5 On Your Side

Consumer Reports Takes a Look at Popular Health Clubs

Posted January 7, 2008

— Getting in shape is a popular New Year's resolution, and health clubs take full advantage of it.

Americans spent more than $17 billion on health-club memberships last year, and most new members join in January.

Often, 5 on Your Side gets complaints about health clubs. Issues include inadequate facilities, cleanliness, contract problems, billing issues and even closing without notice.

The Better Business Bureau also gets a lot of health-club complaints. The agency reports that complaints against fitness clubs are 90 percent higher than they were just five years ago.

Whether it is the equipment, working out with other people or exercise classes that motivate you, there are a lot of choices. The key is finding the right facility for you.

Consumer Reports recently surveyed around 10,000 online readers to find out which health-club facilities they think are worth the money. Respondents had to say they had used a gym within the past six months to participate in the survey. They answered questions on everything from classes to cleanliness and cost.

Bally Total Fitness had the lowest monthly fee and among the lowest overall scores.

"And they were especially low when it came to cleanliness, locker rooms, and overcrowding,” Rosalind Tordesillas with Consumer Reports said.

Curves Fitness Centers for women rated much better, though the chain only scored average in the survey.

"Their customers cited limited workout options and sub-par locker rooms. But women did like that the facilities were cleaner than most, with less crowding and shorter wait times,” Tordesillas said.

Most fitness chains in the report had lower scores than facilities at community centers, schools and YMCAs.

Independent Studios, which teaches dance, yoga and Pilates, got top scores for classes, cleanliness and staff.  It cost about $54 a month to be a member.

The top-rated chain was Lifetime Fitness.

You may not need to look further than your office for a good place to get in shape. Work gyms were among the top-rated workout facilities.

Before you sign up at a health club or gym, ask for a free trial and visit during peak workout times.

Each gym that Consumer Reports secret shoppers visited offered free passes. Special offers are common, and commercial gyms run a lot of promotions, so don't buckle under pressure to sign up for a deal that is about to expire.

Once you decide on a gym, read the entire contract before signing it. Make sure everything you were promised is included in the fine print.

Also, do not pay for a long term contract up front and do not allow your bank account to be drafted. Getting a refund or getting the drafts stopped if there is a problem can be extremely difficult, especially if the club gets into financial trouble.


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  • Lorimw Jan 9, 2008

    The YMCA seems to have a bad name!!

  • ncweddingdj.com Jan 8, 2008

    Working out at the club that just burned down was much simpler and the buffet was good, too. I hated showering by the buffet, but other than that...

  • mrtwinturbo Jan 8, 2008

    My gym just has a couple swing sets, a slide and a teeter totter, oops wrong kind of gym......

  • fredssmithisnotmysenator Jan 8, 2008

    I once had a gym owner attempt to take me to court over my wanting to discontinue my gym membership because my job was transferring me to Australia....Australia. Incidentally, this gym owner was also a lawyer, or so she says. Crooked industry, crooked folks!!!

  • allison842 Jan 8, 2008

    TheWaveLife, I am all to familiar with what you're talking about...

    My suggestions to anyone considering joining a health club this month -- make sure you visit the gym at the time of day you plan on using it. Most places are fine occupancy-wise until 5:30 or so when EVERYBODY comes. Also, try not to sign up for more than a year, and if you have the means to pay in full up front, it's in your best interest to do so.

    You get 3 business days to change your mind, so use those 3 days to really use the facility and check the cleanliness, etc. TALK TO OTHER MEMBERS. They know what the deal is.

    A health club can be a really fantastic place for fitness and making new friends, etc. Just make sure you pick the best place for you.

  • TheWaveLife Jan 8, 2008

    Pe*k Fitness (under its former name) is a prime example of the billing quandry. I allowed them to bill my bank account and did not realize until almost a year later (and after they went out of business) that they had been double billing me. I refused to pay so they put both instances on my credit! 2 Years later, I finally got one instance off my credit, but now am having to pay for the first.

  • allison842 Jan 8, 2008

    I sold gym memberships at a local health club for about a year (a couple years ago). First of all, good luck finding a gym that does not REQUIRE you to pay your monthly dues by bank draft. At our club, if you didn't pay up front, you had to have a bank account or credit card we could draft every month. And yes, it was NOT easy to make it stop!

    Speaking from experience, the health club industry is very risky. You never know what you're going to get or how long the club will stay owned by the same people. The sales staff (and yes, that's what they are) are highly pressured to highly pressure you. You will get the best deal the first day you come in, because they offer the best incentives that day to pressure you to sign up. But believe me, the tactics and the atmosphere are just like buying a car. It's sleazy. That's why I went back to school!

  • gratefultoGOD Jan 7, 2008