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Exercise good judgment when choosing a gym

Has your monthly gym fee ever seemed a little bit like a charitable donation? The following tips can help you choose a gym that thins your waistline instead of your wallet. By Laura T. Coffey.

Has your monthly gym fee ever seemed a little bit like a charitable donation? You know, as if you were saying: “Here! Take my money, business down the street! I don’t need it, and I’d really like you to have it!”

It might quickly begin to feel that way if you have a health-club membership you never use. But c’mon – why let something like that happen?

The following tips can help you choose a gym that thins your waistline instead of your wallet.

1. Take time to shop around. Visit two or three health clubs, paying careful attention to where you feel the most comfortable and where there’s a mix of services, programs and equipment to help you stay motivated. If you love the classes being offered but they take place at inconvenient times, don’t sign up. If you love the pool but it isn’t open for lap swimming when you’d need to use it, don’t sign up.

2. Try before you buy. Free guest passes are the best way to comparison shop for a gym. Use each club at the time of day when you would actually work out.

3. Remember the importance of location, location, location. If the club isn’t within 12 minutes of your home or work and isn’t open at hours that are convenient for you, don’t join. Unless you’re a master of self-discipline, you’ll likely find excuses not to go.

4. Figure out how to miss the crowds. Are you the kind of person who hates going to a health club when it’s crowded? Then be sure to ask whether the club has a size limit for its overall membership. If not, and if the club is popular, it is likely to be packed at peak times. For planning purposes, the best times to avoid crowds at most gyms are Friday evenings, and mid-mornings and mid-afternoons on weekdays.

5. Ask about specials. You may be pleasantly surprised to learn about special deals for families or people older than 50. And depending on a given month’s sales quotas, deals may be more plentiful at the end of the month.

6. Know what your payment covers. Will you have to pay extra for an initiation fee? Child care? Towels? Use of a locker? Assistance from a trainer? Use of certain facilities? Such fees might prevent you from using the club as often and as effectively as you could.

7. Find out whether the health club has posted a bond. This money can be used to repay members if the gym goes out of business. To make sure the club is bonded, call your state’s consumer hotline or consumer affairs department, which you should be able to find by doing a Web search for the name of your state along with the words “consumer hotline.”

8. Avoid unnecessary risks. It’s risky to buy a membership for a club before it opens. If you do purchase a pre-opening membership, make sure your money is placed in escrow. It’s also wise to avoid long-term contracts; try paying month to month or committing to a maximum three-month window.

9. Set yourself up for success. Want to ensure that a gym membership is worth your while? Try these tactics: dedicate enough time to be able to work out at least three times a week; seek out equipment you actually find enjoyable to use; listen to music or audio books while you exercise to make the time go by more quickly; and be prepared by almost always having a packed gym bag with you in your car. (No excuses that way!)

10. Know how — and when — to cancel. The gym’s contract should contain a provision that if a member dies or becomes physically unable to use the club, the contract can be canceled and a refund issued for the unused time. Some clubs also allow you to cancel if you can show you’ve moved more than 25 miles away. And one last tip: If you’re simply not using your membership for months on end, don’t let excessive fear of losing the value of your initiation fee prevent you from canceling. Know when to swoop in, rescue your credit-card balance and start walking in your neighborhood or doing other forms of exercise outdoors – for free!

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