Buff up research before joining fitness club

January 18, 2009

After the holidays, one can avoid the scales only so long. Extra pounds are always a problem for many people this time of year.

If you are truly in need of dieting and exercise or just trying to get into shape, there are a variety of companies and programs to choose from. The trick is finding the one to fit you and finding one that does not rip you off.

When seeking to join a gym or health club, you need to take some precautions before committing to any long-term program:

Determine your goals. Do you want to get in shape to participate in an iron-man competition or just lose a few pounds? In any case, always get a checkup and consult with your doctor before embarking on any fitness program.

What fits your budget? How much a month can you devote to a fitness program?

Shop around. Ask friends, relatives or coworkers to recommend facilities. Pick at least three that appear to fit your needs and budget.

Check them out with the BBB. Do some research. Visit the club. Sit in on classes if possible. Ask lots of questions of the facility representative. Is the facility conveniently located near you? Do the hours of operation fit your schedule? Check the cleanliness of the facility. Last but not least, can you fit in with their program and personnel?

Get references from members. Are they happy with the service and the facility?

Don't succumb to high pressure. Take any contract or agreement home and study it carefully.

Do the organization's representative's promises match the conditions in the contract? Do the real-life services match what was promoted in advertising?

Don't believe vaguely worded "testimonials." They should not serve as proof without scientific backing.

What's the total cost after you add up all the fees? It may be a lot more than the promotional figure published in advertisements.

How long is the membership term? Is it renewed every year, or can you go month to month? Avoid long-term contracts of several years, no matter how attractive any discount might seem.

How do you cancel? What are your cancellation rights if your health fails, you move or the facility closes? All these details should be written in the contract, not just promised by the sales person. The vast majority of complaints against commercial fitness and weight-loss programs involve being billed after the consumer thought the contract expired.

If you are planning on getting involved with a weight-loss program, be wary of exaggerated weight-loss claims.

Commercial fitness clubs sometimes toss around a lot of high-sounding verbiage with little real meaning. It's really just an attempt to impress the consumer. Remember, long-term fitness means you have to stick with it. Miracle pills or machines that make you buff overnight and keep you that way are not to be believed.

Neil Winget is the president of the Better Business Bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at