If joining a new gym is on your new year’s resolution horizon NOW is the time to do your research, yes research. With the investigative prowess of NCIS, Elementary, Monk, or Dragnet, don’t leave any stone uncovered to make sure the gym fits you, NOT the other way around.

This is Part 1 of a two part series that focuses on helping you make sure your gym choice makes sense for you. Part 1 identifies some key features to consider if you are planning to join a new gym. Part 2 identifies coping strategies to use if your gym is not optimal, but the best available option.

Location – be absolutely certain the location is suitable to your geography and exercise habit, meaning it ought to be convenient to either your home or work, otherwise getting there takes on the dynamic of a special trip…that needs to be planned…that becomes one more thing that can act as a barrier since it means extra effort to execute.

Accessible parking – nothing less than complete accessibility is acceptable. Like the nuisance of a rock in your shoe that’s tolerable for a few steps but not more, any parking annoyance WILL become a problem. Don’t talk yourself out of or minimize any parking issue you detect.

Hours – you know you better than anyone else knows you. Obvious. But many people join new gyms thinking they will be able to adjust to the gym’s schedule. If the hours would mean a change to your routine be very honest about your readiness to adapt a new time routine. Any hesitancy doesn’t make you a bad person, rather one who knows thyself.

Classes – just as above, you know your exercise-self best. If you enjoy group fitness classes make sure the line-up, availability, and frequency is a match. True, a new slate means the chance to notch FitBUBBLES, but if the classes prioritize forms of dance aerobics and you prefer forms of boot camp you will come to resent what’s offered due to missing what you really enjoy.

Cardio equipment – is it what you do? Does the variety suite your interests? Is there enough variety for you to cross-train? Does it seem maintained, e.g., free of rust and/or undue dust/dirt? Is it all working? Is there on-sight repair staff? Does it face the TVs for convenient distraction (or have TVs on the consoles)?

Weight equipment – is it what you do? Is there a full spectrum of free weights (dumbbells, barbells)? How many are there of the most commonly used dumbbell weights – 12lb, 15lb, and 50 lb? Are there enough weight benches? Are the weight benches in decent shape, e.g., free of tape that covers tears in the vinyl covering? Are the weight machines working?

Overall set-up and maintenance – is the set-up orderly or does it seem haphazardly organized? Is the environment clean or neglected? The former of both indicate solid, consistent management that understands how a gym is set-up determines the users’ experience. There IS rhyme and reason to equipment placement, which any reputable manager understands. Related, gym cleanliness is determined by how the process is managed, thus is a direct reflection of the manager’s competency. Neglected cleanliness is a sure sign of managerial neglect to other aspects of the gym operation.

Ambiance – are there convenient distractions in the environment, e.g., TV/ piped in music? Is the front desk staff friendly, attentive? Is there a trainer-identifier area that displays their focus/philosophy/credentials?

If the environment passes your muster, the next step is to give it a test drive.

Request a free pass—at least 3 days—then go the consecutive days to experience the realities. Obviously, nothing compares to living amidst what you would be getting yourself into, re: crowds, equipment availability, locker room environment, parking, commute from home or work, group class quality, etc. If your request is denied, well sadly for them your credit card doesn’t leave your wallet.

Hopefully after your test drive you RUN to the sales manager and lock yourself into a long-term membership deal and the rest, they say, will be history, or as we say just one ‘Footprint notch after another…

Part 2 will offer strategies to deal with a gym that’s less-than-optimal. Like the seamstress who deconstructs a garment into a tailor-made fit, there CAN be resolution to a challenging gym arrangement.