5 On Your Side

Consumer Reports Takes a Look at Popular Health Clubs

Posted January 7, 2008 6:51 p.m. EST
Updated January 7, 2008 10:03 p.m. EST

— 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.