Join the Club ; Here Are Five Tips to Keep in Mind Before You Sign That Gym Membership. You Might Feel Some Serious Workouts Calling Your Name After That Thanksgiving Feast, but Be Sure to Test Out a Gym and Look into Other Options Before Joining One.

There’s good reason Bally Total Fitness has proclaimed today “Feeling Fat Friday” and is allowing anybody to use its gyms for free.

If you ate a traditional Thanksgiving meal Thursday, you’re probably avoiding mirrors and promising yourself you’ll start working out today – or tomorrow.

A modest helping of hors d’oeuvres, turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, pie and a drink is approximately 2,700 calories and 144 grams of fat, said Silvia Veri, a dietitian for Beaumont Hospitals in Detroit.

That’s equivalent to about 6 1/2 Quarter Pounders with Cheese from McDonald’s and more than the USDA recommends you eat in an entire day.

“And you’re probably eating more than one meal on Thanksgiving,” Veri said.

To burn 2,700 calories you’d have to walk from the Tacoma Dome to the Capitol dome in Olympia. Suddenly trying to find the right gym doesn’t seem so daunting.

So, as an early Christmas present we, with the input of local fitness pros, are giving you five tips that will make it even easier to find a comfortable place to work out.

1. The white glove test

Heather Ancheta, co-manager of the Puyallup Athletic Club, says pay attention to your senses as soon as you walk through the door.

“What’s your first impression?” Ancheta said. “How does it smell? Then head straight to the locker room.”

In the locker room, check the corners of the showers and the restroom stalls, and under the toilets to see how thoroughly the gym is cleaned.

“If the locker room isn’t clean, you’re probably going to pick up a foot icky,” Ancheta said.

David Simia, a district manager for Bally, says also check the equipment.

“It’s OK if some equipment is down, but if a lot it is down it’s a sign of poor maintenance,” Simia said.

Check for cleaning spray and towels to wipe the community sweat off the machines before and after your workout.

And Steve Triller, associate executive of the Tacoma YMCA, says checking the pool can also tip you off if the gym is cleaned and well-maintained.

“If the pool is shut down, that can be a bad sign,” Triller said.

2. Does the gym feel right?

A gym has to have the exercise equipment, facilities and classes you need. Some gyms have pools, some have basketball courts, some have climbing walls, and some are equipped to handle disabled clients.

Others are not.

“Some gyms are geared toward families,” Triller said. “Others are geared toward people who work out three hours per day. People who are new to working out and surround themselves with super-fit people start to get self-reflective and think, ‘I’m not good enough to be here.’

“You need to find the gym that makes you feel most comfortable.”

In an attempt to broaden its appeal, Tacoma’s Morgan Family YMCA recently removed some mirrors in exercise areas.

“New exercisers sometimes don’t want to see themselves,” Triller said.

Also, the pros suggest touring the gym at the time of day you are most likely to work out so you can get the truest feel for how crowded the gym is, how loud the music is and who else is there.

Also, Ancheta said, geography is a big deal. Try to find a gym within 10 miles of your house so “it’s too far away” doesn’t become an excuse.

3. Check out the staff

If you are new to exercise – or it’s been so long you’ve forgotten how – you’ll likely need some pointers from the gym staff or its personal trainers.

“Picking a gym with a friendly and trained staff is key to becoming a long-term exerciser,” Triller said.

If the staff is huddled around the reception desk chatting, this might be a good sign they aren’t going to help you much, the pros say.

“You should have access to professional trainers for basic training without an additional charge,” said Darcy Celletti, the senior program director for adult fitness at the Morgan Family YMCA. “Once you get into advanced training and sports-specific training you should expect to pay extra.”

Ancheta suggests interviewing employees and trainers as if they are applying for a job with you. What’s their experience? Who trained them? How long have they been working there?

When picking a trainer, it is important to find out if they are certified by a reputable company. Larger gyms offer in-house trainer certification programs, but should also require outside certification after about three months, Simia said.

“And trainers should meet you where you are,” Celletti said. “They need to help you meet your goals, not their goals.”

4. Is the gym current?

If a gym doesn’t offer Pilates or yoga, it’s probably stuck in the dark ages.

These are the most popular workout classes, and Simia says you want to pick a gym that is on the cutting edge.

Other fashionable classes include spinning (group stationary cycling) and core training.

“There is less emphasis on dancing workouts and more on basic functional stuff,” Ancheta said.

Gyms should also regularly update their equipment. Triller says check to see if the equipment is new and well maintained.

“There should be no gunk on the guide rods of the weight machines,” Triller said. “If there is, the machine will not work smoothly.”

A good gym will have cardiovascular equipment (treadmills, elliptical trainers, etc.) and plenty of it because almost everybody will use these machines in their workouts.

Simia says don’t forget to make sure the training room’s equipment is up-to-date, too. One device he recommends asking for is a Bosu. The half-ball balance trainer is one of the hottest training tools on the market.

5. Will your wallet lose weight?

Gyms can be like cell phone companies – they want your signature on a long-term contract.

“But finally gyms are starting to offer memberships that don’t lock you into long-term contracts,” Ancheta said.

Ancheta says it’s to your advantage to avoid these long-term agreements.

Simia says you should be wary of processing fees and other hidden costs.

“You should pay a base fee to get started and a monthly fee,” Simia said. “Read the fine print.”

Some gyms charge fees for lockers, towel service and equipment rentals.

Others charge fees to participate in workout classes, but Simia says most classes should be included in your membership. He says only about 5 percent of gym activities should charge an additional fee.

“You have to make sure the gym fits your budget,” Ancheta said. “If it doesn’t, you’re going to have an excuse to stop going.”

So, how can you be certain a gym is a good fit after one 10- minute tour?

You can’t.

Ask for a trial membership. Most clubs will let you try out their gym for a week or two at no charge.

“Really use that trial membership before you make your decision,” Ancheta said. “If the gym won’t give you a trial membership, I’d really question that. That’s a pretty big red flag.”

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Craig Hill: 253-597-8742

[email protected]

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If you plan to use a personal trainer at your new gym, make sure he or she is certified by a reputable instructor. There are hundreds of companies that certify trainers, but they are not created equal. Local fitness pros say keep these seven acronyms in mind:

ACSM – American College of Sports Medicine

ACE – American Council on Exercise

NSCA – National Strength and Conditioning Association

NASM – National Academy of Sports Medicine

AFAA – Aerobics and Fitness Association of America

IFPA – International Fitness Professionals Association

ISSA – International Sports Sciences Association

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