Choosing a Health Club

Friday, April 20th, 2012 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

Even with springtime upon us, many have yet to make good on their New Year’s resolution to exercise.Today, in a timely reprint that’s well worth repeating, SFA author Jim Evans outlines some of the main features to look for in a health club. Jim is a 44-year veteran of the health and fitness industry and an internationally recognized senior fitness consultant.

DEAR JIM: I’ve been thinking about joining a health club, but I don’t know where to start. Is there anything in particular I should know? At 66, I’m just a beginner at this stuff, but I think I need the right environment to motivate me to reach my goals. Any suggestions? BEGINNER IN BETHANY

DEAR BEGINNER: There are more than 30,000 health clubs in the United States, in addition to countless YMCAs, Jewish Community Centers, municipal recreation centers, and other fitness venues, so the choices of where to exercise are many. Whichever venue you choose, there are a few simple guidelines to help you in your decision:

  • Convenience. One of the most important factors in your decision should be convenience. Why? Because the most difficult part of exercising at a health club is getting there in the first place. Once you’ve made it to the front door, it’s a no-brainer, so the closer and more convenient the club is to where you live, the more likely you are to take advantage of it. It is difficult enough for most people to motivate themselves to exercise without adding the excuse of "it’s too far."
  • Exterior. Is the parking lot free of litter? Is the landscaping well groomed and free of weeds? These are deeper signs of a troubled business that may not be apparent in the inside.
  • Front Desk. How are you greeted when you first enter the club? Is the greeting courteous and professional? The manner in which you are acknowledged will tell you a lot about whether ownership views you as a person or just another number. Watch to see if the front desk attendant is paying attention to members when they sign in or is distracted by personal phone calls, texting or socializing with other employees.
  • Activity Level. Busy is one thing, crowded is something else. It’s all right if you have to circle the parking lot looking for a parking spot. After all, you are going there to work out, right? However, you shouldn’t have to wait in line for equipment once you’ve made it past the front door. Busy is good — crowded means the club may be oversold. Expect every facility to be busier than usual on Monday night — everybody typically has a guilty conscience after the weekend. Accept it.
  • Equipment. Does the equipment appear to be clean and well maintained or are there a lot of out-of-order signs? Is the equipment well spaced so that members are not stumbling over each other trying to get from one exercise to the next?
  • Safety. Is the staff trained in first aid and CPR? Does the club have a defibrillator?
  • Staff. Are the employees neat and well groomed? Are they circulating throughout the club helping members or standing behind the front desk chitchatting with each other? Are the trainers certified? Do they have references?
  • Cleanliness. Thoroughly inspect the facility. Is the exercise equipment clean? Check for mold in the grouting of showers, the steam room, and the sauna. Check for rings around the whirlpool and swimming pool. Does the facility smell clean? Are cleaning materials readily available for members to clean up after using equipment? Does the club provide free towels?
  • Members. Visit the club at the time of day you anticipate using the facilities. Are there any members your age or does the club seem to cater to a different age group? If there are members your age, introduce yourself and ask their opinion. Most members will be frank, one way or the other.
  • Sales Pitch. Most reputable clubs will not use the hard-sell sales pitch of a generation ago, but it still exists in some clubs, so guard against being pressured to make a hasty decision. Still, there may be some legitimate discount opportunities that are worth the investment, so trust your instincts.
  • Trial Period. No health club is obligated to let you use their facilities for a trial period, but it doesn’t hurt to ask if you can try things out for a week or even a month before you make a decision. If no trial period is available, ask if you can join on a short-term membership to start.
  • Before You Sign. Ask if you can take a copy of the membership agreement to read in the privacy of your home, and be sure to ask questions if there is something you don’t understand. Every membership agreement has a three-day right of rescission by federal law (five days in California), so if you discover something you’re not comfortable with after you join, you can still cancel your membership. If you’re still not sure, take it to your attorney.
  • Membership Options. Except for a short-term "starter" membership, avoid term memberships and expensive prepayments. Look for a month-to-month membership that allows you the right to cancel at any time with just 30 days’ written notice. Some clubs will even offer you a 30-day money back guarantee. Don’t object to a one-time enrollment fee or initiation fee — it can have the positive effect of reconfirming your commitment to fitness.
  • Better Business Bureau. The BBB has no enforcement ability, but it can give you a report on the number of complaints registered against a club and how those complaints were handled. Even the best clubs will have complaints in proportion to the number of members, and the manner in which the club handles those complaints will tell you a lot.
  • Fitness is an investment in yourself and the best investment you will ever make, and a health club can be an important vehicle to help you reach your goals if you follow these guidelines.

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