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Excerpt
The following is an excerpt from the book The No Sweat Exercise Plan
by Harvey B. Simon, M.D.
Published by McGraw-Hill; January 2006;$21.95US/$29.95CAN; 0-07-144832-2
Copyright © 2006 Harvey B. Simon, M.D.

Health Clubs
Groucho Marx once said that he’d never join any club that would accept him as a member. Any health club will accept you, and most will try to induce you to sign up for a long-term membership. But should you be a Groucho or a joiner? Is a health club right for you?

Benefits
A health club can provide three major benefits: motivation and companionship, instruction and supervision, and equipment and facilities.

Motivation is the most important benefit, especially for people who are just starting to exercise. The first steps to fitness are the hardest. It can take two to three months to get hooked on exercise; going to a club can make those initial workouts easier to take. For many, paying up front also provides motivation, since the only way to get your money’s worth is to show up. Instruction is another major benefit, both for beginners and for people who are ready to move to a new level. Most clubs offer free hands-on guidance to get you started on a piece of equipment, and many offer personal trainers to plan and supervise an individualized regimen, usually for an extra fee. Group classes are often available, providing companionship, motivation, and instruction all at once. A third reason to join a club is to get your hands -- or feet -- on the equipment there. Home exercise equipment is great, but few homes can accommodate more than one or two devices. Every health club will have treadmills, bikes, stair-climbers, ellipticals, resistance machines, and weights, and some have more, even swimming pools.

Picking a Club
Exercise facilities range from old-fashioned, unadorned gyms to fancy clubs and sleek spas. Here are some tips to help you find the club that’s best for you:

  • Look for a club that’s convenient. If at all possible, pick a club within ten to fifteen minutes of your home or work. Location is everything, or at least nearly everything.
  • Be sure the club is open when you want to use it and that it’s not too crowded at your favorite times.
  • Be sure the club has what you want, but don’t pay for more than you need. If you’re a treadmill, bike, and Nautilus type, you can save big bucks by staying away from clubs that have racquetball courts and steam rooms.
  • Check out the atmosphere. Intangibles can make or break a club. A club should be inviting -- clean, bright, and upbeat. It should also be compatible with your personality and style.
  • Give the club a checkup. Choose one that’s appropriate for your age and health. A good club should ask you to fill out a medical questionnaire, possibly including an OK from your doctor. If you have medical problems, find a club that has the equipment and personnel to provide first aid.
  • Check out the staff. Are they just bodybuilders who look good, or are they well-trained fitness experts? A good credential is certification by an organization such as the American College of Sports Medicine, the National Academy of Sports Medicine, the American Council on Exercise, or the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America.
  • Ask if the club offers supplementary services, such as child care or sessions on nutrition, injury prevention, stress management, and weight control. Ask, too, if there is an extra fee for these programs.
  • Talk to club members to find out how they like it. Be sure to ask if the club delivers on its promises.
  • Ask for a free introductory workout or an inexpensive trial membership, the best way to see if the club works for you.
  • If you travel often, try to find a club that offers reciprocal memberships with facilities in other cities.
  • Join an established club that’s unlikely to close suddenly, leaving you with a prepaid invitation to a locked building.
  • Read the contract, even the fine print.
  • Evaluate the payment options. A monthly or quarterly fee will give you more security than a prepaid annual fee. Ask if there is a finance charge. Pay with a credit card if you can, just in case your club fails to deliver what it promised in your contract. Look for specials or negotiate your own deal.
  • Sign the shortest contract you can, particularly if it’s your first health club membership. Try to find a plan that will allow you to opt out for a small charge or one that you can sell to a friend for a modest transfer fee.

In a sense, a health club is just a big, expensive piece of exercise equipment. If you use it, you’ll feel great and enjoy many health benefits, but if not, you’ll just feel guilty and wasteful.

Copyright © 2006 Harvey B. Simon, M.D.