Ok so you’ve decided to do something for your fitness and now you’re wondering,… “How do I find the right gym for me?”

If you live in the Howard County, MD area you have access to over a dozen gyms. How do you know which one you’ll have the most success at? They all seem to do the same thing. Is there that much of a difference?

Yes, there is a big difference between each gym. Just as much as there are many similarities between each gym.

A gym is much like a local bar or hangout that people frequent in their neighborhood. How many bars are within 5 to 10 miles of each other? People still tend to find a favorite one and go there more than any of the others. Why is that?

Humans like connections. When we find a group of people that we feel a connection to, we tend to keep ourselves in that environment. At a bar, it could be a really cool bartender that you’ve gotten to know, or maybe the other people there are just fun and you all enjoy watching the football game together each week. Whatever the reason, you have made a choice to frequent that bar because it matches what you are looking for in your bar time.

CrossFit and Functional Fitness Gyms work the same way. They are built on the idea that personal connection is what matters and what keeps people in the program. You get to know the staff and other members. That relationship helps you stay consistent and over time, see progress.

You won’t be successful if you pick a gym that doesn’t fit your personality, goals, ideals, or expectations. In this article, I will attempt to give you framework in which you can evaluate a gym and make a more educated decision on what will work for you.

Gym Character Traits

Each gym has the following things they provide services for or focus on and support.

Health and Fitness

Every gym is going to say this is a focus. In many ways, it is the basic goal for each. Are their workouts well rounded? What do they do to prevent injury and prolong training times? How do they approach recovery? Do they have programs that support people from different backgrounds or with different goals? Do they track and use data to verify progress? Do they work to help each person reach their goals?

Social/Community

Every gym has some sort of community that keeps people engaged and meets the social needs we all have. In most gyms, you’ll find people that look like they’re having fun. If you don’t see that, walk out immediately.  Gyms that have a higher focus on the social aspects will have a lot of outside the gym events and people talking about things they do together outside the gym. A gym with a strong community has people that support each other in the classes, as well as, people that interact in real life, away from the gym.

Competition

Being competitive with yourself is an inherent part of CrossFit. So is being competitive with others in an external motivation kind of way. Some gyms are more focused on the sports side of CrossFit and have a higher focus on being competitive at a higher level than everyday fitness requires. These gyms are a great fit for people looking for an extra push or former athletes looking to get the edge back.

Nutrition

Not every gym will have a solution that provides nutrition education, guidance, and accountability. Some gyms will run nutrition challenges or talk about the need for proper nutrition. This should rate highly on your evaluation. Is there an emphasis on the need for nutrition and a defined program to help in regards to total body health?

Coaching

Gyms with a focus on coaching, tend to have fewer coaches. They have a coaching development program and require more than just the basics in order to ensure that each coach can live up to the values and mission of the business. How much experience do the coaches have? What is the training process? Do they have more than just the bare minimum? Is the mindset of the coaches focused on just running a class or do the coaches look at themselves as guides on a long-term road to health? Do they have a lot of open gym time where people can workout with no coaching? Is their program based on coaching involvement or is coaching just a function of the business?

Injury Rehab

This is a very overlooked aspect. The methods of CrossFit can be applied to anyone, regardless of injury or past experience. The ability of the coaching staff to understand what works best for each person and how to apply various techniques to individual circumstances is where things get tricky. Find out how they deal with injuries. Do they have a plan for how to give someone a good workout and help them improve their fitness even if there is a limitation due to injury? Can they help an injury get better or do they just work around it?

Cost

This one is a big one and it’s not. Most CrossFit or Functional Fitness style gyms will be more expensive than the average fitness center. You get a program to follow, coaching, community, and a core methodology that has been proven to work, all in one package. The value is there.

The difference between most gyms, probably won’t be more than $25 to $50 per month. In the big picture, looking at all the other factors I’ve listed above, cost should be the least important thing you look at. I promise you that if you find a gym that fits all the other things you are looking for, the cost will be more than worth it. Joining a gym that doesn’t fit your personality, goals, community interests, and overall mindset towards health will be the biggest waste of money you could have.

How do you rate a gym?

I suggest getting a piece of paper and doing some research. Use a scale from 1 to 5 on each character trait. Start tracking where you think each gym in your area rates. The more time you spend looking into the different gyms the more certain aspects will start to appear and your decision will kind of make itself.

Do the research

How do you get the information you’ll need to answer these questions?

  1. Go through the gym’s website and see what services they have available, pricing, schedule, read testimonials (this is a big one, do the people giving testimonials seem like “your kind of people”?)
  2. Visit the gym’s social media sites. Do they seem actively engaged in helping people? Are they helpful? Do the people you see in the pictures and videos seem positive and happy to be part of that gym’s community?
  3. Read the gym’s online reviews (Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Yelp). You can tell a lot by how people describe the gym and their experience.
  4. Visit the gym and talk to the staff or ownership. Ask questions, watch a class, meet some members.
  5. Find out what the Core Values and Mission of the gym are. There must be a core set of values the gym operates on and a mission that provides guidance for the way it provides services. If this is missing, be careful.

Note: Very Important. When you talk to the staff or ownership. Remember this. No one can make each of the character traits their top priority. Each person running a gym has a natural inclination to focus on one or two of the traits. It is possible to provide a service or offer assistance in each area, but there is no way to make all of them the core value and focus of the gym.

It’s your job to figure out what is most important to you and pick a gym that is the best match. 

Ellicott City Health and Fitness has a very successful CrossFit program in Ellicott City. If you want to check it out, go to

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