(Last Updated On: 5th July 2020)

If you’re thinking about joining a gym, here’s what you need to know to determine if it’s the right training environment for you.

The Tottenham Court Road branch of Fitness First is one of London’s busiest gyms. We enlisted its health and fitness manager, Andy McTaggart, to answer questions about joining a gym run by a fitness chain.

Why should I join a chain gym?

‘A good chain gym should offer all the exercise equipment and support a beginner needs to get started on the road to fitness,’ says McTaggart. ‘It will also provide you with clean, secure changing facilities and reliable showers, as well as offering treatments to help you recover from any injuries.

You can also be confident it will be staffed by qualified personal trainers and fitness instructors who can give you advice about how to work out and can also be hired to design and run your training schedule.’

What should I expect to get as part of my gym membership?

‘Gym membership can cost anywhere from £9.99 to £180 a month,’ says McTaggart. ‘If you’re prepared to splash the cash, expect access to any gym owned by the chain during opening hours, a variety of free classes, and free kit when you join. If you’re trying to keep costs down, go for an off-peak membership at one of the big chains, which limits when you can train.’

Alternatively, you can sign up at one of the increasing number of low-cost gym chains – they tend to have less kit and fewer PTs and add-ons, but you’re more likely to be able to get a rolling month-to-month contract. ‘At most gyms you do a basic induction when you’re introduced to a variety of exercises and kit to ensure you know how to train safely,’ says McTaggart.

Can I get a free trial?

‘Don’t get suckered into signing up for a 12-month membership before you’ve determined if you want to spend serious time in that gym,’ says McTaggart. ‘Good gyms will offer guest passes, so you can train there and get a feel for it before you sign up. Normally, you can download these from the gym’s website or pick one up from reception.’

When should I train at the gym?

If you want uninterrupted access to a wide range of kit, you may have to train outside peak hours. ‘At Tottenham Court Road, mid-mornings and afternoons are usually fairly quiet,’ says McTaggart. ‘Gyms are normally busy in the couple of hours before and after work and during lunch hours, so if you want to go to the buzziest, busiest classes, book them during these slots.’

What should I do if other people are using the kit I need?

‘Working in’ – sharing kit by using it while someone else is resting between sets – is hard to avoid in popular gyms, where there could be thousands of members. But sharing can help your training – don’t be afraid to ask the person you’re working in with to monitor your form and help you lift the weight if you start to fail (called ‘spotting’). This will enable you to stay safe during your lifting sessions.

‘If you really don’t want to share with another sweaty gym-goer, or there’s a long wait for the kit, the gym’s personal trainers will be able to suggest alternative moves and kit that hit the same muscle groups so your session isn’t wasted,’ says McTaggart.

What do I need to bring to the gym?

Nothing more than a breathable t-shirt, shorts that don’t chafe and trainers. If your gym doesn’t provide towels, you’ll need one of those as well. ‘Dehydration during a session can have a huge impact on performance so if your gym doesn’t have water fountains, make sure you bring a bottle of water too,’ says McTaggart.

Can I get out of my membership?

‘Most gyms offer some form of money-back guarantee if you’re not happy with what you’re getting,’ says McTaggart. ‘But it’s important to read the contract’s T&Cs before signing on. I know it’s boring but an extra 15 minutes’ reading could save you hassle and, possibly, hundreds of pounds.’

Are gym classes free?

‘Classes are available at a lot of bigger chains and many are covered by your membership,’ says McTaggart. Classes can fill up quickly, so book your place a week in advance. ‘You can do this over the phone, at your’s gym’s reception desk or, in some cases, on the gym’s website,’ says McTaggart. ‘As well as helping you to get fit, classes are a great way to make friends because you may be asked to work with a partner.’

Looking for a new spot to get fit? Check out the list of UK gym chains below:

Article credits: mensfitness.co.uk