Determine your fitness goals

Before you shell out money for a gym membership, take a moment to think about your overall fitness goals.

• Are you out of shape and looking to develop a regular exercise routine?

• Are you in decent shape and want to tone your body?

• Are you seeking physical activity to reduce stress?

• Do you want to build muscle?

• Do you want to lose weight?

• Are you looking to increase your daily energy level?

• Have you been recovering from an injury?

• Are you training for a sport or event?

Whether you answer yes to one of several of these questions, many local health fitness centers can help you meet these goals.

Many health clubs also offer their members added benefits, such as access to fitness trainers and staff-led exercise classes. Some health clubs offer just the basics: machines, treadmills, supportive staff and a locker room, all at a simple monthly fee. Sports fitness centers that maintain a variety of exercise machines—as well as perks such as tennis courts, swimming pools, saunas, steam rooms and whirlpools—can be more expensive. Seek out and join the fitness facility that will inspire you most effectively toward your goals of getting in shape.

Fitness club programs

Getting in shape shouldn't be boring and cumbersome. For a great way to stay motivated in your routine, join an exercise group and work out with others. One example of a popular group fitness class is Zumba, a combination of aerobics and dance in an exercise routine. Some clubs have teams or leagues that play basketball or raquetball. Masters programs in sports like swimming often make use of health club pools to train.

Most health clubs have televisions that you can watch while you're exercising on a treadmill or stair climber. Of course, you can plug in your own portable radio, smart phone or digital music player and listen to your favorite tunes.

For more serious fitness gurus looking for a personal approach to training, many athletic clubs have a fitness trainer on staff. Some health clubs work directly with athletes who want the guidance of a fitness trainer in preparation for competing in an upcoming event. If you are a member of a local sports team and are competing in an upcoming sporting event, you could benefit from a specialized exercise routine to get you in shape for the season.

Choosing a fitness center

You may find it helpful to write a checklist for guidance in choosing a fitness center. Your current fitness level should be a starting point. Think about the types of exercises you would enjoy, keeping in mind any physical limitations you may have. When you visit potential health clubs, a staff member will give you a tour of the facility.

At most health clubs, you can expect to see stationary recumbent bicycles, treadmills, strength-training equipment (such as free weights and dumbbells), elliptical (cross-country skiing) and rowing machines. With a variety of equipment, you can get a balanced workout that includes both aerobic exercise and strength training. Your options are unlimited once you get a membership to your local fitness facility.

If you have kids and can't get a babysitter for whatever reason, some health clubs offer child care at the facility. Additional amenities that you may want to consider include on-site tanning salons and therapeutic massage. Some of the more upscale health clubs may offer cafés and lounges, where you can relax, socialize and mingle with fellow members.

When considering cost, make sure the health club doesn't lock you into a long-term contract that you don't want. You may find better membership deals in January when many people join as part of a New Year's weight-loss resolution or in the summer when attendance is lower.

You'll want to consider the location and hours. Some gyms have multiple locations so that you can work out near your work, near your home or across town. Some health clubs are even open 24 hours.

Make sure the fitness center you're considering has a good reputation, a helpful staff, a clean facility and well-maintained equipment. When comparing health clubs in your area, Angie's List can provide great feedback from member reviews and ratings.


Healthy eating habits include sound meal planning and a sampling of items from each of the recommended major food groups. Dietitians and nutritionists create meal plans based on your preferences for certain foods to help you adopt and maintain healthy eating habits. This can be an essential part of maintaining your overal fitness.

LEARN MORE: Angie's List Guide to Dietitians/Nutritionists

Weight loss programs

Someone is considered overweight when they are 10 to 20 pounds heavier than their normal weight. An obese person weighs far above his or her ideal weight. A simple calculation called your body mass index (BMI) can provide a general guideline of how light or heavy you are for an adult male or female of your height. 

People who are overweight or obese have a greater risk of developing life-threatening illnesses. Finding and participating in a weight loss program can reduce your risk for weight-related illnesses.

LEARN MORE: Angie's List Guide to Weight Loss Programs

Fitness equipment

If you're trying to lose weight through exercise, it's important to have the right equipment. Cardiovascular training will involve different equipment than strength and weight training. Different sports often have specialized equipment as well.

Having the right equipment will help ensure you're able to meet your goals.

LEARN MORE: Angie's List Guide to Fitness Equipment

Fitness training

If you're trying to lose weight, improve your sleep schedule or gain more energy then regular fitness training can help you attain your goals. Before beginning any kind of workout routine, you need to identify your goals and the best way to attain them.

LEARN MORE: Angie's List Guide to Fitness Training

Health education workshops

More and more health care organizations, schools and employers conduct workshops and health education classes. These workshops and classes show participants how to eat and live healthier lives.

LEARN MORE: Angie's List Guide to Health Education/Workshops

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