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10 questions to ask before joining a gym

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6. When is the gym open? "Definitely check the hours," says Kaehler, who also is co-owner of Health-E-tips, a company that provides health pointers for corporate wellness programs. Make sure the club offers hours that make it easy to fit the gym into your schedule, she says.

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Visit at peak hours to see just how jammed it can get. "Look at equipment, look at rooms, make sure it's not going to be so crowded that you have to wait a half hour for a piece of equipment," he adds. "You may only have 30 minutes for a work out. What's the point?"

Then visit again at the times you're most likely to work out, says Kaehler. That way you get to see the gym as it likely will be when you're sweating off those pounds.

Also take note of the parking when you're there. You want to make visiting the gym as easy as possible, especially on those days you might be a little less motivated. When you want to go in and work out, says Decker, "Nothing is worse than driving around in circles looking for place to park."

7. Which services or amenities cost extra? "There are usually additional charges you don't realize initially," says Siler. You may have to rent a mat, rent a towel or pay for water. "Those are additional costs that add up."

8. May I see a class schedule? If you're joining for specific classes, look at what is taught and when, says Siler. If you want to use the pool, does it have special hours? Ditto personal instructors or anything else you plan to use.

9. Do you offer child care? If you have kids, you may have to occasionally take them with you to the gym. Accommodations for children are "very common," says Kaehler. "You'll see (child care) in commercials for national chains. It's definitely a big incentive to get more parents to participate in an exercise program.

"I've seen a few places that offer really nice child care in the facilities and also have cameras that will show on closed-circuit TV in the adult area, so that a mother or father can watch their child," she says.

10. Will the club waive the initiation fee? Sometimes gyms charge initiation fees that can be hundreds or thousands of dollars, says Decker. But they often waive or reduce them, especially if you're shopping around and know what other facilities are charging, he says.

Siler agrees. "The initiation fee is there for them to barter with," she says. "So don't just accept it."

Also look for holiday or seasonal specials, when the gym might be waiving fees, or slow traffic days, when the staff members might be more willing to dicker, says Siler. "That's the best time to go in because they have quotas to make," she says. "Some people get amazing deals."

Finally, take your time. Don't rush into a gym membership until you get the answers you want.

"Like anything else, all health clubs are not created equal," says Decker. "Shop around."

Dana Dratch is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.'s corrections policy -- Updated: Jan. 3, 2007
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