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Ask Dr. K: What to look for if you join a gym

DEAR DOCTOR K: I want to start exercising regularly. Should I join a gym?

DEAR READER: You don’t need a gym in order to exercise regularly. Your body offers the cheapest equipment available. And the money you save by not paying for a gym membership might be put to good use elsewhere, whether that means monthly bills or tennis lessons. But joining a gym has its benefits, too.

Spending money on a gym membership may be an incentive to use it regularly and get your money’s worth. Classes offer companionship and a safe way to learn technique. Most good gyms offer a wide range of equipment and a changing roster of exercise classes that can keep you motivated to work out. Often, personal trainers are available for weekly appointments or short-term overhauls of your routine.

Before deciding whether a gym is right for you, consider your preferences and needs. Ask yourself: Do you prefer to work out alone or with others? How far must you travel to the gym? Are you likely to make the trek? Do the gym’s hours of operation work well for you?

If you decide to join one, look for the following:

• A good match between your goals and the facility. Choose a gym that’s well-equipped. A variety of machines and exercise classes lets you mix up your routine and avoid boredom. And having plenty of equipment can mean no wait, or at least a shorter one, when the gym is busy. Many gyms will let you try their facilities for a few days before making a commitment.

• Well-trained staff. Expertise in teaching people to use strength-training equipment and free weights is essential. Ask about staff background and training.

• A well-maintained facility. Check to make sure the gym keeps its equipment in good working order. Ask current members if machines are frequently out of order. Also, note whether the public spaces and locker rooms appear clean and well-kept.

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