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Choose the Right Health and Fitness Club

Working Out

A health club can be a great fitness motivator if you choose the right one. Before you sign on the dotted line, be sure the club you choose suits your personal needs and fitness goals. Decide what's important to you. Consider:

Location

One of the most important things to consider in choosing a healthclub is where it is. You'll just have one more excuse not to work out if the club is out of your way or takes too long to get to. Try to find a good facility close to your home or job.

Staff

Instructors should be professionally certified. If you have physical limitations, make sure there's an instructor trained to work with you. If the age of your instructors matters, find a club with more mature staff. Staff members should always be polite, helpful, and professional toward all clients.

Some clubs have dietitians, massage therapists, and physical therapists who offer extra services to members. Ask about these services if they are important to you.

Programs

What are you interested in? If you like group fitness classes, see what's available and when. Make sure the classes you want to take are offered at convenient times. Don't choose a club that focuses on boot camp and kickboxing classes if you want to do yoga and Pilates.

The best way to tell if you're going to like a class is to try it. Most clubs will let you take a trial class or use the club on a tryout basis for a day, week, or month.

When you take a class, see how you like the instructor, the pace of the class, the music, and the room. Is the class overcrowded? Is the workout space big enough and suited for the exercise you're doing? For instance, if you're taking a dance class, is there enough room to move about, a good wood floor, and mirrored wall?

Some clubs have tennis courts and swimming pools. If you will use them, visit the club when you normally would go and see if there's a wait. Check to see that the courts and pool are in good condition, clean, and well-lit. The pool should be easy to get in and out of, and the water should feel warm.

Equipment

Weight-training machines, treadmills, bicycles, mats, balls, and all other equipment should be clean, modern, and in good working order. There also should be enough equipment to avoid making members wait. For instance, treadmills are the most popular piece of equipment at health clubs. Not having enough of them means you'll have to wait in line for a turn.

Up-to-date equipment is safer, more comfortable, and sometimes easier to use. Stationary bicycles, for example, now have back support and wider seats for added comfort. Hand weights are covered with brightly colored plastic, making them softer and easier to grip. These features can be especially appealing to older adults. See if the club has state-of-the-art equipment.

Maintenance

The entire facility should be clean, safe, and well-maintained. Things to look for include:

  • Bathrooms and showers: Are there enough clean towels, shower and bathroom stalls, lockers, and hot water? Does everything workwell?
  • Parking lot: Are there enough parking spaces or do you have to drive around waiting for a spot to open? Is the parking lot well-lit and free of pot holes?
  • Equipment and workout space: Are the equipment and floors cleaned regularly? Is there enough room to work out without bumping into or tripping over others?
  • Danger items: Are there loose carpets, tiles, electrical cords, or other things you could trip and fall over?

 

Social Interaction

An important aspect of a health club membership for many members is socializing. Friends you make at the club can become workout buddies and help you stay motivated. Working out with others is also fun.

Clubs that encourage socializing have gathering areas, such as a place to sit with comfortable couches and chairs. Clubs often have coffee, tea, and juice machines, as well as television sets. Some clubs organize members for group walks or runs, bicycle rides, or sports events, like triathlons. Look for these features when you're checking out a club. Ask how many members in the club are your age.

Between 1987 and 2002, health club membership among Americans over age 55 grew 349 percent, to 6.9 million people, according to the International Health, Racquet, and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA). This means about one in every five health club memberships belongs to someone over age 55.

Compare Clubs

When you're shopping for a health club, visit more than one if there are several in your area. This gives you a frame of reference for comparing. Friends, family members, or coworkers might be able to recommend clubs they like.

Once you pick a club you really like, visit again. Take a tour and talk to staff and club members. Ask for a free pass and go back several times to work out. Go when you would normally use the club to see what it's like during that time.

Signing on the Dotted Line

If you're convinced you've found the club for you, have a staff person explain costs—in detail. Things you'll want to know include:

  • What is your monthly membership fee? What does it cover?
  • Which programs and services cost extra? For instance, some clubs charge more for popular classes like yoga and Pilates.
  • Is there an initiation fee? Are there hidden costs?
  • How often do rates increase and by how much?
  • How long has the club been in business?
  • Does the club have a month-to-month contract? Some clubs are doing away with yearly contracts and going to monthly ones to attract members.
  • What is the refund or cancellation policy, if any? Find out how you can get out of the contract if you get sick, are injured, need to move, or just don't like the facility.
  • Is the club running any special promotions? Health clubs often run promotion discounts to attract new members. These could include signing up without paying a registration or initiation fee, or getting the first few months of membership free. If there will be a promotion in the future, you might be able to get the club to offer it to you in advance. If not, you might want to hold out until the promotion begins.
  • Can you use your membership at other clubs? Certain memberships allow you to use different clubs in the area or when you travel.

 

Don't feel pressured to sign a contract right away. Take time to review it carefully and ask questions if something is unclear. It's a good idea to talk to other members about their experiences with the club. Also check with the Better Business Bureau or state Attorney General's Office for complaints by dissatisfied former customers.

Once you sign on, enjoy your club often. You've made a worthwhile investment in your health!

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