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Types of Fitness Centers – and choosing the right one for me
Not all fitness centers are created equal and not all gyms are right for everyone. The positive side of so much competition is the new variety of niche options available that provide more than just access to rows of equipment and really focus on programming that improves the personal wellness and lifestyle of members and clients. Generally, there are 5 fitness center or “gym” environments and there is usually a difference in price, facility, amenities, staff and even member base demographics. Here is a quick summary of each kind of club to help you choose the best fit for you and your wellness needs.
1: Corporate Chain Gyms & Franchises – Over the past twenty-five years or so, large corporate box-style fitness centers have spread across the United States. Many. One distinct advantage for joining this kind of gym is the accessibility to multiple locations and the consistency they can deliver in facility, equipment and group classes. The price of membership is typically affordable and these clubs provide a range of cost options and membership terms. As a long time fitness professional, I must point out that corporate chain gyms have created a negative stereotype about sales, exercise and even personal trainers. Corporate gyms survive on volume business and services are an afterthought to their model. In addition, they typically attract low-wage earning employees and inexperienced personal trainers just entering their careers. Low price and high member traffic is also typical in many of the smaller franchise clubs but operations can be hit or miss with franchisee operated gyms. The combination of hyper focused sales and inexperienced staff can be repelling to a large portion of people looking for a total wellness program. However, many individuals gain benefit from having access to the wide verity of equipment and novelties available in the chain gym and they can be a great resource for the avid exerciser or someone comfortable with the atmosphere of a traditional box gym. The popularity of this kind of environment has diminished in recent years as many consumers are seeking a more personalized and results based program.
2: Boutique Personal Training Studios – Without question, working with the right certified personal trainer is a sure way to see significant results. Like many aspects of the fitness world, personal training has been devalued by big corporations driving down price and hiring inferior trainers and pressuring a sales cycle. Not to say there are not some spectacular trainers working for corporate gyms, but most choose to leave the pressure cooker and open their own studio or work for a company that is focused on real wellness services. A professional personal trainer will create a very specific program based on your current condition level and ideal fitness objective. Good trainers will perform a comprehensive fitness assessment and develop a program to bring your body back into structural alignment and then progressively create interesting new workouts that safely and effectively deliver results. Provided of course you control your calorie intake! The training environment can be diverse so be sure the studio is comfortable for you and meets your needs. Some boutique training services can be done in your own home or in the home of a trainer. However, serious professionals will have a studio facility or rent space from another fitness company. Like most specialized services, price is usually the biggest topic of concern for those interested in hiring a trainer. However, the return on investment is often measured by improved flexibility, desired physique, endurance, strength, joint health and cardiovascular fortitude. When seeking a personal trainer, price should not necessarily be the deciding factor. The studio environment is important but you are really hiring the trainer so be sure you have a connection and they are certified. Working with the right personal trainer is by far the best way to achieve your results and will pay for itself over and over. And of course, I would be remiss if I did not point out the unique services offered by Forge Online Personal Training.
3: Olympic Style Gyms – Dozens of these warehouse and garage fitness centers are scattered through communities and have gained significant popularity over the past decade. These classes are designed to accommodate a smaller membership base and are known for intense workouts. Many of the maneuvers in these classes are based on Olympic style lifting such as snatch & clean and the jerk. In addition, these programs include high volume repletion of deadlifts, squats and overhead press. High Intensity Interval Training is also woven into these classes to really challenge your fitness. Unfortunately, many of these owner operators are not certified trainers and the injury rate for this class type is notoriously high. I will also point out that many of the participants in these programs are not ready for this kind of workload and are already dispositioned for injury or excessive soreness. Yet the attraction power comes from the sense of community these smaller gyms naturally create and the fact that you will no doubt be challenged by the routines. The price for this kind of fitness service can be greater than that of a corporate chain gym but you get arguably more value for the dollar. Provided you have a competent coach or trainer ensuring safety and proper form. The atmosphere can be gritty because of where most of the gyms are located. Warehouses, industrial space or even home garages are a common facility site. This means they provide bare amenities, if any at all. So if a locker room or even a water fountain are a necessity for you, this may not be the best fitness club option. However, some clubs in industrial areas have made significant investment into atmosphere so it’s best to check them out in person.
4: Yoga, Pilates and Mind-Body Studios – The rising popularity of Yoga, Pilates and other mind-body options are also the byproduct of consumers looking for alternatives to the corporate chain gym. However, these modalities also stand on their own merits. Typically, these fitness options are low-impact and can greatly reduce stress, increase flexibility, build core strength and fortify joint stability. Over the past decade, many studios have reduced some of the spiritual aspects and now focus more on the physiological component but there is a usually an option for either. Choosing the right studio is just as important as choosing the right gym. Each location has its own ambiance, culture and instructor quality. Enjoying a two or three-day trail may be beneficial so take a few classes and decide which instructor and time work best for you. Price can range from medium and high but most of these studios are specialized and charge accordingly. You get what you pay for so if you really like the program and people, price should be the least of your concerns. Its only expensive if you don’t attend classes.
5: Luxury Brand or Country Clubs – Luxury brand clubs can be a corporate chain, small multi-club group or single location entity. Most of these clubs have high level amenities such as racquet sports, swimming pools, recreational water features, bars, restaurants and opulent locker rooms. Some of the pricey options have an onsite salons & spa and even some medical offices. While many of these luxuries are not necessary to achieve fitness results, they can enhance your experience or even motivate you to work out more consistently. There can be a heavy social aspect to this kind of club but that is true in nearly all of the fitness options. Yet for all the glamor, the machines are the same as the cheap corporate volume gym across the street and the dumbbells all weigh the same. In a sense, joining a luxury club is more for exclusivity, social connection and ambiance than it is for fitness. Prices can be very high compared to other options but some people find the extra cost worth it as the amenities are unrivalled and the staff are typically more customer service savvy.
Remember, the purpose of joining a fitness center or enrolling in a service is to achieve your fitness goals. While I typically lean toward Personal Training and the Luxury Health Club, I encourage you to get involved in the program that will deliver results and keep you interested in making your own wellness a lifestyle and daily priority!
By Michael S. Parker
Founder at Forge Online Personal Training
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