Top 5 Things Americans Consider When Choosing a Gym

Data from the largest syndicated health and wellness tracker provides information on what factors people look for before joining a gym or studio.

Even though there are roughly 22% fewer gyms and studios due to the pandemic, Americans still have many choices when selecting a gym. At Murphy Research, we have been tracking fitness attitudes and behaviors in the U.S. since 2018 through the State of Our Health (SOOH) syndicated tracker.

Based on the numbers, here are the top 5 considerations gym members look at when deciding whether or not to join a gym or studio and how these considerations have changed with the pandemic.

5 Things Americans Consider Before Joining a Gym

  1. Location. Location. Location.

  2. Does Your Gym Offer the Right Equipment?

  3. Does Your Gym Provide the Right Value Equation?

  4. Is Your Gym Clean?

  5. Does Your Gym Have a Great Atmosphere?

Location, location, location

Location may seem like a no-brainer, but a convenient location is still key to attracting and retaining members. Americans don’t want to travel far to get a workout—and this is even more true now that so many can also get a good sweat from their living rooms.

Now, location still may be number one, but it has actually fallen in importance over the past two years. During the 3rd quarter of 2019, 60% of gym members said this was an important factor in their gym selection. Only 44% said so during the same period in 2020, and 47% this past Q3.

So location still matters to your members, but it shows that the consideration process has changed from pre-pandemic times. Gym-goers are weighing more factors more evenly—making it crucial to understand the other factors at play.

Takeaway for Fitness Professionals

If you own or operate a health club, gym, or studio, focus your marketing efforts and offerings on the businesses, homes, and clientele in your immediate area. Go hyper-local.

Does Your Gym Offer the Right Equipment?

Coming in hot on the heels of a convenient location for consumers considering a gym is getting the equipment they want. For many fitness-engaged consumers, equipment is the key reason for joining a gym in the first place, so it makes sense that this would be an important factor.

However, the “right” equipment varies according to your clientele. For example, if your clients skew male, that means you probably need more strength training options. Men are 1.4 times more likely to lift weights at the gym than women. If your members are older, they will be looking for a wider variety of cardio fitness options, particularly low-impact equipment.

Takeaway for Fitness Professionals

Understanding your consumers is key to understanding their equipment needs, so keep an ear to the ground for unmet needs.

Does Your Gym Provide the Right Value Equation?

Technically, the data says that low membership fees are the third most important consideration in a gym. But there’s more to it than that.

Low fees were much more important pre-pandemic; from Q3 2019 to Q3 2021 the number of gym members who report that low fees influenced their gym selection fell from 52% to 35%. The drop in how important low fees are when choosing a gym is the biggest change across all measured attributes.

Low fees are now on par with cleanliness and a nice atmosphere.

Takeaway for Fitness Professionals

Low fees matter, but not to the exclusion of other factors. The key is the right combination of location, equipment, and atmosphere, including safety and cleanliness. Once again, today’s gym consumers are weighing more factors more evenly—they’ll pay more if the value equation is right.

Top 5 Things Americans Consider When Choosing a Gym Murphy Research Column Width

Source: Murphy Research State of Our Health Syndicated Tracker 2021 Fitness-engaged consumers are defined as those who report that they exercise, track their fitness via app, or wear a fitness tracker weekly

Is Your Gym Clean?

It should go without saying that cleanliness is important these days. However, you might be surprised to hear that the importance of cleanliness did not significantly increase during the pandemic. Rather, it remained stable, only slipping a bit this last quarter.

Takeaway for Fitness Professionals

Consumers are putting cleanliness on par with factors they previously valued much more, like low fees and equipment. Thus, cleanliness—and its corollary, atmosphere—is central to the value equation that today’s consumer is using to assess potential gyms. So, make sure you communicate everything you’re doing when it comes to keeping your gym or studio clean.

Does Your Gym Have a Great Atmosphere?

Cleanliness and atmosphere tend to track together, and that’s because cleanliness contributes to a great atmosphere. As mentioned above, these factors are now given more weight relative to location, equipment, and fees than they were pre-pandemic. As a result, cleanliness has become central to many consumers’ sense of personal safety in a way it was not pre-pandemic.

A club’s general cleanliness and cleaning protocols are key to cultivating an atmosphere that makes customers feel comfortable, motivated, and, most importantly, safe.

The number one reason that consumers cite for why they left a gym during the pandemic was that they didn’t feel safe working out there.

Takeaway for Fitness Professionals

No location, equipment, or low fees can make up for an atmosphere that doesn’t feel safe. Luckily, this is also something that is well within a club owner/operator’s control, and cleanliness is a good place to start.

Consider using an anonymous survey or allowing members to provide feedback on the atmosphere of your club.

“Low fees matter, but not to the exclusion of other factors [...] today’s gym consumers are weighing more factors more evenly—they’ll pay more if the value equation is right.”

About State of Our Health

SOOH is the standard reference point for uncovering the underlying truths and trends that propel food and fitness attitudes and behaviors. It is the largest and most comprehensive U.S. food and fitness tracker, offering an unparalleled depth and breadth of data informing exceptionally clear insights into almost every facet of American health and wellness.

Due to SOOH’s comprehensive and longitudinal design, it can answer almost any question about food, fitness, health or wellness, and can do so more accurately than can be achieved by looking at these topics in isolation or during a snapshot in time. The data can also be cut by key consumer subgroups of interest as needed.

If you’re interested in learning more about this data or the SOOH—including the benefits of subscribing—please email Sarah Marion at

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Author avatar

Sarah Marion, Ph.D. @MurphyResearch

Sarah Marion has a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology and has been the Director of Syndicated Research at Murphy Research since 2020. In this role, she leads Murphy Research’s syndicated offerings, including the State of Our Health syndicated tracker, overseeing topic development, study design, execution, analysis, and storytelling. Prior to joining Murphy Research, she led The Hartman Group’s syndicated research program, where she oversaw research on health and wellness trends.