Recently ABC News ran an article on common “dirty tricks” the health club industry employs.

A brand new Better Business Bureau analysis found that consumer complaints about gyms are up more than 90 percent in the last five years.

The BBB analysis found that 73 percent of customer complaints involved contract or billing disputes, including people who were upset that they were still being billed after they thought their contract was over.

I have heard and witnessed a multitude of membership horror stories at the gym where I used to work. Seen countless people leave crying, rumors of forged signatures, and whale noises made at prospective members. This was all in the process of getting a contract signed, let alone the hassle if someone wanted to actually cancel. I thought it best to bring some of my first hand knowledge to help educate you in making a more informed choice.


First I would like to start with how a majority of people first step foot in a club. You may pass by on your way to work, know others who workout there, or have actually done some research on the web. Regardless of the method, if you haven’t spoken to someone from the club on the phone you are considered a “walk-in” and you may proceed to the next section. If on the other hand you have received a call from a fitness counselor, it was a friend referring you (in which case you may want to revoke their friend status), a genuine cold call, or you signed up somewhere to win a free membership.

If you fall into the latter category chances are you are going to be told you won something. A common practice used to be calling a prospect, telling them they won, and then indicating after a tour they will receive waived membership dues on the most expensive membership. Oh, other fees and taxes apply. Remember ask to see a full membership chart. As I indicated in my previous post, most clubs have single club access, multiple-club, multiple-level club, and membership/personal training packages. If you decide to sign up, get the one that will benefit you the most, not the one that will put more money in the salesperson’s pocket.

The Tour

Everyone who comes into the gym gets a free tour which generally takes one of the following forms. If you are a younger single guy, you will primarily get taken by the free weight area, glossed over on the machines and cardio and shown the locker room. If you are a younger single woman you will likely be shown the machines, particularly the hip adductor and abductor (inner and outer thigh), and the cardio area. If you are more senior or a busy business person you will be shown the machines and whatever circuit training setup the facility offers.

A few points to consider on the tour are that if you want to improve your overall fitness you should incorporate a little of everything, free weights, machines, cardio, circuit training, etc. Ladies, you will be told the inner and outer thigh machines will help you loose your hips. This is not true, it will tone the muscle, but it will not spot reduce the fat. Those of you who are told the 30 minute circuit will give you all the fitness you need are being lied to. If 30 minutes on 10 machines is all you need, why then are all the other machines and weights in the gym?

The Sell

This is where it helps to up your confidence level before entering the sales office. Don’t get me wrong, you will run into some genuinely pleasant fitness counselors, but there are sharks circling out there as well. I have seen plenty of cases that could be labeled borderline abuse take place in sales offices.

I have known gym sales staffs that have had rebuttal books. The comebacks for any excuse a potential customer could have. Just remember, get what you want out of the transaction. I know it seems like common sense, but if you feel uncomfortable or the salesperson starts calling you names, get up and leave. There are plenty of options out there that you don’t have to put up with a hostile environment.

The Contract

As mentioned in the ABC article, most gyms will try to get you to sign up for multiple year deals the most common being 3 years although month-to-month and lifetime deals are available. This is again another personal option that should be based on what you need. If you move around a lot or travel, you may want to stick with a month-to-month contract for multiple clubs (provided there are nationwide gyms). If on the other hand you have lived in an area for a number of years and will likely stay put, you may want to go for a longer term option at a single club, which is generally cheaper.

With respect to payment options, you will usually be offered an automatic withdrawal from your account. This is popular as it obviously cuts down on the short-term hassle. Cancelling an automatic payment to your club should you cancel your membership can be somewhat cumbersome however. Should you cancel, follow-up, follow-up again, and get your bank involved if necessary.

If you think cancelling your automatic payment is difficult, try cancelling the actual membership before the end of contract term. If you move, gyms require a minimum distance requirement (20-50 miles); if you are sick, they want doctors approval; if you die, the membership responsibility passes to your next of kin. The final and most important things I can stress are read the contract front and back and do not sign unless you are comfortable with the fine print.


