So. After establishing that I am completely useless at self-motivated exercise (read HERE for more on that) it became clear that I needed to find myself a new gym. Virgin Active Moorgate had, for me at least, run its course. I had been going there for six years and I had outstayed most of the trainers, receptionists and managers! Time to move on…
Gyms in central London are outrageously expensive. Some of them (looking at nobody in particular, Broadgate and Canary Wharf) charge so much per month that even if you went three times a week, every week, your ‘price per visit’ would be well over £10. Add to this travel to and from the gym (if it’s not conveniently located) a charge for a permanent locker (I use my gym locker as a second, home-from-home wardrobe!) and the regular bottle of mineral water (I always forget my re-fillable) and you’re looking at nearly £200 per month. In some parts of the UK I could probably rent a whole gym for that amount of money. It’s just absurd.
Nevertheless, as a Londoner, I know that I am going to have to swallow some kind of expense when it comes to finding a new Place of Pain. Fortunately, I can write my entire gym membership costs off as an expense when it comes to doing the yearly tax self-assessment and so – to a certain extent – I can justify joining a reasonably plush establishment. I’m pretty picky about gyms, which is why I ended up at the same one for six years! Here are some of my (faintly ridiculous) gym-choosing criteria:
1) Must have a cafe so that I can ‘kill time’ before and after using the gym.
2) Must have free water fountains.
3) Must have a brilliant and varied timetable for free gym classes that you don’t need to book in advance.
4) Must have nice and knowledgeable staff who can answer my many annoying body-related questions.
5) Must have nice changing rooms.
6) Must not be underground.
7) Must have free towels.
8) Must be well-located. For me, this means next to a central line tube, because that’s how I get myself home.
With these criteria in mind, I have been stumbling in and out of gyms all over the City and East London, trying to find out why, for the most part, I hated every gym that I stepped into. The first thing that strikes me as intensely annoying about London gyms is that you can’t just ‘enquire’ about membership. There’s often no price-list or membership rates available – to have access to any kind of costings you have to have a session with a salesman who will show you round the gym, ask you annoying questions and try to get you to fill in forms with your email address and phone number. I hate this approach – OK if you’re trying to sell me a mobile phone tariff, not OK if you’re trying to convince me that your gym is going to be a place that I will want to visit, where I will feel welcome and supported. I understand that many gyms have tiered membership levels and different rates for private or corporate members, but still – if you tell me at the reception desk that my membership will cost £170 per month, we can save thirty minutes of each other’s time!
Another little trend that I noticed; underground gyms. Three examples: Virgin Active Broadgate, GymBox Holborn and GymBox Bank. Annoyingly, these gyms are possibly my most conveniently located – all three are basically on top of central line tube stations! But I cannot abide being underground – not this much. No natural light whatsoever and staircases that lead further and further down into the bowels of the city – I don’t find that to be an enjoyable atmosphere. As slick and cool and well-equipped as these gyms are, I suppose I just need to feel that I’m not hemmed in or being compressed by the weight of the earth above me!
Many gyms had bad changing rooms – cramped, messily designed, no complimentary towels. Sorry, but who can be bothered to lug a towel in to work with them and then carry a wet, smelly towel back home again? (I understand that many gyms suffer losses from the number of towels stolen, but still – write it off as a tax expense in the same way that I have to write off my extortionate membership costs!) Many gyms didn’t have good class timetables, and as a gym-goer who pretty much only goes in for classes (more on that another time!) it’s really important that there’s a good selection of classes at a variety of start times. Other gripes include rude reception staff, personal trainers on the gym floor who perv at you as you’re walking round on your ‘sales tour’, a lack of water fountains and – this one is a pretty poor show – loads of broken-down equipment with hand-scribbled ‘out of order’ signs sellotaped to them!
To cut a long story short: after a couple of month’s searching and visiting, I have chosen a new gym. It ticks all of my boxes – near to a central line station, great class timetables, amazing staff, nice atmosphere, clean and spacious changing rooms, up-to-date equipment, a cafe, free towels! More important than any of this, though, is the fact that my new gym has a completely different approach to fitness, and I shall be telling you all about it in tomorrow’s post!