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Mike Roberts

Looking to weight train? This quick-reference guide breaks down the different types of facilities, so you can determine the right one for you.

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Choosing a gym falls somewhere between picking a mate and picking a vacation destination; it's not quite as critical as settling on a life partner, but it'll affect your life more than a lousy week on a rainy beach in Bora Bora. Think about it — if you follow a reasonable weight-training schedule you'll be spending at least an hour three-to-five times a week at the club. If the locale isn't compatible with your needs and interests, how long will you use it before throwing in your complimentary workout towel? To choose wisely you need to do more than crack open the yellow pages and pray. You need to enter into the vetting process armed with facts — the first being what type of club suits you. Here we outline four basic types of gyms that offer weight training; giving you the 411 on cost, common amenities and a bottom-line verdict on whether it's a good fit.

TYPE: Locally-owned neighborhood gym
COST: $-$$ (on a scale of $-$$$$)
EXAMPLES: See local yellow pages
TYPICAL AMENITIES: Basic array of barbells, dumbbells and machines With names like Big Joe's Gym and Nick's Barbell Club, locally-owned clubs usually don't have a lot of amenities or shiny new equipment, but for what they may lack in upscale flourish, they make up for in serious hard-training atmosphere. If you're an aspiring bodybuilder or power lifter these places are where you'll find other like-minded iron devotees, and where you'll be able to concentrate on exercise without distraction.

TYPE: Franchise or Chain Health Club
COST: $$-$$$
EXAMPLES: Gold's, Powerhouse, 24 Hour Fitness, Bally Total Fitness
TYPICAL AMENITIES: Child care, instructor-led aerobics and spinning classes These are your standard clubs, and unless you're in an extremely rural area there will be one or more options near your home. The important considerations to keep in mind as you investigate are these: is it convenient (ideally 5-15 minutes from your house or work) and are there machines available at the times of day you want to go? Ask for a free weeklong trial pass before signing on the dotted line.

TYPE: Women's Only Fitness Center
COST: $$-$$$
EXAMPLES: Curves, Lucille Roberts
TYPICAL AMENITIES: Weight management classes, personal trainers on staff For years, health clubs were a man's world, and while that's changed for the better, they're still an intimidating place to start training. Women-only clubs offer the fairer sex a supportive, results-oriented atmosphere to reach their fitness goals. Some, like Curves, offer a specific program that's tailored to each member by the staff — Curves uses a 30-minute strength training and aerobic workout that involves machines instead of free weights. If you like the idea of ditching the typical male/female social scene of a standard gym, a women-only gym is worth considering.

TYPE: Upscale Health Club/Spa
COST: $$$$
EXAMPLES: Canyon Ranch Spa, Equinox
TYPICAL AMENITIES: Child care, instructor-led classes, personal trainers on staff, pool, sports courts, executive locker room, spa services If money is no object upscale clubs can feel as much like a holiday escape as a workout. That said the same criteria for the local chain – convenience and congestion – holds true for the upscale spa. If you can't get into a locker it doesn't matter how spacious they are.

While we initially said this decision fell somewhere between selecting a significant other and your next getaway, there's one point common to all three: Don't let yourself be a victim of high-pressure sales tactics. The facility should sell itself — if you get a pushy associate who's trying to make quota, move on. You should feel welcome, be able work out when you want and not put a huge drain on your finances - happy hunting.