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How to Choose a Health Club
by Chad Tackett

Need help choosing a health club that will best suit your needs?

The health clubs in the Global Health and Fitness (GHF) directory offer outstanding services: a large selection of high-quality equipment, health and fitness knowledge, and other attractive amenities such as steam room/sauna, Jacuzzi, massage therapy, and more. However, health clubs vary greatly, not only in services and equipment available but also in pricing structure.

Many join a health club with great intentions and then windup unhappy and dissatisfied. Starting a health and fitness program is hard enough--don't make it more difficult by joining a health club that doesn't meet your needs.

Before simply joining the first health club on the GHF directory, do a little research. First, click on your home state (or state you are traveling to). Next, do a search by city; this will bring up an alphabetical listing of all the health clubs in your area. Click on each health club listing--this will take you directly to their web page where can learn more about their services, equipment, rates, hours, etc. Once you've narrowed down the list by location, price range and services, you should talk with the health club's sales staff and plan a visit to the club.

When shopping for health clubs consider the following:

Location
For your fitness program to be a success, exercising has to be convenient or it won't become a realistic lifestyle change. The closer and easier it is to get to (and park your car), the better. Of course, you don't want to join a health club that doesn't suit you just because it's close to your home or office, but if you're joining a health club that isn't convenient to get to, you're a lot more likely to find an excuse to stop going.

Try Before You Buy
Sales staff are very good at selling the many benefits of their health club, but you need to spend some time trying the equipment and "feeling" the atmosphere. Ask for a day pass or trial membership--health clubs have nothing to loose and everything to gain by this. Be sure to try out the club at the time that you would normally workout--you'll get a better feel for how crowded it is. Notice if there is much of a wait for equipment, how helpful the staff is, and if the equipment is well maintained. You may even ask a few members what they like about the club.

Make Sure They Have What You Want
Make a list of the things that are important to you, such as personal training, childcare, aerobics classes, etc., and make sure the health club has what you need. If classes help to motivate you and the health club doesn't offer the classes you need, sticking with your exercise program won't be realistic. Try the class and make sure it is enjoyable, challenging and educational. Just the same, if you have children, make sure the health club has childcare or it will be tough to make it to the club.

Member Profile
Find out what the members are like; see if the atmosphere is comfortable. If you're a beginner, some clubs may be intimidating. Select a club where you feel comfortable and welcome.

Staff
Make sure there is always someone available to answer your questions, to show you a new exercise, or how to use a piece of equipment. Are they friendly, helpful and knowledgeable?

Costs and Contracts
Find out exactly what the membership fee includes; personal training, classes, pool, towel service, lockers, childcare, etc. Are there extra costs for additional services? This should play a big part in your decision to join a certain health club.

Some health clubs have a one-time initiation fee and require purchasing a minimum of three months up front. Depending on your budget, you may want to find a club that allows you to go on a month-to-month basis. In addition, find out if the health club debits the funds directly out of your Visa or checking account. This can make it easier to pay membership fees but make sure that it's easy to cancel if you decide you don't like the club. Be sure you read the contract before you sign so you're not "locked" into paying even if you move out of town or change health clubs.

Also, have a clear idea of what you can afford to pay and stick to your budget no matter what sales incentives are offered. And don't be afraid to bargain. If they're asking $49 a month and all you can afford is $39, offer $39 (if they've met previous criteria) and let them know you're prepared to join then and there.

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