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Two women talking at the gym while a man works out behind themYou want to be fit/lose weight (just think of all the major illnesses can either be prevented or controlled by regular exercise, such as diabetes and heart disease).

That said, while home gyms can be convenient, they can also become dull (there are only so many fitness DVDs that you can follow). A gym can offer many great alternatives, including state-of-the-art gym equipment and engaging, challenging group fitness classes that make it easier (and sometimes even fun) to exercise. However, joining a gym is something you must make an informed decision about…before you waste your time and money.

Ask these questions before you commit to a gym:

1. What do I need? The most important factor in choosing the right gym is finding one that fits your goals. Why do you want to join? To lose weight? To tone up? To treat an injury or health condition?

Look for a facility that offers the most classes that meet your needs. For example, if you have arthritis, a facility offering water aerobics classes will be preferable over one that does not. Get a tour of the facilities and check out the array of equipment provided.

2. Is the club nearby my home (or work)? The fitness club you’re looking at may be fabulous in every way — but if it’s not conveniently located, you won’t go regularly.

3. Is the facility accredited by the industry’s leading associations? Ask if the club is a member of the International Health, Racquet and Sports Association (IHRSA). It’s the most respected association in the industry and its member clubs must uphold strict standards in member services and programs.

4. What types of fitness classes and programs does the club offer? Is the staff supportive? Look into the variety of classes and programs offered and ask if they’re included in the club’s monthly membership dues. Also, find a club where the staff, including the trainers, are willing to help and answer questions if you have them.

5. Do I have to pay extra for classes? 
Are classes included in your monthly fee, or do you have to pay an additional fee for them once you join? Do you have to pay for them ahead of time (say, six months worth)? Does the gym offer one free class so you can find out if it’s right for you?

6. Is the gym clean?
 While there are no nationally-recognized health codes specific to gyms, you’ll want to check out the facilities for cleanliness.

Take a look at the equipment — dust piled up beneath or around the exercise machines is a sure-fire sign of poor maintenance. Check out the lockers, showers, and changing areas to make sure they look properly attended-to.

Once you do join, protect yourself. Wipe down machines with antibacterial wipes before you use them (should be provided), and wear shower shoes in the locker room and shower.

7. Does your workout schedule coincide with the club’s busiest hours? Visit the club a few times during the hours you intend to use it and see how busy the club is. Is the parking lot packed at your desired gym time? Is there a line to use the treadmills? Make sure the things you need will be available when you need them to be. Joining a gym won’t do you any good if, every time you go, you spend more time waiting, rather than working out.

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