You want to be fit/lose weight (just think of all the major illnesses can either be prevented or controlled by regular exercise, such as diabetes and heart disease).
That said, while home gyms can be convenient, they can also become dull (there are only so many fitness DVDs that you can follow). A gym can offer many great alternatives, including state-of-the-art gym equipment and engaging, challenging group fitness classes that make it easier (and sometimes even fun) to exercise. However, joining a gym is something you must make an informed decision about…before you waste your time and money.
Ask these questions before you commit to a gym:
1. What do I need? The most important factor in choosing the right gym is finding one that fits your goals. Why do you want to join? To lose weight? To tone up? To treat an injury or health condition?
Look for a facility that offers the most classes that meet your needs. For example, if you have arthritis, a facility offering water aerobics classes will be preferable over one that does not. Get a tour of the facilities and check out the array of equipment provided.
2. Is the club nearby my home (or work)? The fitness club you’re looking at may be fabulous in every way — but if it’s not conveniently located, you won’t go regularly.
3. Is the facility accredited by the industry’s leading associations? Ask if the club is a member of the International Health, Racquet and Sports Association (IHRSA). It’s the most respected association in the industry and its member clubs must uphold strict standards in member services and programs.
4. What types of fitness classes and programs does the club offer? Is the staff supportive? Look into the variety of classes and programs offered and ask if they’re included in the club’s monthly membership dues. Also, find a club where the staff, including the trainers, are willing to help and answer questions if you have them.
5. Do I have to pay extra for classes? Are classes included in your monthly fee, or do you have to pay an additional fee for them once you join? Do you have to pay for them ahead of time (say, six months worth)? Does the gym offer one free class so you can find out if it’s right for you?
6. Is the gym clean? While there are no nationally-recognized health codes specific to gyms, you’ll want to check out the facilities for cleanliness.
Take a look at the equipment — dust piled up beneath or around the exercise machines is a sure-fire sign of poor maintenance. Check out the lockers, showers, and changing areas to make sure they look properly attended-to.
Once you do join, protect yourself. Wipe down machines with antibacterial wipes before you use them (should be provided), and wear shower shoes in the locker room and shower.
7. Does your workout schedule coincide with the club’s busiest hours? Visit the club a few times during the hours you intend to use it and see how busy the club is. Is the parking lot packed at your desired gym time? Is there a line to use the treadmills? Make sure the things you need will be available when you need them to be. Joining a gym won’t do you any good if, every time you go, you spend more time waiting, rather than working out.
8. Does the club maintain good customer service policies? Staff members should have answers to your inquiries and be able to handles special requests, such as guest passes, placing a membership on hold during an illness or vacation.
9. Will you want to work out with a trainer? Make sure you know ahead of time if you want to use a gym’s personal training services. Most times, you will have to pay the gym additional money, and some gyms have been known to charge more than the service is really worth.
10. What are the educational backgrounds and certifications of the fitness staff? Trainers and instructors should be certified with one of the following: National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) and/or American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) or ACE. Fitness specialists should also have an educational background in exercise science, kinesiology, cardiac rehabilitation, biomechanics, and adult physical education.
11. Do you feel comfortable in this crowd? Pay attention to the people using the club. Are they similar to you in terms of age, fitness, and attire? You will feel more at ease and are more likely to stick with your fitness plan if there’s a very diverse crowd around you or if most people are like you.
12. Does the club’s overall environment appeal to you? Clubs that provide an atmosphere where you can meet new friends, learn about wellness, and experience new trends in health and fitness will keep you coming back.
13. Does the club offer childcare? For an extra charge, more and more fitness clubs are offering babysitting services or supervised kids areas. No babysitter? No excuses!
14. How does the BBB have to say about the gym? It doesn’t hurt to check with your local Better Business Bureau to make sure there have been no complaints about the gym you are considering joining.
15. What does the contract’s small print say? While there are quite a few gyms that offer membership without signing a contract, most still require one.
It’s very important to remember that most gym contracts are nonrefundable. While a few exceptions can allow you to cancel a gym membership contract, such as moving away or an illness, a contract is a contract. Your membership will have to be paid whether you’re using the facility or not.
Be sure to inquire about student, teacher, or senior citizen discounts if you fall into one of those categories. Also ask your employer or health insurance company if you’re eligible for any gym benefits – many are offer corporate gym memberships, or will help you obtain a reduced membership rate.
Be careful about signing a long-term contract. While paying in advance will probably get you a better rate, most experts agree it is preferable to pay month-to-month. Also, when you’re presented with the contract, do not sign it on the spot. Resist high pressure sales techniques and stick to your guns — don’t sign anything until you’ve had a chance to go home or another quiet location and review it with a fine tooth comb. Additionally, it may be good idea to have someone else read over, too, just in case they notice something you don’t.
In addition to the above questions, be sure to ask any others that you have. It’s better to ask first, before you end up with a year-long commitment that you’re not 100% comfortable with.