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Health Club Memberships

Health Club Memberships

October 8, 2007 —

You have the best intentions of getting in physical shape when you take your first step into the health club, but get mentally prepared for the questionable ethics of health club membership structures.

When health clubs emerged in the 1970s, they helped members on an individualized basis and charge based on the service provided.  Today's system is based on "bundled memberships," which emphasize more equipment, more classes, more everything--rather than the individualized assistance that helped build the health club industry into a major economic force. Analysts predict that 20 percent of the U.S. population will belong to a health club by 2010. 

Health clubs make their strongest marketing push every year in late December and January. (Can you say holiday over-indulgence?) Yet, it takes most people a bit of time, about three weeks, to develop a consistent exercise habit.   Make sure you're ready for the investment in time and money that is required.

Many clubs offer per visit charges rather than a fixed fee.  While many people believe that paying per visit is going to be more expensive, studies have shown the reverse is actually true since many members do not attend regularly.

If you decide to join a health club, examine the agreement carefully.  Follow these simple rules:

  • Do not agree to sign up for a lifetime membership; they are illegal in most states.
  • Ask whether the club will "own" your contract, or whether they will sell it to a third party. That could be bad news if new owners change the terms or the quality of services.
  • Ask for a  "cooling off" period, usually three days after signing up for a membership, during which you may cancel the agreement without penalty.

One more suggestion: Compare private health club memberships with fees and services offered by your local YMCA, which serves thousands of communities with  exercise programs, early childhood development, and activities for families.

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