Getting the Most for Your Health Club Dollar

Joining a fitness facility is costly—from a few hundred dollars to more than $1,000 per year. To make sure your money is well spent, manage your membership the same way you would any other significant investment—by keeping your eye on your goals. If you know what you want to get out of your club, in terms of health, fitness, and lifestyle, you're more likely to use it in ways that will keep you motivated and satisfied.

If you're still deciding which facility to join, keep your goals in mind while you shop around. Health clubs are not all alike. Some clubs emphasize strength training. Others may offer a better choice of aerobics classes or weight-management programs, or may be home to local competitors in running or other sports.

Find the right match

It's also important to find a club that makes you feel comfortable. Instead of just taking a tour of a club you're considering, ask for a guest pass so you can work out at the club under different conditions.

Factors to consider

  • Professionalism. The club should be clean and well-maintained. Staff members should have appropriate educational backgrounds and be certified by a nationally recognized association. They should be able to help you in all aspects of fitness—strength, cardiovascular, and flexibility—as well as your specific area of interest.

  • Atmosphere. Gyms tend to have fewer frills, while health clubs offer more luxuries such as upscale changing rooms.

  • Convenience. If you have to drive an hour to get to your club, you'll soon get tired of the hassle. Look for a facility that's close to home or work, or halfway in between.

  • Amenities. If massages, steam rooms, and an on-site nutritionist are important to you, be sure they're important to your club, too. If you travel, does your club have reciprocal memberships with clubs in other cities?

Read the fine print

Most clubs require you sign a contract to become a member. Read it carefully before signing it and, if possible, compare it with the contracts of other clubs in your area. These are factors the International Health, Racquet, and Sportsclub Association advises you to find out about:

  • Length of your commitment. Is it month to month, or are you required to join for a specific period?

  • Termination options. Can you cancel your membership before the end of the contract? Under what conditions?

Enjoy the payoff

After you've invested in a membership, here are strategies for getting the best value for your health-club dollar:

  • Take an inventory of everything your club has to offer. Classes? Competitions? Variety will keep you interested and motivated.

  • Read the bulletin board. Clubs are often centers for fitness activities in their communities. Many club bulletin boards also offer tips on nutrition and fitness, and deals on equipment.

  • Use the trainer. A trainer can make sure your fitness program is right for you.

  • Be skeptical of nutritional supplements and other products offered by the club. Compare prices against similar items in retail stores.