4 things to ask before you join a gym

Posted: February 14, 2012 at 11:09 pm


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One of the best things about living in a state obsessed with physical fitness is that health clubs are plentiful, and competition keeps the quality high.

The number of gyms keeps growing, and so does the variety. Joining the giant workout palaces that dominate the scene these days are an increasing number of small and midsized gyms, run by ambitious operators who keep the training personal — and personality-driven.

Add to that the surplus of pop-up boot camps that come and go, and the newest trend, self-serve gyms with 24-hour key- card access, and you've got a lot of choices.

With summer coming and that desperate (though bottom-line good for you) rush to get in bathing-suit shape right around the corner, we

Form Fitness owner Sean Gale at 1125 17th Street, Bldg. B, in downtown Denver on Friday, Feb. 10, 2012. (Kathryn Scott Osler, The Denver Post)

thought we'd survey the landscape and offer a little updated advice.

Here are four questions to ask yourself before you sign on with a gym.

1. Do you fly solo, or do you need a co-pilot?

Many people join health clubs for the equipment; they aren't interested in classes or personal training.

"A lot of gyms will sell you access and let you figure it out," said Sean Gale, who owns Form Fitness clubs in downtown Denver and Ken Caryl.

That's not a bad thing. If you are a self-motivator and do the work, in time you'll lose weight, muscle up, or just get healthy.

But most gym-goers do better with a regimen, and in today's club culture, that means joining classes where anywhere from three to 30 people work out together. It's worth sorting out who offers what.

"The real magic is that you are feeding off the energy of the group," said Gale, who cleared out some equipment to make room for communal workouts last fall. The gym offers regular group sessions and a popular drop-in boot camp on Wednesday evenings.

Classes can get very specific, and this is where clubs differ. Ask what they teach and who teaches it — and try them out. See what comes with your membership

Cole Fusion Fitness owner, Frankie Cole, moves 45lb machine weights at Wednesday afternoon. (Andy Cross, The Denver Post)

(usually aerobic and spinning) and what you'll pay extra for (yoga and Pilates most often, or limited programs that get you in shape for skiing or marathons).

The more classes, the better; you're a busy person. And check out the crowds. There's nothing worse than showing up for class and finding it full.

Insider: The trendiest classes these days combine calorie-burning and weight training in one economical hour, and they come with inspired names, like Forza Fitness' "Ripped& Shredded" or Colorado Athletic Club's "Cardio Chisel." Make sure your gym has something similar.

2. How much gym can you afford?

Some good advice: Set your budget first, then shop for a club. Expensive gyms are great — really great, sometimes — but they're a trap, and sales people know how to suck you in. It's not just the fancy machines or the stretch locker rooms, it's the pools, steam rooms and high-quality products in the shower that get you. Some people need those things — if you gym on your way to work, a clean, private shower is a key amenity. But if your needs and budget are modest, you can still do well in this town — even small places tend to have great equipment.

There are deals to be had, and often from major chains like Bally's or 24 Hour Fitness. At the other end are the community gyms and town rec centers; good ones can cost as little as $1 a day.

The key is to bargain. Gyms are like

Club member Roger Bradley using the Life Cycle inside the 8,000 square foot gym, Form Fitness at 1125 17th Street, Bldg. B, in downtown Denver on Friday, Feb. 10, 2012. (Kathryn Scott Osler, The Denver Post )

airplanes — everybody pays something different to board, and you don't want to pay more than the guy on the treadmill next to you. Everyone knows you can often save by committing for a year instead of paying month-to-month, but other discounts are out there, like limited-use memberships or family plans.

Ask for the best deal offered. Hold out. See if they'll skip the initiation fee. You never know.

Insider: Don't commit too fast. You can always start on a monthly plan and convert to an annual membership at any time. It'll cost you just a few bucks more to find out if a gym is right for you.

3. Who owns this gym?

Maybe you don't care, but you probably should. Gyms run by real people have personality, and going there can be like working out with a friend who wants you to succeed.

One good example: Cole Fusion Fitness in Denver's Golden Triangle neighborhood, run by Frankie Cole. He's a buff guy with a big smile, a former competitive body-builder turned major motivator.

Cole built the business himself, machine by machine, client by client. He's popular enough that he just expanded to a new location at 1070 Bannock St. It's a modest place, not too big, shower in the basement, but it has all the right equipment — and it has Cole.

He teaches classes himself — he has a killer kickboxing class — and follows his members' transformations. People see him in the building, they check in.

"It's all about you" said Cole last week between classes. "But I'm not going to do the lifting for you. It all has to come from within."

Interacting with the owner at a small gym isn't like having a personal trainer, but it can be like having a workout partner, someone you don't want to disappoint.

And really, you wouldn't want to disappoint Frankie Cole.

"You can walk in and you can walk out, but the only thing that's going to make you stay is results," he said.

Insider: Cole is offering a special right now to celebrate his move: $150 for three months. That's a good deal.

4. When do you want to work out?

Health club hours matter, down to the minute.

Your gym ought to be there when you need it. Like on Thanksgiving morning, so you can pig out guilt-free that afternoon, or New Year's Day, so you can face up to that resolution on Day One. Some gyms close at 5 p.m. on Sundays, some at 7 p.m., and those last hours can be crowded.

To this end, more and more gyms are staying open 24 hours a day.

Form Fitness gives members an access card that lets them swipe in anytime. It might be lonely there at 3 a.m., but it's available.

Other clubs advertise similar deals, sometimes listing staffed and non-staffed hours. If round-the-clock gyming interests you, also check out Snap Fitness or Lifetime Fitness, both with several Colorado outposts.

Insider: Working out alone isn't for everybody, especially the injury prone.

Ray Mark Rinaldi: 303-954-1540 or rrinaldi@denverpost.com

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4 things to ask before you join a gym

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February 14th, 2012 at 11:09 pm

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