Getting in shape is good for your health, both physically and mentally. Whether you are looking to build muscle, lose weight, tone up, or give your body an overall boost, going to the gym is a smart move all around. But if you choose a gym that you don’t feel comfortable with or enjoy going to, you will likely find yourself making excuses not to go and paying money for a gym membership you don’t use.

Of course, January brings out those of us with the best intentions to follow through on our New Year’s resolutions to lose weight or get in shape, but there is never a bad time to join a gym! Inactivity is one of the main factors that contribute to chronic conditions such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and more.

Beyond physical improvements, many studies show that exercise is the best remedy for our mental health issues, too. Physical activity reduces our chances of depression, helps with mild and moderate depression and anxiety, and can even aid in many other cognitive issues. When you start to see the results of your exercise, your overall self-esteem gets a major boost, too. It’s a win-win on all counts.

Before you head to the fitness club your friend recommends, or the one closest to your house, or any other random gym, take some time to do the research to see what’s available in your area. What works for one person may not work for another and convenience in location means nothing if you don’t actually go because you don’t like the atmosphere.

Instead of gym-hopping until you find the right one or giving up altogether, use these 7 tried and true tips in this online guide to find the gym you will love.

7 Things to Look for in Your Perfect Gym

When you picture a gym, do you imagine perfectly toned bodies wearing expensive workout clothes and running on a treadmill without breaking a sweat or lifting weights like they are feathers? It can be intimidating when our imaginations deceive us by using images from television or magazines. We aren’t perfect, but it’s one of the most common misconceptions that keep people from joining or going to a gym: they worry they will be judged by others while they are there.

Most people who are going to a gym are just like you. They want to improve their health or their physical appearance. You have to start somewhere, and you may not already be where you want to be, but you’re probably not going to get there by sitting at home, either.

However, you don’t want to go to a gym where you feel uncomfortable or judged, and rightly so. There is a gym out there that fits your needs once you know what to look for. Ask around, do your research, and look for these 7 main factors before you choose a gym:

1. Check the atmosphere. Visit the gym during the times you would be most likely to use it yourself. If it’s too busy for you, consider how probable it is that you’ll rearrange your schedule to find a better time. If it’s not likely, walk away from that facility regardless of the other amenities.

While you’re there, watch how people interact – both the members and the staff. Are they encouraging and supportive or standoffish and uncaring? You may prefer to be left alone or you may want to be able to ask for help if you need it. If the atmosphere is inviting to you, keep this gym in mind as a potential winner as you go through the next 6 decision-making factors.

2. Location is important, too. Although you don’t want to just settle on the closest gym to your house, you need to be realistic about your chances of driving too far to go to the gym if it’s not something you are passionate about. If a gym is more than 10 to 15 minutes from your home, odds are that you won’t go as often as you originally intended.

If you plan on going before or after work, you may prefer a gym conveniently located centrally to your job instead of your home. Have a plan mapped out of your best available times and choose a gym’s location based on the majority of your schedule.

One bonus of choosing a gym with multiple sites throughout the state or country is that you can use any gym location, so when you’re on vacation or traveling for work, you can still keep your workout regimen going!

3. Don’t be afraid to ask about the gym’s policies. Most gyms will have signs up requiring members to wipe down their machines after use, but not all of the gyms have the staff to follow through with making sure this happens. Look for clean machines, members using germ-killing wipes, and staff wiping down machines throughout the day. If you monitor for more than a few minutes, you should see this in action.

There should also be a medical plan in place in case of accidents or emergencies. Is there any available staff that is trained in CPR regularly working? Are there external defibrillators that are accessible? What is the policy if someone falls off of their machine and is injured? There should be a medical and clean-up policy in place for these situations since the bodily fluid is a dangerous contaminant of germs.

4. Don’t be afraid to invest in your health. The idea of signing a contract with your gym membership can be intimidating, but on the other hand, it keeps you accountable for your health if you have to pay for the monthly fees whether you use it or not. However, read the contracts carefully to ensure there are no hidden fees or unexpected cancellation charges.

While most classes at fitness clubs are free for members, going for the extra training, like working with a personal trainer or targeted group, helps to keep you accountable, too. You are more likely to go if you are spending money on your health.

Be careful not to confuse a cheap membership with a great deal. Sure, deals are great, but many bargain-basement gyms don’t offer the training, classes, machines, and assistance that you may be able to get for just a few dollars more each month.

5. If you have something specific in mind, be sure they have it available. Start in your comfort zone. Treadmills, stationary bikes, ellipticals, and basic weights are familiar to most beginning gym members. If those are where you feel safe starting out, you should be able to find them in any reputable fitness gym.

But if what you truly want goes beyond the basics, like a sauna room, television screens on your machine with charging ports, or specific classes, don’t settle on a gym that doesn’t have what you desire or you won’t be truly happy in the long run with your choice and you may find yourself skipping out or gym hopping.

Some gyms offer extra like tanning beds, hydro massage beds, and kids’ clubs. If you exercise better with movies to distract you, you might find a gym in your area with a theater, too!

6. Look for upgraded machines. Your gym should have a solid mix of machines, but none of them should look like they are falling apart. Your body and overall health are at stake if a machine breaks while you are using it. Upgraded machines often come equipped with state-of-the-art technology, Bluetooth options, and programmable features that can be customized for you individually. These machines show you that the gym doesn’t skimp on what’s best for the members.

7. Ask for their policies on free passes and visitors. Some gyms will give you a short-term trial pass to check out their facilities. This is a great opportunity to get a feel for the overall atmosphere and to see if the location is convenient enough for you to justify a full membership. It’s also a positive move for the gym since it shows that they are confident enough in their facility to give out free trials.

Once you fall in love with your gym, you may want to bring a friend with you, too. Find out if they allow non-members to use the facilities in the company of a member and how much the visitor must pay.

Don’t Settle for Blah When You Can Have the Gym You Love

With a little research into the gyms in your area, you can choose the one that you are most likely to use, feel comfortable in, and will fall in love with. If you jive with the atmosphere and it offers the machines, amenities, or classes your heart is set on, you may have hit the jackpot, but don’t forget to check the other factors, too!

Fitness clubs don’t have to be boring to get results. You can have fun and get in shape at the same time if you look beyond the blah for the gym you will enjoy and love to visit.