Shopping for a gym membership is like shopping for a new car, complete with convoluted deals, salespeople and flashy amenities.
To sift through a persuasive sales pitch and find your best fit, we spoke with Fitness & Health Coach Jacqueline Carly (aka Fitarella). She’s worked nearly every gym club position—from front desk and sales to personal training and fitness instruction.
Before you set foot in the gym, ask yourself these 10 questions and pick what Carly calls your “non-negotiables.”
“When you know what you want and need, you can test-drive the gyms with them in mind,” Carly says. Here’s your question list:
1. What time of day will I be working out?
If you know that you’ll frequent the gym at 7 a.m., check it out at 7 a.m. to feel the vibe. Aside from hearing the music and seeing the kind of people there (would you feel comfortable sweating around them?), make sure the machines you like are available to use.
2. How far am I willing to travel to the gym?
Account for commute time when you map out your weekly schedule for the year. Also consider if you’ll move this year. Carly warns: “Some gyms have a 25-50 mile radius that you need to be out of in order to cancel due to moving.”
3. Will I be showering there?
See (and smell) how clean the locker room is. Of course, even if the shower is cleaner than your one at home, Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen suggest you wear flip flops and bring your own towel, to avoid sharing some bacteria that lingers on moist surfaces.
4. Do I need a gym with childcare?
“Does it seem friendly and family oriented? If you’re going to need childcare, check out the sitters in action,” Carly suggests.
5. Do I prefer cardio equipment or free weights? Or both?
Some gyms accommodate one style of exercise more than the other. Aside from surveying the machines and depending on what the salesperson says, get an unbiased view by introducing yourself to a member and asking what they've found most useful about the gym. “Say you’re on a trial and ask if it would be OK to ask her a couple of questions. I’ve never seen anyone say no!” Carly says.
6. Do I want to take classes and if so, what kind and at what time of day?
Classes are offered at specific times of day, so be sure to get a complete schedule of classes ahead of time, and make sure the ones you want are at a time that works for you.
7. Would I feel more comfortable in an all women gym or is coed OK?
That’s an easy one to check off the list! Another thing to look for is if the weight rooms are segregated by gender.
8. Do I want to work with a personal trainer?
Ultimately, if you need a super-customized workout plan, this is the optimum choice. “Most gyms offer an assessment and at least two complimentary training sessions to help get you started. These sessions are yours and they came with your membership, so take advantage of that time and ask as many questions as you need to,” Carly says.
9. Which of the three payment methods works best for me?
There are generally three payment options, the first two involving EFT (electronic fund transfer), which gyms favor because they’re guaranteed money each month.
1- High initiation fee up front with lower monthly payments (high/low)
2- Lower initiation fee with higher monthly payments (low/high)
Some gyms are now also offering month-to-month memberships, but they are in the minority. The last option is…
3- Pay in full up front: “This is usually the cheapest option because you get a savings for it, and they don’t have access to you for EFT,” Jacqueline says.
All in all, the salesperson has a dollar amount that he or she won’t go below so you don’t have a ton of negotiation power. Your best bet is to read every word of the contract carefully. “Make sure the fees listed on the contract are the same as the price that was quoted to you. Also check for any administration fees for signing up or renewing your membership,” Carly says.
10. Do you need a contract that can be cancelled or frozen?
Even if the gym says your contract can be cancelled within a cancellation period, certain fees may be non-refundable, Carly warns.
See how long the contract is for. For instance, in Massachusetts the maximum contract length allowed is two years, she says. Lastly, consider your life in the next year. “If you change jobs or just can’t make it there anymore you may still be locked into the contract for months to come,” Carly says.
If you want to have the option of “freezing” your membership until you’re able to fit the gym in at a later point, then read the fine print! Jacqueline recently froze her gym membership for a year, but is still getting charged $15 a month because she didn’t read the contract correctly. Even the pros get burned on occasion!
Your last defense against falling for the wrong fit: Take a friend along with you when you visit the gym for the first time. “Share your list with her and ask that she help to keep you on track,” Carly advises. That way, you won't get fooled by a convincing "last chance!" offer, or anything else the salesperson throws your way.
Now you can take a deep breath, and happy shopping!
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