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What to look for before committing to a health club

Friday - 6/22/2012, 12:52pm  ET

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The report suggests visiting gyms when the consumer would normally work out to see how busy the gym will be. (WTOP File)

Kristi King, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Exercising outdoors can be dangerous in extreme heat. It may feel just as reckless to commit too quickly to a contract with a health club.

Washington Consumer's Checkbook has a few suggestions on how to check out a gym.

First thing to do is be honest with yourself. Determine whether spending the money would be worth it, or whether there's a strong chance a membership card would not be put to good use.

It doesn't cost anything to find a pick-up basketball game in a local gym, or a club that walks the halls of shopping malls.

When choosing a health club there are a number of fine print contract terms to consider.

Ask what happens to the contract, for example, if a health club member has to move out of town. Or whether the membership can be put on pause if a member can't show up for several months. Also ask if membership can transfer to another city or person.

Washington Consumer's Checkbook also recommends inspecting health clubs at the same time of day when the member would visit the gym to exercise. Try to arrange for a number of trial workout sessions so you can ask current members about their likes and dislikes.

Use comparison shopping visits to examine the cleanliness of showers, the availability of classes and machines, and the helpfulness of staff.

Also consumers should realize that many, if not most, health clubs are willing to negotiate rates if informed a potential customer is also looking elsewhere.

Checkbook says local county government recreation centers can be just as well equipped as some expensive fitness centers. Some rec centers are free. Some membership fees cost a fraction of the price of private fitness clubs.

Prices also can vary dramatically from club to club. In Falls Church for example, Checkbook finds prices can range between $279 and $1,050 for a one year contract for one person, which includes use of fitness equipment and exercise classes.

Ratings by Checkbook customers show quality of health clubs can vary greatly. Some clubs' facilities and equipment are ranked "superior" by 80 percent of users, while other clubs get high praise from only 20 percent of customers.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)