Here are nine points to consider as you sift through your options:
Convenience counts a great deal, fitness experts say. The easier it
is for you to get to a center, the more likely you are to use it. In
judging convenience of location, think first about the time of day
you prefer to exercise. Before work? During your lunch break? At the
end of your workday? If, say, it's the latter, pick a center that's
right on your way home from work. If you hope to get the whole
family active, choose a center near your home.
Compare centers' fees and what you're getting for your money. Pick a
place that's within your budget. Otherwise, if the membership fee
puts a strain on your finances, you'll soon have an excuse to drop
3. Personal interests.
Perhaps you have favorite fitness activities you enjoy or want to
try, such as swimming, or basketball, or Pilates -- a set of
exercises focusing on strengthening and stretching the body. Find
out if the center has the necessary facilities or equipment.
4. Get a tour.
Once you've narrowed your choices, schedule a guided tour of each
facility you're considering. Take your tour at the time of day
you're most likely to work out. Do you have any trouble finding
parking when you arrive? How crowded is the center? Does it have the
kind of fitness equipment you like to use, and does there seem to be
enough of it to meet demand? Is the equipment kept in good
condition? Are workout areas and locker rooms clean? Would you feel
comfortable in this environment? If music is piped into the workout
areas, is it something you can stand to listen to? Ask your tour
guide to give you a chance to talk in private to people using the
facility to get their comments and reactions.
Years ago, you walked into a fitness center, checked in at the front
desk, and then were pretty much on your own to figure out what to do
and how to do it. Not anymore. These days, centers tend to be better
staffed with people who can help you use equipment properly and
answer your questions. Personal trainers may be on hand to give you
individualized instruction and guidance. Ask about staffing. What
kinds of help and how much one-on-one attention do staff members
provide? What credentials and certifications do they have?
If you prefer exercising in a class setting, then you'll want to
make sure the class selection meets your needs and interests. Maybe
you like yoga, tai chi, spinning, or trekking -- a group workout
using treadmills. How diverse are the choices, for now as well as
for the future when your interests change? Are enough sessions
offered so you won't end up on lengthy waiting lists for the most
popular classes? Check into instructors' qualifications. Ask to be
allowed to attend one class session for free, or at least to observe
one. Would you be at ease here? For instance, do participants have a
range of abilities, so you won't feel like the class klutz? Notice
if the instructor pays attention to people of all levels of ability
and makes everyone feel comfortable. Does he or she make the class
fun and motivating?
7. The extras.
Check into special services you'll want or need. Is there on-site
child care? During what hours? How much child-appeal does the
child-care setting have? What are the caregivers' credentials? Ask
if the child-care facility has certification from the appropriate
state agency. You also may be interested in other fitness-related
professional services, such as massage therapy, stress management
programs, or nutritional counseling. Find out about availability and
any added cost.
8. Take a trial run.
Many centers will give you a free pass for a day or a few days, or a
friend who's already a member can bring you in with a complimentary
pass. It's an opportunity to get an inside look before you join.
9. Know what you're getting into.
Resist any pressure to join quickly, as in "This offer is good for
only one more day." Walk away from any such sales tactics. Take the
contract away with you and look it over closely. Be sure you're
clear about what's covered in the membership fee. Are some of the
special services or classes you're interested in included or extra?
Know exactly what your commitment is. What's the length of
membership? (Note: "Lifetime" memberships now are illegal in most
states.) The payment procedure? The grace period for backing out if
you change your mind? The policy on early termination of membership?
Some clubs offer month-to-month memberships, so it's easier for you
to get out on short notice if you have good reason. Of course, it
also makes it easier for you to quit for no good reason. Finally,
check your local consumer protection agency to find out if a center
has any history of consumer complaints.
Two-thirds of people who join fitness centers stop going in the
first six months, according to the International Health, Racquet and
Sportsclub Association. Two-thirds! Some, of course, may decide to
pursue fitness another way, such as working out at home or outdoors.
Many, however, just drop out of pursuing physical fitness
But if you vow that becoming fit is important to you, and follow
some of the guidelines offered here for choosing a fitness center,
you'll boost the odds you'll stick with a fitness program.
Source: Choosing a Fitness Center That Fits You by Dianne Molvig
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