The Cutting Edge: Getting the Most From Your Gym

The New Year is almost here, and if you’re one of the countless people who’ve vowed to shed that dead weight and stay fit for 2009, you may be considering a gym or weight loss program. With money tight, you don’t want to join a program only to stop a month later and still be stuck in a contract.

And while many fitness facilities and diet programs offer a host of classes and coaching to get you on the right track, it’s not uncommon to encounter roadblocks along the way. Of the nearly 33 million people that are members of health clubs the Federal Trade Commission says the biggest complaints include high pressure sales tactics, misrepresentation of facilities and services, broken cancellation and refund clauses, and lost membership fees as a result of companies going out of business. Here are a few things to consider before dropping your hard earned cash on that gym or weight lost program.

Take advantage of trial periods. To entice customers to join, many gyms let potential members test out what they offer. “Most gyms should be flexible about letting you try out their facility before joining,” says Jennifer Andrus, registered dietitian and nutritionist. “If you’re not able to try it out before signing up then that’s a big red flag.” Use this time to sample the gym’s services and equipment. Be sure to look for cleanliness and possibly view some of the classes you plan to talk to instructors. Also, make sure to visit during hours that you’d normally use the gym to gauge how crowded the facility can get during your usage, says the FTC.

Resist on-the-spot incentives. Some gyms and weight loss programs ask you to join and pay the first time you visit, and offer special rates to entice you to sign on the spot, says the FTC. Wait a few days before deciding, take the contract home and read it carefully before you sign. Make sure the following items are included. What’s the cancellation policy? Is everything the salesperson guaranteed actually in the contract? Is there a cooling off period that allows you a few days to cancel the contract once it is signed? Can you receive a refund for various portions of your membership based on certain circumstances? Be sure to ask lots of questions.

Ask about additional fees. Find out if there are any finance charges and annual percentage rates when you calculate the total cost of your membership. Break down the cost to weekly and even daily payments to get a better idea of what it will really cost you to use the facility. As for weight loss programs, compare expenses for the plans food to what you normally spend on meals, says Constance Brown-Riggs, nutrition specialist and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. People should consider “whether all their foods are coming from that program,” says Brown-Riggs, “If they have to buy fruits and dairy they