Happy New Year! Do you feel like a sloth? After months of eating too many pies and cookies, drinking too many cocktails and spending too many hours chained to your desk, you might. And your solution might be to join a gym. What a better way to move your assets than to spend some of your greenbacks each month? Well, if you don’t choose wisely, the only thing getting exercised is your bank account.
Know what you want from your membership.
Sure, a firm, toned physique without the work would be on that wish list, but knowing what you want to get out of your membership is key to knowing what kind of gym you should join. “When deciding which gym is right for you, remember that a gym membership is an investment,” Meredith Poppler, Vice President of Industry Growth for The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA). “When investing in your health, you should make a choice based on how much you expect to get out of the gym.”
Poppler points out if you’re planning to use a gym for a quick workout on the treadmill during your lunch break, a small, express club may meet your needs. However, if you are looking to participate in group classes, personal training and/or social activities and sports leagues, a full service club may be the right choice for you. Here are some other things to assess:
Your fitness level. If you’re new-to-exercise, you’ll need an unintimidating club with hands-on service and special programs. If you’re an experienced exerciser, you may need fully stocked weight and cardio rooms.
Your lifestyle. Consider when you will be working out—before work, during lunch or after work—and whether the location allows for you to get to it easily.
Your fitness goals. Whether you want to train for a triathlon or play with your grandkids, what tools will you need to achieve these goals? You might need a facility that provides coaching, group classes, or specific equipment, such as a swimming pool and incline trainers. On this note, if you are just starting an exercise program, you’ll want to make sure that the facility suits your needs as your fitness level improves.
Tour the gym.
Before you sign on any line, you want to make sure that the healthclub has what you want. “Prepare a list of the things that are important to you, such as personal training, childcare, aerobics classes, changing facilities, parking, lockers, choices in cardio equipment, swimming pools, etc.,” Poppler says. In addition, she offers these important factors when selecting a membership:
Convenience. The more convenient the club’s location is to either your home or your office, the more likely you will be to use it. Additionally, if you plan to use a location close to work during the week, and one closer to home on the weekends, a chain with multiple locations may fit your needs. And, related to convenience, what are the club’s hours of operation? Many clubs open early and stay open late, and a growing number are open a full 24-hours (some fully staffed, some not), while others are only open “mothers-hours” or have different rates for afternoon hours. Whatever you do, be sure to visit the club at the times you are most likely to use it.
Staff. Is the staff is available to answer questions, or show you how to operate a piece of equipment? And ask whether the trainers and instructors are certified through a nationally recognized certification organization. (See our post on hiring a personal trainer for more information on certifications.)
Equipment. Equipment selection is important as some people like a wide variety of equipment and machines while others simply want a treadmill, while others only require dumbbells. Make sure you join the club that has the best chance of helping you reach your fitness goals.
Details. Pay attention to the general atmosphere, Poppler says. How is the overall cleanliness? What kind of music is being played? Is the equipment well maintained? Is the décor appealing? What are the members like? Is the staff friendly? Is this a place you would enjoy spending your time?
Reciprocity. If you travel, you may benefit from a membership in a club that participates in the IHRSA Passport Program that entitles you to discounted guest privileges at a worldwide network of clubs. Find a participating clubs at www.healthclubs.com/passport.
Try it before you buy it.
“Do not join online or over the phone, without paying the club a visit, or even better, getting in a trial workout. Many clubs offer guest passes or trial memberships for little to no cost,” says Poppler.
Ready to join? Your timing matters.
According to Poppler, most gym memberships are sold in January with September following as the second highest month when people sign up to a club. And even though the economy is struggling, the healthclub industry hasn’t been hit as hard as other industries. But despite Poppler’s assessment that there isn’t a certain time to get a deal, I disagree.
Much like car dealerships, most clubs have a quota for each month that they are trying to reach. If you want to be able to negotiate the fees you pay to join a gym, go on the last day of the month. And if you can, talk to the sales or recruiting manager, as they have the most clout and authority to waive things like initiation fees. They can also discuss monthly versus one-time yearly dues with you. However, most gyms prefer to bill monthly and it is sometimes difficult to negotiate paying the year upfront. Avoid multi-year contracts. If you end up dissatisfied, the contract will be hard to break since many gyms only allow you to cancel if you are gravely ill, seriously injured or move outside a 50-mile radius of the clubs (or if it is a chain, any of their clubs). Many clubs offer a month-to-month contract where after a 30-day notice you are released of your membership. I find this to be the best gym membership term and more clubs are offering it as an option.
Read the contract.
Poppler’s last bit of advice should be followed to the letter. “Before you enter into any agreement with a health club, make sure you know the terms of the contract,” she says. If possible, I suggest taking a copy of the contract home where you can read it in peace without the sales person hovering over you or trying to summarize each paragraph for you to initial. Any promises that the sales person has made, get them in writing. “Never sign up for a lifetime membership (which is illegal in most states). Know when your membership agreement expires and what the renewing and cancellation processes are," Poppler says. "Also, know what the cooling off period is. Most clubs provide a 3-5 day cooling off period, which provides a sufficient window of time during which you can decide if the facility and services are desirable.”
If you follow this advice, chances are you’ll find a place that you enjoy going to and as a result, you can feel like a cheetah instead of a sloth this time next year.