A gym that works out

July 14, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

Fitness is big business. And finding the right gym means putting your money where it will work best for you.

As of January 2002, nearly 34 million Americans worked out in more than 17,800 health clubs across the United States - generating revenues of more than $12 billion, according to the most recent statistics from the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association. The Boston-based group is a nonprofit trade association that represents the fitness industry.

The bottom line in finding the right gym is to take your time and research all the choices thoroughly, says Brooke MacInnis, public relations manager for the association.

"A successful exercise program will require a real commitment, and will help you achieve your goals and maximize the investment you make in both time and money," she says.


After getting the go-ahead from your doctor to begin a new fitness program, determine your fitness goals and look for a health club that offers programs and services that will help you achieve them, MacInnis suggests.

A combination of the fitness club's staff, programs, members and physical environment work together to compose your ideal facility, according to the IDEA Health & Fitness Association Web site at

For starters, choosing a gym that's not too far out of the way will help ensure that you actually go on a regular basis. Research has shown that the No. 1 reason people leave a facility is that it is not located near their home or workplace, according to the IDEA Web site.

Make sure the gym's hours suit your schedule. If the classes or programs that interest you are scheduled at inconvenient times, you won't go - and that means less value for your dollar. Dropping by the gym during the times that you plan to exercise can give you a good idea of whether or not the facility has enough machines to accommodate its clients without long waits - especially during such peak times as before work in the morning, during lunch and right after work in the late afternoon, MacInnis says.

A quick visit also can clue you in to the types of people exercising when you plan to get fit. If you're not comfortable with the gym's members, it's less likely that you'll use the facility on a consistent basis, according to the IDEA Web site.

Ask to tour the entire facility. Look for the cardiovascular and weight-training equipment you want to use, making sure the equipment is clean and in proper working order. Note whether or not there are explanatory signs or posters near the equipment. Make sure the facility is kept at a comfortable temperature with good air circulation. The IDEA Health & Fitness Association also suggests asking if the aerobics room floor is designed to reduce shock absorption, which can help prevent injuries.

Make sure the fitness club puts safety first. Ask if staff members give health screenings before allowing first-timers to exercise, if staff members are trained to provide emergency care, and whether the club has liability insurance.

Certified fitness instructors have the grounding in exercise technique necessary to teach quality classes - so be sure to ask about the club's instructor certification policies.

Find out if a club employee will help you set up an exercise program. Some health clubs include one or more free sessions with a personal trainer in the annual membership cost. Personal trainers are fitness professionals who can customize exercise programs based on a person's health history, capabilities and fitness objectives. They can help set short- and long-term fitness goals, motivate their clients to work out regularly and with enthusiasm, provide nutritional advice and suggest weight-control programs, according to the IDEA Web site.

Health clubs might offer different personal training options, including:

  • One-on-one personal training, during which the trainer works with one client at a time.

  • Partner training, during which two clients share one trainer.

  • Small group training, during which three to five clients share one trainer.

Partner and small group training is gaining in popularity because of the cost-saving potential for clients. Personal training rates range from $20 to $100 per hour, with the majority of trainers charging between $25 and $50. Discounts are often available for purchases of multiple sessions and for training multiple clients at the same time, according to the IDEA Health & Fitness Association.

Look for variety. Most fitness clubs offer classes ranging from aerobics to yoga for members with different ability levels. If you're a swimmer, you'll likely want a gym with a pool. Or perhaps you're interested in a club that features fitness contests and guest instructors. Variety can improve adherence to an exercise program, according to the IDEA Web site.

Talk to club members about their satisfaction with the facility to gauge its quality of customer service. And it's never a bad idea to ask for permission to try out the facility before committing to a membership, MacInnis says.

Finally, compare membership costs at several fitness clubs. Some clubs give family discounts, and allow young children to work out with parents at no extra charge. Be sure to ask the club's cancellation policy for members who must move or drop their membership for other reasons.

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