Before signing up for that yearly special, give your gym a once-over

Is Your Health Club Good For You?

You’ve finally joined your local gym. But beware. A recent study by Boston Medical Center found that few clubs are equipped to handle on-site medical emergencies. In fact, 40% of clubs surveyed do not routinely screen new members. Of those that do screen, 25% would allow a person identified as having cardiovascular disease to exercise without first receiving physician clearance. In addition, 10% of clubs surveyed don’t require that staff members have at least a bachelor’s degree in an exercise-related field, and although 80% have a written emergency plan, about half never review it or practice for emergencies.

“Health clubs are not regulated,” says Kyle J. McInnis, Sc.D., one of the study’s authors and professor of human performance and fitness at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. “Anyone can put up a shingle. As with anything, it’s best — and safer — to be an educated consumer,” he says. Here’s how you can do it.

Ask how many staffers are certified in CPR or lifesaving techniques, and how often they are on duty.
“There should be someone able to handle an emergency onsite at all times,” says McInnis. “About 70% of gym emergencies need an ambulance.” Is there someone on staff with a college degree in fitness or a related subject? Does the gym have an emergency medical plan? If so, “It should be reviewed every two years to make sure the plan is not only fast and effective but equipped to deal with a variety of medical emergencies,” he adds.

If you’re a new member, make sure the club requests your medical history.
If you have cardiac problems, they should find out if you’ve passed a stress test and received physician clearance. “If they don’t ask, this is a red flag that the club is not for you,” says McInnis. And remember, if you’re over 35 or have a history of heart disease, visit a doctor before starting an exercise program.

Screen personal trainers.
Carefully check out a personal trainer before hiring, says Herman Nash, a personal trainer in Los Angeles and owner of Unique Physiques, whose clients include actresses Theresa Randle and Jada Pinkett. “It’s your health and body we’re talking about. Having someone uneducated in fitness train you may lead to injury.” Is the trainer educated in CPR? Is he or she certified to teach fitness by a recognized organization such as the American College of Sports Education, the National Association of Fitness Certification or the American Council on Exercise?

Your trainer should tailor a program to fit your specific fitness needs and capabilities, such as circuit and cardiovascular training, weight loss or strength building, says Nash. Good trainers also work with your diet and offer nutritional information. “If you have a poor diet, it won’t matter how much you work out,” he says.

Check out the sanitary conditions.
Ask how often the gym, equipment and locker rooms are cleaned; it should be at least twice a day. What is the temperature in the club? It should be slightly cool, never hot. Is the club well ventilated? No matter

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