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Choosing the Right Gym – Part 1


It’s that time of year again, resolutions are abound and I have noticed the attendance level at the gym has picked up once again. This can be frustrating as machines are limited, but I know I just have to wait a few weeks until most people give up and wait another year. The reasons for this are many, some people just do not like to exercise, some do not have for time, and for others picking the gym is the issue.

In the 1970’s the number of gyms was in short supply, mostly catering to bodybuilders, what with the popularity of Pumping Iron and the golden age with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Aside from places like Gold’s Gym Venice and Muscle Beach, most gyms were dark holes in the wall places. Now there are a multitude of options, appealing to the most discerning user.

1. Location – At one point I lived 30 minutes from the nearest gym and I made the trip. For most however, this is a convenient way to talk themselves out of going. When picking a gym, location should be a primary deciding factor. You should also ask when you are going to work out: before or after work, in the morning, afternoon or evening. You will want to choose a location that is either close to home, work or in between. This will not only cut down on gas consumption, but increase the odds you will maintain a solid routine.

2. Gym culture – You may be asking yourself, “gym culture?” That’s right, most gyms have their own culture, remember above I was talking about the hole in the wall bodybuilding gym, those still exist. A number of gyms or ‘fitness centers’ attempt to cater to the family environment. Typically Bally’s, 24 Hour Fitness, Lifetime and LA Fitness appeal to this demographic with a gentler environment and childcare centers, although there are exceptions inside these establishments that lean toward bodybuilding as well. There are female specific gyms like Curves, senior gyms, kid’s gyms, personal training studios and the list goes on. The point is to look around at who is working out and that’s a pretty good indication of the type of gym.

3. Interests – This is based largely on what you like to do. Are you a weightlifter, cardio enthusiast, aerobic guru, or swimmer? By shopping around you will find a gym or health club that meets your needs. If you are not sure what those may be, stick to a general all-purpose location.

4. Cleanliness & Maintenance It is a good sign when walking through a club that all the equipment is in order and there are not glaring maintenance issues. Typically the parent office (or owner for smaller establishments) is investing in that location. Look for cardio machines that are out of order, broken or missing dumbbells, missing ceiling tiles and clean locker rooms.

5. Traffic – This is another factor that is based on when you decide to work out. For most of us the options are limited depending on work schedules. When you are taking a tour be sure to ask when the busier times are (as is expected it will generally be between 4pm and 8pm on weekdays). It is not a bad idea to visit a club at this time to get an idea of what you will be dealing with on a daily basis. If you are like me and get frustrated in large crowds at the gym, you may want to consider other options or try to adjust your schedule.

6. Staff – Whether or not you decide to get a personal trainer, it is one thing you should consider before joining a club. Ask to see the qualifications of the trainers, before and after pictures, and whether or not you can bring your own trainer with you. Also health clubs, as with car salesmen, believe in two things the hard sell and never trust the “be back,” meaning if you don’t sign up when you first walk in you won’t be back after shopping around. If you have seen the movie BoilerRoom you know what I am talking about. This is a direct reflection of the organizations culture and an indication of the customer service you are likely to expect in the future. In Part 2, I will highlight some of the tricks and scams the health and fitness industry use to get your signature and credit card.

Tips and Tricks:

One tip I would suggest that I use periodically when choosing a new gym is the guest pass. After taking the tour and listening to the sales spiel, I ask the salesman/fitness counselor for a couple days pass to see how I like the gym. Most places don’t like to do this, but if they feel you will eventually sign up they will relent at least a three day trial. Take this opportunity not only to work out, but ask other patrons how they like the club.

One other thing about membership sales to keep in mind before you sign a contract. Most likely any club you join will have multiple packages, single-club, all-club, super club premier. This is the time to be rational and not practice Sam’s Club bulk-shopping. Why buy the 10 gallon drum of peanut butter if you are allergic, so don’t get nationwide access if you will only use one club.

Thanks for reading and look for Part 2: Tricks and Scams to Avoid