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Many join a health club with great intentions and then windup unhappy and dissatisfied. Starting a health and fitness program is hard enough--don't make it more difficult by joining a health club that doesn't meet your needs.
When shopping for health clubs consider the following:
For your fitness program to be a success, exercising has to be convenient or it won't become a realistic lifestyle change. The closer and easier it is to get to (and park your car), the better. Of course, you don't want to join a health club that doesn't suit you just because it's close to your home or office, but if you're joining a health club that isn't convenient to get to, you're a lot more likely to find an excuse to stop going.
Try Before You Buy
Sales staff are very good at selling the many benefits of their health club, but you need to spend some time trying the equipment and "feeling" the atmosphere. Ask for a day pass or trial membership--health clubs have nothing to loose and everything to gain by this. Be sure to try out the club at the time that you would normally workout--you'll get a better feel for how crowded it is. Notice if there is much of a wait for equipment, how helpful the staff is, and if the equipment is well maintained. You may even ask a few members what they like about the club.
Make Sure They Have What You Want
Make a list of the things that are important to you, such as personal training, childcare, aerobics classes, etc., and make sure the health club has what you need. If classes help to motivate you and the health club doesn't offer the classes you need, sticking with your exercise program won't be realistic. Try the class and make sure it is enjoyable, challenging and educational. Just the same, if you have children, make sure the health club has childcare or it will be tough to make it to the club.
Find out what the members are like; see if the atmosphere is comfortable. If you're a beginner, some clubs may be intimidating. Select a club where you feel comfortable and welcome.
Make sure there is always someone available to answer your questions, to show you a new exercise, or how to use a piece of equipment. Are they friendly, helpful and knowledgeable?
Costs and Contracts
Find out exactly what the membership fee includes; personal training, classes, pool, towel service, lockers, childcare, etc. Are there extra costs for additional services? This should play a big part in your decision to join a certain health club.
Some health clubs have a one-time initiation fee and require purchasing a minimum of three months up front. Depending on your budget, you may want to find a club that allows you to go on a month-to-month basis. In addition, find out if the health club debits the funds directly out of your Visa or checking account. This can make it easier to pay membership fees but make sure that it's easy to cancel if you decide you don't like the club. Be sure you read the contract before you sign so you're not "locked" into paying even if you move out of town or change health clubs.
Also, have a clear idea of what you can afford to pay and stick to your budget no matter what sales incentives are offered. And don't be afraid to bargain. If they're asking $49 a month and all you can afford is $39, offer $39 (if they've met previous criteria) and let them know you're prepared to join then and there.