Selecting the best Singaporean gym membership

I could never bring myself to subscribe to a gym membership, but if you’re reading this article, then I’ll assume you’ve already decided to do so.

For novices, choosing the best gym can be a complicated affair. To help you along, I’ll be sharing some simple tips that’ll help you make the correct decision.

1. Take the trial membership
The trial membership is there for a reason, so take advantage of it, especially if you are sincere in pursuing a membership. I had no intentions of joining any of the gyms I visited, but that didn’t stop me from taking the trial membership. I’m shameless that way.

There’s no substitute for an actual product trial. During your trial session, try to go down on different days at different times. I advise you to visit the outlet during peak and non-peak hours. If you are uncertain when peak hours are, ask the counter staff.

Do be warned that certain gyms will try to ‘hard-sell’ you a membership package when you decide to take the trial. They can be persistent, irritating and downright rude. I had a terrible experience with a pushy sales person from the California Fitness Orchard Road outlet. Tell them in no uncertain terms that you are only interested in the free trial.

Fitness First and Planet Fitness (now rebranded as True Fitness) also offered plans to me, but the staff was friendly and didn’t try to push anything upon me.

2. Find out if the gym meets your fitness needs
If you are joining a gym for the aerobic classes, take a look at the class time table and checkout the class size.

If you are joining a gym for a full-bodied workout, examine the variety of the machines. You’d be surprised how many gyms lack a dedicated calf machine. The VivoCity Planet Fitness branch was one of the rare gyms that offered a dedicated calf machine.

Try to define your needs clearly. Avoid generalizing your needs by saying you want the best of everything. Decide on what’s the most important for you and base your decision on that criterion.

3. Examine the membership population
Some gyms are over-subscribed. When I went for my California Fitness trial at Orchard Road, I discovered that all 3 floors were packed during peak hour! It was a terrible experience and having to wait in line behind 2-3 people for a machine really screwed up the pacing of my work-out.

Ask the sales person how many members are subscribed to the branch. If you want a more honest opinion, make friends with the counter staff and try to solicit some information from them. A simple question like, “How many members use the facilities during peak hours?” can tell you so much.

4. Examine the amenities
The shower and toilet facilities are the most important amenities you should experience.

I was extremely impressed with the shower facilities offered at the VivoCity True Fitness branch. The showers were of acceptable size and a big guy like me never felt like I was crammed into a prison shower. That outlet also featured shower heads attached to water hoses. I had the best and cleanest gym shower there.

The Orchard Road California Fitness had smaller shower cubicles, fixed shower heads and broken/non-working fixtures during my trial.

The Cathay Fitness First outlet had acceptable shower facilities. Everything was new, and more importantly, functional. It featured fixed shower heads. Unfortunately, the cubicles were a bit small. I told the manager that it was impossible to hang your clothes in the cubicle and take a shower without getting your clothing wet; the depth of the cubicles is simply too shallow.

Besides the showers, examine the locker room facilities. California Fitness requires members to bring their own locks for their lockers, True Fitness and Fitness First offers locks at the counter. Using the lockers and the locks are free-of-charge.

Fitness First also offers unusual amenities that include DVD rentals and a beverage counter. The beverage counter offers a free flow of drinks that include Coke(?!), Diet Coke, and 100 Plus to name a few. It also offers coffee and tea.

Some Fitness First outlets also offer exercise clothing rental.

5. Experience the atmosphere
A gym’s atmosphere is one of the most important intangibles you should always consider before pursuing membership.

Is the gym swarming with teenage kids? Do you feel intimidated by the muscle-bound giants roaming the floor? Is the gym too social? Does it lack a gritty, inspiring feel to it?

If you don’t feel comfortable, there’s a higher chance that you won’t visit the outlet.

Do keep in mind that when it comes to gym space, bigger isn’t necessarily better. I hated the 3 floor space of California Fitness. Climbing up and down stairs after blasting my legs with massive quad work ruined the flow for me. And it simply feels wrong to take the escalator when visiting a gym.

Try to find a gym that belongs to the ‘Godilocks-region’ in terms of size; not too big and not too small.

So, which gym would I choose? Personally, I really liked the True Fitness outlet at VivoCity. It offers terrific shower facilities, a great range of equipment, an excellent floor plan and a modest membership base.

I give it bonus points for having a dedicated calf machine, and the best pectoral fly machine I have ever used. Overlooking Sentosa, and conveniently located at Harbour Front, Fitness First at VivoCity is a highly accessible gym that offers a great view.

Unfortunately, it’s not perfect. Boxing gloves aren’t readily available for the kick-boxing bag, and there’s no dedicated preacher-curl machine. In my opinion, every gym should have a dedicated preacher curl machine. The free-weight alternative doesn’t offer a comparable experience in terms of resistance.

Gym memberships are costly. The next time you consider a gym membership, keep these simple tips in mind.

But if you’re looking for a cheap and convenient place to exercise, I recommend that you read my article, “Why I love my Singapore Sports Council gym“.

Update 12 August 2009
Recently, I revisited the TrueFitness outet at Vivocity. Read more here!

About Dedrick Koh

Dedrick Koh is a Social Media and Communications Specialist at Nanyang Polytechnic. He has a Bachelors (Murdoch) and Diploma (Ngee Ann Polytechnic) in Mass Communication. Dedrick is a communications professional and a highly skilled classical guitarist. As a communications professional, he has worked on brands like Coca Cola, DHL, Nokia, Nestle, the Health Promotion Board, the Economic Development Board of Singapore and the President Challenge. He gave private classical guitar during his polytechnic and undergraduate studies to put himself through school. He has succesfully prepared students for ABRSM and Trinity exams and was previously an instructor cum assistant conductor at Ngee Ann Polytechnic Strings under Alex Abisheganaden .