Q. I made a New Year's resolution to lose weight and improve my health. I plan to join a health club, but want to choose a reputable facility. What advice may BBB provide?
A. Deciding to a join a gym is just the first step in your fitness journey. Don't just sign up at the first gym you see. Before you sign on the dotted line, do your research. To get the most from your gym membership, consider these tips from BBB:
* Determine your fitness goals. Determining your goals in advance will help you select a facility that is most appropriate for you. It's also a good idea to check with your physician before embarking on a new fitness regiment, especially if you have a medical condition.
* Figure out your priorities. What is most important to you? Will a convenient location and extended hours help you stick to your fitness plan? Will a variety of equipment or classes keep you motivated? Do you work out while traveling and prefer a chain with numerous outlets? Determine your top priorities before you start shopping around.
* Check bbb.org. BBB has Business Profiles on more than 15,000 health clubs, fitness centers and gyms. Read what previous customers have to say, and see how the businesses respond to complaints. This information may help you narrow down the list of gyms you want to tour in person.
* Take a tour. Make sure the gym has the equipment, classes and trainers you need or expect. Pay attention to things that are important to you, whether it's the cleanliness of the showers or the availability of Wi-Fi. Ask questions and make sure you understand all the rules. Ask about busy times, wait times for equipment, whether classes require pre-registration, availability and cost of trainers, etc.
* Ask about free trials. Gyms often give a one-week free pass for potential members; this is a great way to see if the gym is a good fit for you. Try the gym at different times to see how crowded it is and whether there is a wait for certain equipment. Check out classes if they are offered.
* Don't feel coerced. Do not give in to high-pressure sales tactics to join right away. A reputable gym will give you enough time to read the contract thoroughly, tour the facilities, do some research, and make an informed decision.
* Calculate the true costs. Gyms often use special introductory offers to encourage new members, but the price could go up more than you budgeted once the initial period is over. Make sure you understand what the regular monthly fees will be and what they include.
* Understand the terms. Read the contract carefully before signing. Make sure that all verbal promises made by the salesperson are in writing. What matters is the document you sign, so don't just take a salesperson's word for it. What happens if you move or the gym goes out of business? Will your membership renew automatically at the end of the term? Can you get out of the contract altogether and under what circumstances?
Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga