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Opinion: My search for the perfect gym -- Page 2

Third gym -- girly nirvana
My next stop was a small, local gym with a reputation for being expensive, but if it didn't smell like gym socks, I was willing to pay a bit more.

It was peaceful and very Feng Shui, with candles burning on little wall sconces. The machines were orderly, shiny monoliths planted in a row.

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I was greeted by Eva, a smiling woman wearing a white T-shirt and yoga pants with her cornrowed hair pulled back in a ponytail. She walked me across the cream carpeted floor to the row of machines, explaining that these were the latest in workout equipment -- causing no pressure on the back or joints. She pointed out the treadmills -- each with its own built-in cable TV screen. We moved on to the Pilates room -- pink and candle-lit with the sound of running water playing softly from hidden speakers.

Next was a classroom where the instructor was leading a well-dressed aerobic class -- all holding some sort of weighted sticks. Then it was into the massage and facial room -- both by appointment only. Eva led me over to the juice bar and asked me questions about what I wanted out of my membership. She gave me several business cards and a stack of brochures with all the prices clearly itemized.

The club was great but the price was awful. Sign-up was $250 and dues were $85 a month with a year contract. Pilates classes were included but yoga was an extra $75 a month. Trainers were $55 to $65 a session. Nutritionists cost $80 a session. This was too expensive.

Fourth gym -- last chance
I drove to my last-chance gym. But I wasn't very optimistic.

It was a local gym and small. At the front desk I met Jack. Calm and unassuming, Jack pulled out a schedule of classes and wrote out all the fees. He gave me a free week's pass and told me to go to some classes and get a feel for the gym before deciding anything.

All classes were included in the membership and the sign-up fee was $150, but if I joined within a week it would be $99. Dues were $40 a month. Personal trainers were $35 an hour, but I got a free session with a trainer when joining.

It was mellow, clean and low-key. There was only one wall of mirrors. I went to the yoga and Pilates classes and then I met my trainer Ian. He didn't brag about whom he had made beautiful or push expensive products. In fact, he told me to do my workouts without him for the next two weeks before making an appointment -- that way I could see if I needed him.

He walked me through a weight-training session, writing out a workout schedule for me as we went along, listing all the equipment and exact instructions. Then he wrote down what I should and shouldn't eat. Although I was only supposed to get one free session, he told me the next one would be free too.

This is the gym I joined. I attend Pilates and yoga classes several times a week at lunch time or after work. I am working on the weight training and cardio schedule Ian set up for me. For what I'm paying, this is a really good deal.

Bargaining power
Before you sign a contract for a health club membership, bargain for everything.

The first gym I went to was willing to bargain on everything from dues to the sign-up fee. But since they wouldn't put anything in writing, I don't think they intended to keep their promises. Two gyms were willing to give me a week's free pass before signing up. Even if the gyms you visit don't offer a free pass -- ask for one. Gyms are very competitive and are usually willing to bend the rules to get you to sign up.

The best bargaining chip you have when joining a gym is a friend. Every gym salesperson was willing to divide the sign-up fee if I got a friend to join. The fourth gym was also willing to reduce my dues by $10 a month if I could get two friends to join. Ask friends and coworkers for suggestions -- they might know a great gym or they could get you a discount at their gym.

When you reach a price agreement, it's very important to get everything in writing and make sure you understand your obligations before signing up -- otherwise you could get stuck paying dues for a gym you never go to.

Don't forget to ask your human resources department at work if your medical plan can get you a discount or if your office has a corporate membership available.

If you can't find a gym you feel comfortable in with a price you can afford, keep looking and keep bargaining. A healthier you awaits.

-- Posted: April 23, 2003




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