How to Choose a Health Club

Smart Workout Gym
Smart Workout Gym. Wendy Bumgardner © 2012

Many people hope that joining a health club will be a magic bullet to inspire them to work out. But take a deeper look at what each club offers so you will be joining the club that has the best chance of helping you develop a steady fitness habit.

Location, Location, Location

Unless the health club is located nearby or is convenient to your commute, your attendance will drop off swiftly. It can be perfect in every other way, but if it's harder to get there, you are less likely to go.

Hours and Class or Trainer Schedules

What hours and days of the week is the club open? When it is open, how is it staffed? Are the kind of group classes you want available at hours convenient to your schedule? If you plan to use a personal trainer, what hours are they available? If you need to use on-site child care, is it available and what hours does it operate?


Is the club overwhelmed with clients during the hours you are most likely to want to use it? Will it be difficult to find parking, a locker, or an open treadmill? This may be unavoidable, as most gyms are used heavily before and after work on weekdays. January will always be crowded, so it is best to give them a fair chance by checking this out in other months.


You will feel most comfortable working out around people with similar fitness goals. Some gyms cater to bodybuilders. Some to those seeking weight loss. Do you feel intimidated by the other clients, like your gym clothes or physique isn't quite worthy?


Do the staff greet you or ignore you? Do they act like knowledgeable fitness professionals or do you suspect they are working a summer job for minimum wage? Do they seem more intent on socializing than assisting you? Are they fully familiar with the equipment and able to give you help and direction? Do they display their credentials?

Safety and Cleanliness

Is the equipment kept in good repair? Are the pieces of equipment, mats, locker rooms and shower areas kept clean? Are towels available free, or for a towel fee? If you see a client doing something unsafe, will a staff member intervene? More: Gym Safety Tips

Children and Guests

Parents will often have the best chance of making their health club a habit if child care is available on site. Also find out what guest privileges you have -- is there a fee for bringing a guest, and are you limited to certain hours or numbers of guests?

Facilities and Services

Are you looking for exercise machines or a great free weight area? Do you want to join in group classes for circuit training, dance, tai chi? Do you want to play racquetball or shoot hoops? Do they have a pool? Can you relax with an onsite sauna and massage?


Negotiating a health club contract, with all of its choices, is often very confusing. Be sure you understand the basics:

  • Initiation fees
  • Contract duration
  • How it will be billed, and whether it automatically renews if not actively stopped
  • Extra fees for classes, personal training, child care, parking
  • Is the membership transferable to other locations?
  • Are there any time limits on using any bonus items such as personal training sessions?
  • Will the fees go up after an initial discount period?
  • Are the fees refundable if you decide to terminate the contract?
  • Don't be afraid to negotiate a better deal than that which is offered. As with buying a car, ask them to throw in some extras if they won't come down on price.
  • Do they offer discounts for family members or credits for referring friends?

Trial Memberships

Use any free sessions to really kick the tires of the health club. It may be hard to shake the overly-friendly salesperson who wants to show you all of the amenities, but it is hard to get a good workout with them at your side. If they are annoying, ask them to give you space so you can make an informed decision. They want to make the sale, and smart salespeople will honor your request.

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