For someone who has never worked out in a gym or fitness club, the complicated machines, the giant weight stacks and all those awful mirrors are something out of a nightmare reducing even the strongest among us to a quivering mess.

Bottom line: there are no power suites in a fitness club! Whatever you do in the real world is stripped off when you put on your sweats and you become just like every other beginner – nervous and genuinely intimidated.

But it does not have to be so stressful. Part of the difficulty is not knowing what is going to happen when you walk through those doors or what type of contract they are going to want you sign.

Before you step into any fitness club, do your homework on what you want in the facility.

  • Location is probably the number one consideration. Many people work out on their way to or from work so having a club on the route is important but do not choose one too far from home or you will never attend on days off or during a ‘stay at home’ vacation.
  • If you are interested in aerobics and yoga classes, find out which clubs offer the most frequent and greatest variety of classes. If you want to try spinning, find a club that offers spinning as not all do. Enjoy freeweights? Find one that has a wide selection of weights and enough space to enjoy the work out.
  • If you know the only time you are going to find to exercise is at six o’clock in the morning, then make sure the club is open that early. Is it open early on weekends? Or if you are a night owl, is it open late?
  • Many women are intimidated working out next to men and there are women only fitness clubs or gyms that have a women’s area – steer yourself towards that club.
  • Do you like swimming? There are fitness clubs that have pools but the rates are normally higher – is it that important to you that a few extra dollars per month is worth the difference?

A little planning and research can narrow down the number of gyms you visit before making a decision on which facility to join.

So what is going to happen when you walk through those shiny doors? Most fitness clubs work on the same system of sales pitch. The first step is the tour where a sales rep shows you the around the club and asks you questions about your fitness background in an attempt to make you more comfortable and establish your needs. This should not come across as a sales pitch or rehearsed from a script as most good fitness centers have staff that are truly interested in helping their members reach their goals and realize the hardest part to overcome is the intimidation factor.

After the tour, the staff member will ask what you think of the facility and whether you can see yourself comfortable working out there. Then the pen and paper come out to discuss price.

A handful of fitness centers work on a month-to-month basis but they are rare. How fitness clubs make their money is by locking people into a two-year contract – it costs the client less money per month but the club makes it up in time. Usually there is X amount down and then Y amount per month for 24 months. Sometimes you have to pay the first and last month up front as well – first month is fine as it can take a day or two to set up an automatic payment plan so it only makes sense for them to ask that upfront. Last month is a bit of a hook and it is there to guarantee them a bit of extra cash, not for convenience for you.

If you have a stable lifestyle and do not expect any major changes, a two-year contract is the cheapest way to pay for a fitness club membership. The caution is to read the fine print. What if you need to cancel because you are moving or find yourself suffering from an illness or condition that makes exercise contraindicated? What hoops will you have to jump through to cancel those monthly payments? Usually they require a note from your doctor or proof of the move i.e. a change of address on a major utility. Any more then this and they are hoping to lock you in to an extra month or two while you sort out the details. Many gyms also say you have to move 20 miles or 30 kms away from the gym in order to cancel – this is ridiculous! How many people will drive for half an hour each way to work out? If this is stipulated on the contract, have them make a change to something more realistic such as 10 miles/16 kms and have the manager initial the change.

Something else to consider is the ability to put the membership on hold. If you travel for a month or more at a time, why pay for a fitness club membership that you will not use? Most clubs will either stop the payments for that time or continue to take the payments but give you the time at the end of the contract. Preferably, it is better for them to stop the payments as what happens if you have six free months of membership due to traveling but you have to cancel your membership because you are moving? It is a waste of money on your part and only they reap the rewards!

The last scam a disreputable fitness club will try is to have it written into the contract that at the end of your membership, it automatically renews for a further one or two years without written instructions from you saying otherwise. Read between the lines and if the contract has anything in it similar to this, have them remove it. It is good if they renew it at the same rate on a month-to-month basis after the initial two years but locking you in to a set time is usury. Monthly rates do not change that much – better to take your chances on paying a slightly higher rate then to be locked in indefinitely.

Gyms and fitness clubs are businesses just like any other but they are there to help their members attain their fitness goals as well. Finding a gym where you are happy and content is worth the extra time it takes to tour a few facilities and take the time to read the contract word for word before signing – a little buyer beware goes a long way in overall enjoyment of the facility.

After that, it is all about the workout – enjoy your newfound haven and lifestyle change!

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