Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Tips on signing up for an exercise program

If you want to look fabulous, feel great, boost your immune system, lift your mood, stay youthful and sleep well, there's something you can do: exercise.

Grab your gym bag -- or get it back out after your already waning New Year's enthusiasm -- and we'll help you through the basics of signing up for an exercise program and sticking with it.

Experts say the No. 1 reason we start enthusiastically and then taper off is because we are not motivated, so pick a reason that gets you going: You want to reduce your risk of disease, you want to lose weight and look better, you want more energy or you love your family and want to be around longer.

Once you have that, you need to skip the excuses: "I'm too tired" or "I don't have enough time," or the classic "I don't like exercise." Then you get to the last step: Make a plan and set your goal. Here's where you plan a fitness routine that includes cardio, strength training and other exercises that you can do with or without weights.

But first you need to find a gym: This is the time to do it. Most area gyms are offering deals right now for the start of the new year.

"The first thing you have to do is to take a good look ... and ask yourself, what has worked for you before? What are your goals? Try and write down what you want to achieve. And then join the gym," said Gregory Florez, 51, spokesperson for the National American Council on Exercise and a health and fitness coach. "Ask yourself if you need a hands on trainer? Or intense aerobic classes? Did you lose weight with high intensity kickboxing before? Then narrow down the choices." "It sometimes costs less than a dollar a day when it's a zero enrollment fee and $24.99 or $29.99 a month, like it is now," said Pat Cuoco-Barber, assistant manager at Gold's Gym in Niskayuna, N.Y. Cuoco-Barber, who has been in the fitness industry for 30 years, says the only foolproof way to ensure that you will like the gym is to sign up for the seven-day pass or the free trial they give out.

"Try out the gym at the time that you have to work out, then you get a feel for what it will be like when you come in, how crowded it will be, can you still work out on the equipment you want, etc.," she said.

"Do the free orientation, meet the trainers. Don't be afraid to ask if the trainers are nationally certified, don't be intimidated." And one more thing, she added, "Make sure it's clean." The time to check everything out is in the initial visit.

Contracts can be confusing. Here's the bottom line you need to focus on: Usually, there is an enrollment fee and then a monthly fee.

Sometimes, the monthly fee is a certain amount for say, two years and then it goes up or it stays at one consistent rate always. You need to check out the small print and check it out before you sign up with the gym.

Gym veterans like Shachi Chandra, 27, have joined one gym after the other and they always go for the small monthly fee.

"It works best for me. I don't want to pay an arm and a leg to work out," said Chandra, who goes to Gold's Gym.

Some gyms offer a flat fee but then have a higher fee that includes classes.

"Find what fits your budget best. Think about location. If you're taking classes up here but you live in New York City or Syracuse, you will then have access to a gym near you when you go home," said Noah Poissant, fitness coach at Bally's in Crossgates Mall in Guilderland.

Make it a point to ask when you join a chain whether they will allow you to work out in different locations.

Bally's will allow you all access all over the state, but most are location-specific. Be sure to check this out first before you join.

But Poissant finds the logistics are not the main thing consumers worry about.

"The biggest misconception newcomers have is that the gym is very crowded and they will have no place to work out, but that's not true, and even when we are crazy packed, there's always machines available," he said.

Make sure you're comfortable: If you want a women-only gym, there are places like Curves, which design 30-minute workouts specifically for women. They go through a circuit of machines twice.

So, no more excuses. Just pick a gym and start the journey to a newer, fitter you.


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