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Tips for Joining a Health Club

Avoid Getting Muscled Into Bad Deals

By PlanetFeedback Staff
March 26, 2001

Swimsuit season will be here soon, and you've made the decision to get into top shape.  Arnold Schwarzenegger pecs and Angela Bassett biceps are just a few dumbbell exercises away. 

If you choose to join a health club to acquire the body of your dreams, avoid getting muscled into a bad deal. Do your homework before you do your ab work.

The health club industry is still battling image problems, although the number of complaints reported to such agencies as the Council of Better Business Bureaus has dropped significantly in the past decade.

Read the Fine Print
"That not-so-great history is there, but operators are learning that it's a win-win situation when they make the experience of joining a club more consumer-friendly,’’ says Bill Howland, director of research for the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, a non-profit trade organization which represents more than 5,000 clubs worldwide.

Howland stresses paying close attention to what you sign.

“People take more care when shopping for a car or a mortgage,’’ he says. “When you join a health club, it’s a contractual agreement, too.  Some clubs do a better job of walking people through the process than others. Consumers need to arm themselves with knowledge so they’ll know how to handle the ones that aren’t operating ethically.’’

Contracts Vary, So Beware
There’s no such thing as a “standard” or “basic” contract.  Membership agreements can range from monthly to three-year contracts. Monthly plans cost more, but tend to be safer bets if you think you might want out in the near future.

It might also be worth your while to pay a little more for a short three- to six-month membership if you’re just starting out. That way, if you revert to your couch potato ways or other circumstances prevent working out, you’re not stuck paying for a facility you’re not using.

While there’s no specific organization that polices the health club industry, most states regulate club operation.

      Here’s what you need to know about the contract:

  • Take a copy of the contract home to read thoroughly before signing. Don’t let the club pressure you into signing anything on the spot.
  • The contract should list services and facilities. Get all oral promises in writing.
  • Total cost, payment schedule, enrollment fees and finance charges (if they apply) should be stated in the contract.  Find out if there will be additional charges for extra services or specialty classes. Some clubs charge extra for trendy workouts/classes, such as Spinning, power yoga and kickboxing.
  • Understand the exact terms of the cancellation agreement. Some clubs won’t let you out of an agreement, for example, unless you become disabled or move at least 25 miles away from all clubs in that chain.
  • Make sure you’re comfortable with the billing terms. Some contracts authorize the health club to deduct payments directly from your checking account and to renew your membership unless you terminate it in writing.
  • Most states require a minimum three business-day  “cooling off” period from the day you sign up. You can cancel during that time with no further obligation. Some clubs allow as long as 30 days to cancel. Contests, free memberships or super cut-rate specials are often ploys to lure you in for the big sales pitch, which is often a more expensive membership.
  • Ask about the qualifications of the staff.
  • Visit the facility during the time you plan to work out.  There might be a line for the treadmill or Stairmaster if you plan to work out during peak hours.
  • Before you join, contact your local consumer protection office, state attorney general or Better Business Bureau about possible complaints filed against that club.
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