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Opinion: My search for the perfect gym

If you're one of the many spandex-anxious Americans, joining a gym can rescue you from flabby-gut panic. But if you're not careful, you could lose a lot more cash than pounds.

I found a great gym at an affordable price -- but not without doing my research, asking lots of questions and suffering through a few humbling moments. Here's what you need to know to find the best gym for the best price.

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Making the decision
Don't waste money on a gym if you aren't going to commit to regular workouts. Most everyone wishes they could improve their looks, but not everyone is willing to work for it. So make up your mind before spending your money.

Plan of attack
To get the best price, decide what you want first. Here's what I wanted:

  • an affordable price

  • a reasonable contract

  • a pleasant atmosphere

  • a personal trainer to make sure I didn't hurt myself or end up with man arms

  • Pilates and yoga classes for strengthening, relaxation and motivation

  • convenient location, either close to home or work

First gym -- the hard sell
You know those commercials for that national chain of health clubs -- with the pretty people in a huge aerobics class jumping to latest club hit? At this gym, "May I ask someone about membership?" translates into, "Please shove me in a dark office in the back somewhere where I will be verbally tackled by whatever salesmen and personal trainers you have available."

I was put in a closed office with two trainers, R.C. and Rick.

"So, you want to sign a contact?" R.C. asked.

"Actually, I want to see the gym, the class schedule and talk to someone about it first," I said.

Rick gave me a tour, walking quickly through a massive room of treadmills and high ceilings, up the stairs through the weight room and back down the stairs. Occasionally he would point and mumble "classes," "pool" or "store."

Back in the office, R.C. asked if I was now ready to sign a contract. I asked for a list of the different programs, their costs and what was included. He rattled off specials and programs, assuring me everything I wanted was included.

"Even Pilates?" I asked.

"No, that's $2 per class," he said.

I asked for information in writing. There was none, but R.C. handed me a sales binder. "You can look at this," he said. But I wasn't allowed to make a photocopy.

I noticed there were two different annual percentage rates listed in the binder, so I asked about that.

"It won't matter," said R.C. He insisted I sign a 36-month contract that night, explaining that the rates would change the next day -- although he claimed to have no idea what they would change to. When I said the contract period was too long, R.C. said all gym contracts were that length. He refused to give me a copy of the contract to take home.

I took notes on the prices -- which kept changing while R.C. talked.

In the morning, I called and found out that the Pilates classes were $20 each -- not $2. Add that on to the $150 sign-up fee, $50 monthly dues, $2 a class for yoga and whatever the trainer would cost (R.C.'s figure was between $35 to $250 an hour).

I didn't bother to go back.

Second gym -- jock in the box
My second try was at another national chain. All the equipment was in one room that was covered in mirrors. At the desk was a tall blond guy with a German accent as thick as Hans and Franz from "Saturday Night Live." A voice in my brain kept saying, "We're going to pump (clap) you up!"

Hans told me to take a look around and come back to the desk. I awkwardly stepped around the forest of machines. Was I supposed to test these out? Admire them like paintings in a gallery -- "Hmm, nice padding-thing on this colossal weight-something or other." The whole place smelled like my little brother's bedroom when he was 13 -- like unwashed socks shoved under the bed and left to rot.

I did a full circle and returned to the desk, sliding myself between the desk and a mirrored pillar.

Hans handed me a schedule of classes. Then, rolled off a monologue about his many clients, who had been mushy, but now, through the miracle of Hans, were incredible.

"If you have an eating disorder, you have to take care of that yourself," said Hans. Followed by "I'm not here to make you feel good about yourself."

So far, so good, Hans.

Dues were $35 a month and there was no sign-up fee. Classes weren't extra, but there was only one Pilates class a week in the middle of the day, and the yoga was around 10 in the morning, which was way too early to take my lunch break. For the benefit of his personal training and feel-good motivational talks, Hans would charge $35 per half-hour session. It was very affordable but the atmosphere sucked. Hans can keep his smelly gym and his healthier-than-thou attitude. This was not the place for me.

 
 
-- Updated: Jan. 7, 2005
   

 

 
 

 

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