Choosing a Gym

Although you rarely hear the word ambience used to describe a gym, each establishment has its own feel, character, and mood. How do you feel when you enter a club? Are you comfortable there or do you feel like racing out like a prisoner pardoned from jail? It's probably a good practice to trust your initial impression, because very often your gut-level feeling is what will determine whether you stick with the place or not.

After working out in her neighborhood gym for many years, Deidre decided to join a gym that was closer to her job. Deidre appreciates the finer things in life, but cares little if her gym has soft hankies in the ladies' room. However, the new club she joined had old, run-down equipment, a decrepit locker room, and played awful music really loud! Even for a tough gym-rat like her, the squalid scene detracted from the quality of her workouts. Before too long she was back in her bare-bones gym, which suddenly seemed much more pristine.

Know this: Very few gyms will let you tour their facility on your own. Usually, you'll be chaperoned by a salesperson whose job it is to get you to join. Keep this in mind and don't let them rush you through a suspect area of the gym. In addition, don't let them hurry you into signing a contract on the spot if you're on the fence about whether to join or not. The salesperson will tell you that the club is running a "special" sale, but more often than not this select opportunity happens as frequently as a full moon – like every month! In other words, if you're not ready to buy, we assure you there will be another promotional deal sooner rather than later.

Curiously (or not), the same gym has a different feel depending on when you visit. Why? Gym regulars cycle through in predictable shifts: There's the pre-work crowd, the midmorning and afternoon lull set, the post-work rush, and the late-night revelers. That's why it's best to check out the gym you're examining at the hour you'll be working out. There's no sense in looking at a mellow, half-empty gym at noon if you're going to be rubbing elbows during peak evening hours with dozens of other patrons jockeying for the equipment.

If the place is too trendy or too low rent, too loud or eerily silent for your tastes, or if the price is right but the neighborhood is wrong, remember that you've got options. Make sure you check out one of the other 14,000-plus gyms out there. You're no doubt bound to find one that feels right for you.

Bond or Bust
Here's a situation you may not have considered: On Monday you go to the gym to work your chest and back; on Wednesday you're back to do arms and shoulders when you learn that the gym is going belly up. Out of business. Gone. Goodbye.

If the gym you join is bonded, you're guaranteed at least a partial refund. A bond is a contract between the state and the gym that provides that should the facility go out of business before the consumer's membership expires, the member will have some financial recourse. Roughly half of the states in the country require that a fitness center carry a bond of at least $50,000. If a bond is required in your state, the gym must have proof that it has one should you ask. Again, if a bonded gym bites the dust, this doesn't mean you'll get a full refund, but it's insurance that you'll get at least some money back. If your gym is not bonded, there's not much you can do.

You might think that calling your state's chamber of commerce or Better Business Bureau to see if your gym has a bond might seem like overkill, but gyms go out of business all the time, and sometimes under shady circumstances. Deidre once worked as a massage therapist at a health club that one day just closed its doors as suddenly as a three-card monte dealer folds his cardboard table. Even worse, in the days preceding this unannounced event, the owners offered tremendous deals on multiyear memberships. Obviously, these guys were trying to rake in as much cash as possible before closing up shop. (The only recourse any member had was to break in and hock the furniture. Try selling a used leg extension machine on the street – it's not a pretty sight.)

Your Escape Clause
You've got another good reason to read your gym contract carefully before you sign. Most states provide some sort of "buyer's remorse" clause in the contract that gives you anywhere from 24 to 72 hours to cancel your membership without being penalized. Similarly, there may be a clause in the contract to cover you if you move out of the area or are injured before your contract runs out. Some gyms allow members to "freeze" their memberships for certain periods – after having a baby, after being injured, in order to take a long vacation, and so on. And often if you move a significant distance from your gym (usually 25 miles), you'll be entitled to a prorated refund.

We realize you didn't buy this book to read about contracts, but know this: You can often have riders added to your contract. Remember that smiling salespeople often have more flexibility in what they can offer than they let on. You might be able to negotiate a family membership deal or a group discount if you recruit new members. If the gym doesn't offer discounts, you may be able to add another month on your membership or have a personal training session tossed in the mix. Remember, if you don't ask, you'll never know what accommodations you may be able to obtain.

For example, if you regularly travel out of town for weeks or months at a time, you can probably have the contract amended to account for this. Alternatively, your club might be affiliated with a national chain or organization (IHRSA, the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association is the largest and most reputable) that allows you to work out at another gym while you're on the road – usually free or at a discounted rate.


Excerpted from he Complete Idiot's Guide to Weight Training © 2003 by Deidre Johnson-Cane and Jonathan Cane. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide website or call 1-800-253-6476.


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