bare minimum I’ve identified is needed

Nice to have – The gym has some extra items I’d like to use, but can live without

BONUS!! – The gym has something exceptionally amazing that is unexpected

Note: You can also weight each of the criteria if some is more important than the other. For example, if you’re just starting out at the gym, availability might be the most important criteria because you want something that is close and fits into your schedule. As we walk through this example I’ll call out how/where you can account for any criteria weighting.

Let’s Get Evaluating!

Vibe – Is this a place I want to go every single day for the rest of my life?

This one can be pretty hard to measure, it’s more of a feeling you get than anything quantifiable. When you walk in, do you feel inspired to have a great workout? Or does it make you feel overwhelmed?

Is it a place that will leave you excited for your next workout and comfortable enough to live out all your gym dreams?

The definition for each one of these may vary, feel free to adjust for yourself.

1 – Must-have items:

  • Meh, I could work out here, but it doesn’t feel like a special gym

3 – Nice to have items:

  • There are definitely other lifters I know I’ll be watching (for #fitspo not *just* that they’re hot)

5 – BONUS!! items:

  • Yeah, I could work out here in just a sports bra.

Equipment – Does this gym have everything I need to have a good workout?

Most of my training is either functional or uses a barbell with weights, so my minimum (must have) list is pretty light.

1 – Must-have items:

  • Bench press or a squat rack with bar holder
  • Squat rack
  • Free weights that go to at least 40 lbs.
  • Cable machine with adjustable arms
  • Kettlebells that go to at least 40 lbs.

3 – Nice to have items:

  • Sandbags
  • Lat pulldown machine
  • Seated row machine
  • Free running treadmill
  • Row machine
  • Air bike
  • Free weights

5 – BONUS!! items:

  • Shower
  • Tire to flip
  • Turf for sled pushes
  • Random functional stuff to throw around
  • Ski-erg machine

If you’re a new gym-goer this list might be full of question marks, so here is my recommendation.

If you’re new to the gym, look for one which has a healthy amount of machines, cardio equipment, and free weights. I’d always recommend free weights over machines, but if you are brand spanking new to the gym machines can be a great way to get started with movement without coaching. Honestly, also look at getting a trainer.

Availability – Will this gym fit into my schedule?

To be completely honest, I plan my entire life around the gym but definitely have preferences for times I like to work out and, because I take care of my grandfather who has dementia, I want someplace in town. I used to drive 20 mins to a gym, passing half a dozen on the way, and it wasn’t an issue. Now I need to be at home.

1 – Must-have items:

  • Minimum of 2 consecutive open-gym hours which fit into my schedule
  • Located within a 15-minute drive

3 – Nice to have items:

  • Multiple time slots that work with my schedule
  • Located within a 10-minute drive

5 – BONUS!! items:

  • Open 24/7
  • In my town

If you’re just starting out, yours may look closer to this need:

1 – Must-have items:

  • Open mornings
  • Open evenings
  • In town
  • On my way to/from work
  • Friends also go there

3 – Nice to have items:

  • Open 24/7

5 – BONUS!! items:

  • Within walking distance

Support – Think about how much support you’ll need

This is really going to vary based on individual needs. I’ve been working out for a while now, and have a trainer on my programming and nutrition but feel confident in the gym on my own. I actually prefer working out alone.

But, there might be a time when I’m lifting heavy and want a spotter or just don’t want to be completely alone in the gym all the time in case I hurt myself or something goes wrong. 

If you’re new to the gym, you may want to evaluate potential trainers in conjunction with picking out a gym. For example, does gym A have certified training staff, or, do they run their own training program and no one on staff has any formal fitness background?

1 – Must-have items:

  • Trainers who know their stuff
  • At least one person there on occasion in case I need a spot

If you know that you want personal training, your criteria might include:

3 – Nice to have items:

  • Complimentary training for new members
  • A variety of fitness classes that interest me

5 – BONUS!! items:

  • Fitness classes included in the membership
  • Complimentary training

Now, put this all into a criteria matrix and start scoring! I’ve made a template you can find here.