A Gym to Call Home

Forget the sweaty, image-obsessed health clubs. Find one where you're at ease.

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Maybe you've been there. You walk into an unfamiliar health club and look around at a bewildering array of equipment, weights, and people with their trim midriffs showing. You tug nervously at gym clothes that suddenly feel two sizes too small. There's a treadmill free -- the only piece of equipment you feel somewhat comfortable with -- so you grab it, walk dutifully for 30 minutes, and then go straight home. Many others share this experience. A third of those responding to a survey commissioned by the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association said they felt intimidated working out at a health club. Here's some good news -- gyms can be much different, and much more enjoyable, than those other places you've been. These factors will help you find the perfect gym to fit your needs.

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Ask Family and Friends

Would they recommend their health club to you? "That's a huge motivating factor," says Gwen Hyatt, president of Desert Southwest Fitness, inc. in Tucson, a continuing education company for the fitness industry.

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You can then check out the crowd that frequents the club, what sorts of classes are offered, and when. Visit during the time of day you most likely would work out, and see if it feels like a good fit. If not, move on to another one.

Think Small

You often get more individualized instruction at independently owned gyms, especially if you can work out during off-peak hours -- late morning or early afternoon on weekdays -- when there aren't many other clients around. Try your Y. For nearly 1 in 5 people who belong to a health club, the YMCA or YWCA is the choice. At most Ys you'll find a wide range of people at a wide range of fitness levels, making it easier to feel at home.

Consider a Women-Only Club

Curves is the best known for attracting women who've been turned off by traditional gyms. There are other women-only health clubs, including Ladies Workout Express, Liberty Fitness, and It Figures.

Stay Close to Home or Job

Studies have shown that the closer the gym, the more likely you are to stick with it.

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