How to Choose a Health Club
© Joan Price. May not be reprinted without permission.
Whatever shape you're in right now, your community's profusion of fitness clubs, classes, trainers, and activities can speed you towards your fitness goals. Whether you're an independent or social exerciser, or even if you're just pondering getting in shape, joining a health club can help you make exercise a habit by surrounding you with fitness-oriented people and activities, and providing you with motivating classes and a huge variety of expensive, well-maintained exercise equipment.
Of course, clubs vary widely in the equipment, classes, activities and amenities they offer, and choosing the right club might mean the difference between making fitness a habit and not attending at all. Almost all have a variety of cardio equipment like treadmills, elliptical trainers, and stair machines, and most offer the popular group exercise classes such as spinning, yoga, step, and Pilates. But the similarities end there. Each center is unique, with a different atmosphere, clientele, and offerings. Some emphasize personal training, some group classes, some equipment variety. Some are glitzy and offer a gazillion choices, others offer a basic workout (which might be all you need) at a lower cost. Some are social, others are work-out-and-go.
There's no "best" club -- the "best" club for you is the one you'll want to attend regularly. A club membership will work for you only if you feel at ease there and want to show up. Here are some guidelines:
- Make a list of what you want from a fitness club, including equipment, location, ambiance, classes, personal attention, and cost.
- Which clubs are convenient to home or work? It won't do you any good to join an club on the other side of town if you won't go there. Be sure the location and hours fit your needs. Studies have shown that if you live or work within a 15-minute drive, you're more likely to get there consistently.
- Phone or visit the Web sites of different clubs to find out whether they fit your requirements.
- Visit the clubs that pass your initial screening. Spend an hour or so at each one, not just taking the "guided tour," but also checking out the classes, equipment, cleanliness of the locker room, and so on. Is the equipment well maintained? Are members getting instruction and attention as they use the equipment? Time your visit so you're there during the hours you would attend if you joined, to see how crowded the club is at that time and what classes are offered. Some clubs will issue day passes to potential members, permitting you to work out at the club and try the classes.
- Ask about the certification of trainers and group exercise leaders. They should have a nationally recognized certification, like American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM, the gold standard) or American Council on Exercise (ACE), not just an in-house or franchise training.
- Ask members about what they like and dislike about the club. Don't interrupt someone who's working out -- converse in the locker room, which is often a friendly and social place.
- Ask yourself if you feel comfortable in the club's atmosphere. Can you picture yourself working out there?
- Don't sign anything until you've had time to go home and think about it, and you're satisfied that this club is for you. Get all the information about costs, payment plans, setup or initiation fee, cancellation, and discounts (for couples, families, seniors, whatever fits). Resist any pressure--do not sign up until and unless you're sure.
- Once you join, go! Make a commitment to a regular workout schedule.