Working Out the Details How to Choose a Health Club or Wellness Center

It’s the time of year when we stay inside for activities and thoughts turn to the possibility of joining a fitness facility. The following information will help you to make an informed decision and get the most value for your money.

Many local health clubs offer outstanding services: quality equipment, fitness knowledge, and other attractive amenities such as steam room and sauna, massage therapy, and more. However, health facilities vary greatly, not only in services and equipment available but also in pricing structure.

Many join a health club with great intentions and then wind up 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 a health club, first do a little research. Use the Internet to search your area for facilities, if possible. 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, location, 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.

Does it have what you want? Make a list of the things that are important to you, and make sure the health club has what you need. If classes help 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 child care, or it will be tough to make it to the club.

What’s the member profile? Find out what the members are like, and see if the atmosphere is comfortable. Do you see people like you? Many places cater to a certain clientele, so be sure it’s one you want to exercise with. Are there programs for your teens and younger ones? If you’re a beginner, some clubs may be intimidating. Select a club where you feel comfortable and welcome.

Who’s on staff? Make sure there is always someone available to answer your questions or to show you a new exercise or how to use a piece of equipment. Are they friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable? Instructors should be certified by a national organization or have an educational background in the field. Are there staff members available on the fitness floor at all times? There should be, both for your safety and to answer questions. You may even ask a few members what they like about the club and its employees.

Costs and contracts. Find out exactly what the membership fee includes. Are there extra costs for additional services? Some health clubs have a one-time initiation fee and require signing a contract that locks you in for a predetermined time whether you use the facility or not. 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 credit card 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. Also, have a clear idea of what you can afford to pay, and stick to your budget no matter what sales incentives are offered. Many YMCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs, and community centers will offer financial assistance based on need.

Please shop carefully and make the best choice for you. And once you do join, be sure to utilize your membership and stay healthy!

Julie Costello is executive branch director of the YMCA Springfield branch.