Personal training, group fitness, 24/7 access, sign up fees – when you’re first starting out, the gym selection and sign up process can be an intimidating, overwhelming and even confusing experience.
Even though I am now a fitness coach and have been for many years, I still remember the struggles I faced when I first decided to sign up for a gym membership, finding it very difficult to know where to start.
Therefore, knowing which gyms are best for you as a beginner and what to look for is going to help you make an informed choice.
The best gym for beginners are local council gyms and recreation centres, gyms run by the YMCA and Belgravia, local independent gyms and some commercial gyms such as Anytime Fitness and Snap Fitness.
However, it is difficult to definitively say that any one gym chain, brand or type is better than another, because there are many factors that make a particular gym a good choice for a beginner or not such as what your goals are, your current state of health, as well as where you live.
It’s important to get this decision right, as signing up for a gym you end up hating is going to put you off going, and may even make you give up going altogether. Fortunately today, we will be breaking down what you should look for in a gym as a beginner and providing you with our top picks, so you can thrive in your new gym membership.
What is the Best Gym For Beginners?
Over the years, I have been to dozens of different gyms, from intense CrossFit classes, to your everyday 24/7 chain, to muscle-head bodybuilding kingdoms.
More recently, I have also worked in several facilities as a fitness coach myself and have observed and personally assited hundreds of beginners coming through the doors.
Here’s what I’ve observed:
Council Gyms and Recreation Centres
Coming through the ranks during my studies in Sport Science, I volunteered at a local council run facility, where I had the opportunity to get insider knowledge of how they gym worked.
The space was extremely welcoming and the trainers were some of the friendliest, approachable staff I’ve come across. Memberships gave members the ability to see a trainer upon joining for a health consultation, individually designed program and show-through, and ongoing follow up appointments every 6-8 weeks without additional cost.
This type of membership is very typical in Council gyms and recreation centres and is very different to the approach taken by commercial gyms, who (most of the time) only give you ongoing help if you pay extra for it via a personal training session.
Although council memberships are typically a little more expensive (around $20-$30) per week, they are the perfect place to start as a beginner as you’ll be given guidance and support during your most vulnerable time at the gym.
Gyms run by Belgravia and YMCA
Similar to my last point, gyms run by Belgravia and the YMCA typically adopt a similar approach where there is ongoing support and guidance given as part of the normal membership.
I personally worked as a gym instructor at Boroondara Sports Complex, a YMCA run facility for several years and found that beginners thrived in this type of gym environment.
Local Independent Gyms
For the most part, your locally owned and operated gym is one where there is greater care and pride taken in helping every new member walking through the doors, especially gym beginners.
I think back to my experience at an independent group fitness gym in Kew Victoria. The level of individual care they showed to every new member astounded me, it was like one big happy family!
Some Commercial Gym Chains
If your budget only allows for a small spend, commercial gyms chains such as Anytime Fitness or Snap Fitness can certainly suffice, however, you won’t usually get ongoing support unless you pay for it.
Commercial gyms are often open 24/7, are small in size, and have the basics you need to get started. At the end of the day, you don’t need all the bells and whistles to see success in the gym, it’s more about doing the right things consistently, even at a basic gym.
What to Consider When Joining a Gym as a Beginner
Before you make a choice on which gym to sign up to, it’s important that you understand yourself so your experience matches your needs.
Your Fitness Goals
First up, you need to figure out what you are trying to aspire to achieve.
For instance, if you’re wanting to learn how to use weights such as barbells and the squat rack, you better make sure that your new gym has the equipment you need.
Your Current State of Health
It’s important to look at where you’re currently at before signing any gym contract.
For example, if you’re a healthy teenager who jut wants to get a pump on the machines, your gym choice would be very different from an elderly person with arthritis, despite both of you being beginners.
Where You Live
Where you live can drastically change the number and type of gyms you have available to you.
For instance, if you don’t have access to a car or live remotely, you may be limited in the amount of choice you have and may just need to opt for whichever gym is closest.
As a general rule, when you’re a beginner, choosing a conveniently located gym is important because if it’s too much of a hassle to get to, you’re likely to struggle to attend consistently.
What to Look for in a Gym as a Beginner
A Welcoming Environment
I remember one of the first times I tried to sign up for a gym membership, I was met with a pushy, alpha-male gym salesperson who was extremely unprofessional and tried to get me to sign up for a deal I didn’t want.
From the get go, it’s important to feel comfortable in your new gym environment. Sure, the gym can certainly be an intimidating experience, but if it feels a little off, or you don’t like the vibe you’re getting from the staff, it’s unlikely it’s the right fit.
A great way to get a feel for a gym is to purchase a free trial and actually try working out there, rather than just going off what you’ve seen online. You might like to try this for several facilities in your area before you make a final choice.
The Right Services for Your Needs
Once you’ve figured out your fitness goals, you need to ensure that your new gym offers the services and equipment you’ll likely need as a beginner.
When you first get there, tell the gym membership consultant your goals and ask how their facilities and services can help you to achieve them.
Priced to Suit Your Budget
At the end of the day, if you’ve found the perfect gym but it’s out of your price range, it’s not something you’ll be able to attend for very long.
As a beginner, it’s easy to get ripped off, as gym membership salespeople can tell when it’s your first time. You also might not know as much about pricing as a more experience gym goer. Therefore, keep tabs on the prices of each gym as you do your research, including sign up fees, ongoing costs and cancellation fees to ensure you know what’s expensive and what’s not.
Ongoing Support and Advice
As we spoke about earlier, choosing a gym that has ongoing support and advice without having to pay for personal training is a big win and will help you to be more consistent in the gym.
Although its great to have role models and those more experienced than you that you can learn from, a good sign that you’re in the right place is also seeing other people who are at a similar stage in fitness as you. This can help you to feel more relaxed during your workouts.
Having like minded people around can be a good way to make friends and share your beginner journey with others.
What to AVOID in a Gym as a Beginner
Large Group Fitness Classes
Recently, large group fitness classes such as those run by F45, OrangeTheory and CrossFit have become very popular in the fitness industry.
Although these are fantastic for many people, I personally do not recommend them for beginners, as they can be very overwhelming and – due to the sheer number of participants in each class – don’t allow you to practise and learn how to move with good technique at a slower, safer pace.
After a few months of independent, consistent strength training, you can move on to a gym like this if you like.
An Intimidating Environment and The Wrong Crowd
When I was a gym beginner, I made the mistake of joining a big bodybuilding gym, where every single other person was twice my size and very experienced, making me feel intimidated and insecure.
I wish I had have signed up to a gym where there were people in a similar position to me.
I have also been in gyms where people are very self-absorbed, taking their shirt off constantly, having themselves filmed every workout and also grunting and making a big fuss of themselves.
Now, there isn’t anything wrong with this pur se, however, this wasn’t the right crowd for me.