Picking a gym can be a workout. Different facilities have various specialties and prices targeting different customers.
Additionally, many gyms may require you sign a contract. Before signing a long-term contract at a gym or fitness facility, experts recommend investigating what responsibilities come with that document — and what options exist to break it.
Angie Hicks says, “If getting fit is the top of your New Year Resolution list, be sure you understand what you are signing yourself up for before you sign up for a gym, especially if you haven’t been an avid fitness person before. You want to make sure your contract has flexibility in case you change your mind.”
Read the document carefully and don’t sign it immediately. Take the contract home and take the time to make sure you understand the fine print, including what happens if you break it.
If you do change your mind, most states provide specific gym and health club cooling-off protections for consumers, typically ranging from three to five days.
If you’re hesitant about getting into a long-term commitment, consider a club or classes that don’t require a contract. Many centers offer contract-free plans with access to many amenities.
Gym spokesperson Linda Martin says, “Our membership benefits include free babysitting while you work out, six months free wellness coaching. We also have group exercises classes that are complimentary with your membership and anything from Zumba to cycling to water aerobics.”
“We really want to get members engaged right away so some of the mistakes we see is they don’t take advantage of all of the complimentary things that we offer with the membership," Linda adds.
While the fitness centers category on Angie’s List received mostly positive reviews in the past three years, about 5 percent of members report frustrations with fitness centers’ contract rigidity, poor service, and broken-down or too little equipment.
With some research, there are steps you can take to pick a gym or class that best fits your needs.
Angie’s List Tips: Steps to take before joining a gym
- What do you want? Ask yourself what type of workouts you are doing and whether you plan to participate in classes. If you're looking to just lift weights and do cardio exercises, then a budget gym without a long-term commitment may be worthwhile. On the other hand, if you want water sports, fitness classes or plan to play court sports, you might want to splurge on a higher end program.
- Give it a trial run: Visit the facility at the time you’ll be using it. Many offer free trials. Picking a gym can be a challenge because it simply is impossible to try out every gym in a given area for quality. Although using trial passes are a solid way to get a feel for if a gym is a good fit for you, using user reviews are a vital way to make a final decision. In particular getting user opinions on fitness centers is crucial because first impressions aren't everything and other gym members might notice things which aren't apparent during your trial run.
- Understand the details: Keep an eye open for long-term commitments and restrictions on the membership. While many gyms offer commitment free memberships, most high end facilities require some form of commitment. While this isn't unreasonable given the quality of the services, you will want to evaluate if the added services benefit yourself.
- Move or injury? Ask how an injury or move to a new area might affect your contract. Some gyms allow members to suspend or cancel a membership in the case of an injury or permanent disability, while others may not.
- Know your rights: Most states provide specific gym and health club cooling-off protections for consumers, typically ranging from three to five days, though some depend on what a consumer paid for the services. Check with your state’s office of consumer protection or attorney general.
- Think it over: Before signing the contract, take it home and read it over, making sure it contains no blank spaces that can be filled in later. If you don’t understand something, ask questions.
- Consider alternatives: Consider a facility that requires not contract or classes where you pay as you go. In addition, buying fitness equipment to use in your home may be the better choice for you. Before starting any fitness program, talk first to your doctor.
“If you’re interested in starting a fitness routine this year, but don’t know what’s going to work best for you, ask for some trial passes at a gym. Go with a friend on a buddy pass. You might find just buying the treadmill and having it at home, which has worked well for me over the years, might be your best bet, " Angie suggests.
Another tip: Ask how an injury or move to a new area might affect your contract. Some gyms allow members to suspend or cancel a membership in the case of an injury or permanent disability, while others may not.
And remember, before starting any fitness program talk first to your doctor.