Please note: what I'm present is only my opinion and I'm not receiving any kick backs of any kind for this. Though, if anyone wants to through kick backs my way... : D
There are so many different gyms out there at the moment, that it can be difficult to choose a good one. When looking for a gym I'm particularly interested in:
1. Location: I want one near me or near my work, and its an added bonus if there are ones around Australia I can use when I travel.
2. Price: yeah, duh. I want to be getting something for my money. I'm also not really a fan of joining fees, and try to avoid these as much as possible. How long I have to sign up for is also an important feature.
3. Facilities: what's on offer is important, and there is no use paying for extras if you don't want them, but I happen to love a gym that offers me little extras like massage chairs or saunas, even if I only occasionally use them, at least I know they are there. (It's like owning a boat compared to hiring one.)
4. Opening hours: I really dislike not being able to go to the gym at times that suit me. Particularly the assumption I wouldn't want to workout on the weekend. Okay, so maybe not many people go there, but on regular occasions, like tonight, I think 'damn, I need to go to the gym, but it is too late they have closed already.'
5. Extras: sometimes gyms have little extras like good specials or extra programs you can sign up for which can make a difference.
6. Friendliness and attitude: each gym has a specific 'attitude' or 'culture' among the staff and sometimes the clients. It's good to get a feel for this before signing up.
The first non-Uni gym that I signed up to in Australia was a Fernwood Fitness Centre, quite a few years back I have to admit. I started off at the one in Chirnside Park, as I was living out in Lilydale at the time, but after almost a year, I moved back into the city so tried the city centre then settled for the Carlton gym.
I will put the disclaimer in that it was a few years ago now, so I don't know how much things have changed. If anyone is currently going to a Fernwood, please feel free to leave a comment.
Fernwood is a franchised gym aimed specifically at women. So if you are hoping to work out with your partner, this is not the place for you. However, if you are slightly nervous about how you look in leggings and want to exercise in a sleaze-free zone, it can be wonderful.
Please note that since it is franchised, rather than centrally organised, I've found that there is quite a bit of variation between gyms and what they offer.
They are all over Australia, with about 25 gyms in Victoria. I had no problem while I was living in the city finding a gym, but move out a bit and it gets a bit harder, which is why I eventually left, there just wasn't a gym near me.
The joining fee is a bit steep: $199 to be exact, which I don't think would be worth it. However, luckily, they often have promotions where they scrub the joining fee (I notice that on the website at the moment, 13th Jan 2013, they have one of these promotions running). If they don't have one running now, it might be worth waiting another few months and keeping an eye out for the next one.
The Melbourne City gym has their basic gym membership (which includes all gymy stuff, but doesn't include their weightloss counseling or personal training etc.) for $22/week for a 12 month contract. They also offer a 3 month contract, at a few extra dollars per week.
There is no option for week by week membership, which can be a bit restrictive if you are like me and unsure of where you will be going next, but 3 months probably isn't too bad. (They didn't offer this when I joined up). However, with this, you can transfer to another Fernwood gym if you move, which is useful. Also, you can use other gyms a certain number of times a year, great for when you are traveling.
The actual price appears to vary a bit between gyms, as the Ballarat gym is $22.50/week. (Strange, huh? But they probably have a much larger gym, as the city is pretty tiny), while Chirnside Park (where I started) is $21/week. So it might be worth looking around to see if you are getting the best price in your area.
Compared to other gyms this is pretty good. You can get quite a bit cheaper, if you are prepared to get rid of all the extras. But around 20-25/week appears to be pretty normal for a gym with classes as well as gym.
This appears to vary hugely between gyms, however this is where I remember Fernwood shining compared to a lot of other gyms I've tried.
The Melbourne City gym, when I visited it, was pretty small and a bit cramped (it definitely has 'peak' times). However, in general they are clean and well fitted out.
The City gym boasts:
- Member Motivators (aka staff on the ground)
- Luxurious Change Rooms (better at some Fernwoods than others, but generally much better than most gyms).
- Group Fitness Studio (with a pretty decent array of classes, and will often take suggestions).
- Weight Training
- Stretch Area
- Cardio Equipment
- Cardio Theatre
- Members Lounge (often just a few chairs and tables in one corner, but sometimes more.)
- Breakfast and Tea/Coffee Bar (yup, most Fernwoods offer free breakfast of cereal, toast and fruit if you work out before 9am, which was a good selling point. And Chirnside had a proper coffee maker which you could use for free, great for a caffeine dose after your work out. Carlton had one of those pod-coffee machines, but you had to pay for the pods, which wasn't as exciting.)
- Towel Hire
- Complimentary Toiletries
- Gift Vouchers
- Hair Straighteners
If not stated, these are paid for extras, but useful to have at your finger tips.
- Personal Training
- 30 Minute Work Outs
- Weight Loss Centre
- Complimentary Breakfast
- Complimentary Toiletries
Again this varies, but for the Melbourne City gym they are:
- 6:00am - 8:00pm Monday to Thursday
- 6:00am - 7.00pm Friday
The St. Kilda gym which is the closest to me now is open:
- 6am - 9pm Monday to Thursday
- 6am - 7.30pm Friday
- 8am - 4pm Saturday
- 8am - 2pm Sunday
However, it obviously changes between gyms, so you might be able to find one with better hours.
One of the things I loved about Fernwood is that they were always offering special deals and extra programs you could sign up for. I did the bootcamp through them which I am glad I did, because it did work me harder, and they test you at the beginning and the end so you can see that you are getting fitter. However, a lot of the sessions were pretty repetitive and not what they had advertised (they had shown pictures of people from gyms all over Australia, and my gym just didn't have any of the equipment for what was being displayed.)
But I still think that if I'm in the right area at the time, I might do the 'Operation Wedding Dress' program. This is more tailored than just getting a personal trainer, and the staff will be used to listening to wedding talk and might have some useful advice : D
In general, being female only I found everyone to be really supportive. This was more noticeable at Chirnside, where there were a lot of older women than in the city where everyone was trying to fit in a workout before going back to work, or Carlton where they were mostly super slim university students. But generally people are a lot politer about the equipment, and if you are a little intimidated by going to a gym it is a lot easier.
Some women really like working out with the men around, and I admit I like the challenge of working next to the guys at CrossFit, but I also enjoyed the more relaxed atmosphere of a female only gym.
I don't have any particular problems to point out with Fernwood, though I did keep getting sms reminders of events happening a long time after I left, which I found a bit annoying.
They do vary a lot between the individual owners, so try and get a feel for the staff while you are checking it out.
I would carefully check out the facilities before signing up, and I wouldn't pay the joining fee, but I did really enjoy my time, particularly at Chirnside, and would definitely sign up again if it were closer. (At the moment the nearest Fernwood is 2.5 km away, while I have another 10 gyms in between here and there.)
Anyone else had good/bad experiences with Fernwood?