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10 questions to ask before joining a gym

Resolving to lose some fat and build muscle in the New Year?

Every year millions of people crowd into gyms in January armed with willpower and a hefty dose of tenacity that soon evaporates as quickly as the snow melts into spring mud. Protect your enthusiasm by joining a gym you'll actually like. To guarantee that the health club you eventually choose slims your waistline instead of your wallet, get satisfactory answers to these 10 questions.

Joining a gym?
Ask these important questions before joining a gym.
Is this the right gym for you
1. Is a contract required?
2. Does the gym offer a trial membership?
3. Are staff members degreed or certified?
4. Has anyone ever been hurt here?
5. How old is the equipment?
6. When is the gym open?
7. Which services or amenities cost extra?
8. May I see a class schedule?
9. Do you offer child care?
10. Will the club waive the initiation fee?

1. Is a contract required? If so, check out the terms carefully, says Joe Decker, co-author of "The World's Fittest You."

"Do not get roped into an extended contract," he says. Decker speaks from experience. The general manager of Level Fitness, a Washington D.C.-area gym, he still feels the burn from having three months left on his contract with another facility. "It's not the money," he says. "It's just the point that I can't get out of it."

His new club offers only month-to-month memberships. "You move, you change jobs, you buy a home," he says. "I don't want people to feel like they're stuck."

2. Does the gym offer a trial membership? Try the facility before you buy. "I would say two weeks is fair," says Kathy Kaehler, author of "Real World Fitness with Kathy Kaehler."

This is the time to test drive the offerings that really interest you, notes Brooke Siler, author of "The Pilates Body Kit." Is the pool accessible when you're able to go? Are the classes that you want to take offered when you're available to attend? When you try out the gym in real life conditions, what's it really like?

Siler, an owner and instructor at New York's re: AB Pilates, recently scoped out a class at another facility. The experience was a turnoff. The teacher didn't ask if anyone was dealing with injuries or even if any of the students were first-timers, she recalls.

"And there were 48 people in the class," Siler says. "You couldn't even move."

3. Are staff members degreed or certified? "Some places will take a warm body and throw them back there," says Decker. "There's no set standard."

His advice: Look for certification from the American College of Sports Medicine or the American Council on Exercise or degrees in related fields, such as kinesiology, exercise science or sports medicine. And make sure instructors are also trained in CPR and first aid, Decker says.

"If you find a place where everyone is certified or has a degree," he says, "it's probably a pretty decent place."

4. Has anyone ever been hurt here? Granted, you might not always get an honest answer. But if you seem to be getting along well with the staffer who is showing you around, you ask anyway, says Siler. "Sometimes if you catch them off guard, they may say 'Oh, I've seen a couple of things,'" she says. Bottom line: It can't hurt to ask.

5. How old is the equipment? "Like any other technology, exercise equipment is constantly changing," says Decker.

If you want a club that's going to be around, look for one that's making the investment in up-to-date equipment and training.

"Some places open up, take your money and never replace equipment," says Decker. "They never put any money back in the club. You want to go to a place where people really like it, really care about it."

Next: "Visit at peak hours to see just how jammed it can get."
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