Choose a gym that's either close to home or work if you can: you'll be more likely to go if you don't have to travel to get there. If your gym is close to the office you could go during your lunch hour, before or after work, which is practical.
2. Activities and equipment
The range of machines, classes and activities on offer varies greatly from one establishment to the next. Some gyms are always offering new classes as fads and trends come along, whereas other, smaller places may have a more limited choice and timetable. It depends what you want: there's no point signing up for a high-tech gym with spinning and kung fu classes if all you want to do is go on the stepper and do abs, bums and tums classes!
Professionalism is important. Make sure the instructors are qualified. Many gyms offer a personalised training programme which is defined at the beginning of the contract.
Take a guided tour before you sign anything to get an idea of what facilities the gym has, how well maintained and clean it is. Look at the size of the training rooms, number of machines and quality of the changing rooms. More and more centres now include access to a pool, jacuzzi, sauna, TV room, tennis courts...and some even have beauty therapy areas with à la carte treatments (massage, facials etc) or crèches for kids.
The advantage of going with a well-known chain is that the membership card allows you to go to whichever gym you want, most of the time without having to pay a supplement (extra motivation if there's one near your house and office!).
Check whether the machines are in good condition and well maintained. Technology moves on fast! Check how busy the gym seems and how many machines there are, so you know you won't have to wait for hours to get on a bike!
Packed classes are no fun: you can't see or hear the instructor properly and get little personalised help in doing the exercises properly. Check how full the gym is and how many classes they have on, so you can attend less busy ones if you need to.
Check out the feel of the place. This will, of course, depend on the area and the staff. Take time to chat to the users and staff. Small gyms tend to be more user friendly than the big chains.
Before you sign, ask for a free trial. Check the flexibilty of the contract and make sure you're covered if you move house, lose your job, get sent abroad, etc.
Prices vary enormously, so ask for a quote, negociate, and compare the offer to the competition. Remember gyms battle it out to get new members, so make sure you're getting the best deal before you hand your money over.