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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

Locate the Best Workout Space for You

Six years ago, Sherry Salmons, of Oak Ridge, Illinois, was perplexed by her “glowing, smiling, energetic” neighbor who worked full-time while raising three young children, yet never seemed drained. Finally, she asked: “What’s your secret?” The answer was a life-changing visit by Salmons to a nearby holistic fitness studio.

Lucking into good recommendations can whittle down the mass of choices available at 32,000 U.S. health clubs and studios, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association. With the dual trends of niche studios and low-cost fitness centers fueling a diverse burst in workout options, club-seekers should apply their sleuthing skills before deciding on something that can prove so pivotal to their health.

Clue #1: Location and hours.

If a facility isn’t near home or work, people won’t go, says Jim White, an American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) health fitness specialist, in Virginia Beach, Virginia. “Our time is so valuable that going to the gym can’t be a hassle.” Check online and list nearby facilities and hours, scratching off any that aren’t open at convenient times.

Clue #2: Know what you need.

Some people have absolute necessities for fitness success. “For instance, avid swimmers need a pool,” says Grace DeSimone, an ACSM personal trainer in New York City. “That’s going to reduce their choices considerably.” Other non-negotiable provisions might be a yoga studio, indoor track or child care.

Clue #3: Gym rat or newbie?

A fitness facility that costs pennies a day might seem like an obvious choice, but not if our fitness level and knowledge are near zero. “A lot of people don’t know what to do in a gym,” observes White, who owns personal training studios in Virginia. “We’re especially for those who want their hands held or want to see results fast.” Niche studios focused on modalities from kick boxing to dance therapy can offer added guidance. DeSimone notes that other reputable facilities will likewise have accredited trainers, often at a low cost. Larger facilities also may offer more options for a newbie to try out before settling on what they like, she says.

Clue #4: Take a test drive.

Make use of trial periods and guest passes. “Get a feel for the culture,” says Chris Freytag, spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise and a personal trainer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. “People are more likely to stay motivated in an environment that inspires them and with people who motivate them,” Freytag says. During on-site visits, do we feel at home among kindred spirits our own age? Is the facility clean and secure?

Clue #5: Look at the equipment.

If the gym doesn’t have the equipment we want to use, whether it’s Pilates or TRX equipment, free weights or Kettlebells, then move on. A gym worth joining will have plenty of up-to-date equipment that follows the latest fitness trends and works properly, says White.

Clue #6: Investigate the staff.

Checking out the staff is key for those seeking specialized guidance, such as yoga, martial arts or personal training. Look for trainers and instructors available to help that are certified by a reputable program accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies. Investigating key employees’ backgrounds, including acupuncturists and massage therapists, is crucial.

Clue #7: Sign with caution.

Avoid signing long-term, complicated contracts, which are rare these days, DeSimone counsels. “Don’t be overwhelmed by a high-pressured sales pitch; just stand your ground, because those people are at your service.” White recommends making sure the price includes expected services; feel free to negotiate, especially with initial fees. Understand all policies, especially cancellation clauses, and use a credit card, which is easier to correct if problems arise, adds DeSimone.

Although Salmons was lucky, with her neighbor’s recommendation leading her to her perfect studio, people should investigate to find their ideal fit. “It starts when you walk in the door,” Salmons says about her attraction to The Balance Fitness Studio. “The space is open, exposed and it’s got this very clean, feng shui energy.”

Not a traditional, iron-pumping, music-blasting gym fan, Salmons prefers Pilates but participates in all of the studio’s offerings, including massage, acupuncture and nutrition classes. While finding the right club has boosted her fitness level, she notes that the real magic has come in the form of revitalized energy. “It’s changed me in all aspects of my life. When I leave, I feel mentally focused, emotionally balanced and refreshed. It’s kind of transformational.”

Freelance journalist Debra Melani writes about health care and fitness from Lyons, CO. Connect at or [email protected].


Think Outside the Box

One of the latest trends for health-seekers is joining more than one club. Mixing it up can be a good way to go, says Jim White, owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios,  in Norfolk and Virginia Beach, Virginia. “A lot of people are leaving the big-box gyms for more of an a la carte menu,” White says. “I have a client that strength trains with me in the mornings and then goes to spinning, barre and yoga studios in the afternoons.”

Up to 90 percent of small studio members belong to more than one club, according to the 2014 International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association’s annual industry trend report. That can both lessen monotony and provide a well-rounded fitness routine, White says.

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