Millions of Americans are overweight and looking for a way to get into shape and lose weight. There are many options including diet and exercise and a fitness center provides a great opportunity to lose weight and get into shape. Joining a health spa, fitness center, gym or sports club can be a great way to improve your physical condition.
Nearly 33 million people are members of some 17,000 health clubs in the U.S. today, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association. A lot of the health club members are pleased with their choice, but many others are not and complain to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about high-pressure sales tactics, misrepresentations of facilities and services, broken cancellation and refund clauses, and lost membership fees as a result of spas going out of business. We want to help you avoid these kind of problems!
When deciding on the right fitness center for you, it’s best to look closely at the spa’s fees, contractual requirements and facilities before you join. Here are some suggestions to help you make the right choice.
Inspect the Workout Facility
Visit the gym during the hours you would normally use it to see if it’s overcrowded. Almost all gyms will give you a guided tour of the facility and show you the different options available to you. Notice whether the facilities are clean and well-maintained, and note the condition of the equipment. If you know anyone who has a membership there, ask for their opinion and advice. Ask about:
- Trial periods. Is there sometime when you can sample the services and equipment for free? Most gyms will give you at least one session for free, though we have seen health clubs giving away 30 day free trials to lure people in.
- Number of members. Many health spas set no membership limits. While the gym may not be crowded when you visit, it may be packed during peak hours or after a membership drive.
- Can you bring guests? If you have family or friends visit, they may want an opportunity to exercise. Does the club allow you to bring a guest?
- Hours of operation. Some health work out gyms restrict men’s use to certain days and women’s to others. Some may limit lower-cost memberships to certain hours. Many 24-hour fitness centers provide a key card for access beyond normal working hours.
- Instructors and trainers. Some spas hire trainers and instructors who have special qualifications. If you’re looking for professionals to help you, ask about staff qualifications and longevity. If they allow for independent personal trainers, inquire about the requirements for those individuals as well. A gym that lets just “anyone” train people there may tell you a lot about their operation.
Review the Fitness Center Contracts
Some fitness centers ask you to join – and pay – the first time you visit and offer incentives like special rates to entice you to sign on the spot. Resist. Wait a few days before deciding. Take the contract home and read it carefully. Before you sign, ask yourself:
- Is everything that the salesperson promised written in the contract? If a problem arises after you join, the contract probably will govern the dispute. And if something is not written in the contract, it’s going to be difficult to prove your case.
- Is there a “cooling-off” period? Some spas give customers several days to reconsider after they’ve signed the contract. If they do not have a period of time to cancel the contract, check your state laws regarding contracts – many have a “3 day” buyer’s remorse period where you can back out of the contract.
- Could you get a refund for the unused portion of your membership if you had to cancel, say, because of a move or an injury? What if you simply stopped using the spa? Will the spa refund your money? Knowing the spa’s cancellation policies is especially important if you choose a long-term membership.
- Can you join for a short time only? It may be to your advantage to join on a trial basis, say, for a few months, even if it costs a little more each month. If you’re not enjoying the membership or using it as much as you had planned, you won’t be committed to years of payments.
- Can you afford the payments? Consider the finance charges and annual percentage rates when you calculate the total cost of your membership. Break down the cost to weekly and even daily figures to get a better idea of what it really will cost to use the facility.
Research the Spa’s History
Finally, before you join a health club, contact your local consumer protection office, state Attorney General or Better Business Bureau to find out whether they have received any complaints about the business, or whether there are state laws regulating health club memberships. If problems arise after you join, these offices also may be able to help you resolve your complaints.
A health club membership can be very expensive and once you sign a contract, it can cost you a lot of money. We recommend researching as much as you can to ensure you make the right decision to join a particular gym.