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January 13, 2010

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How to choose the right gym

IT'S January and the health clubs have come a-courting.

Their sign-up sales, special offers and discounted rates have arrived just in time to prod your resolution to get fit in 2010.

But as one person's dream workout venue can be another's waste of money, experts have some tips on how to find just the right facility to add inspiration to your perspiration.

And topping their lists is location, location, location.

"Most important is, is it convenient to home or work? Far and away that's the number one reason people use or don't use a gym," says Shawn Talbott, spokesperson for the American College of Sports Medicine.

"If it's not hyper-convenient, don't think you're going to go out of your way," he says flatly.

Talbott says people should definitely visit a prospective gym during the same time they expect to use it.

"If you check out a gym on Saturday afternoon it could be fine, but on Monday morning you might not be able to get on a treadmill," he explains.

Also, he says, "Are the classes offered at hours convenient for you?"

And don't underestimate the importance of ambiance: just how comfortable will you be sweating in the space?

"A club filled with gorgeous 20-year-olds might not be the best place for an overweight or older woman," Talbott explains. "If you're concerned about your body, you don't want to join one of those meat market gyms. You might want to go to a more family-oriented facility."

Carol Espel, spokeswoman for the Equinox chain of luxury health clubs, agrees: "Gyms can be intimidating in the wrong setting. Find a place that you see yourself going to easily after work and on weekends."

She advises people to take time to do research.

"What's most important for you in a gym? Do you need a personal trainer to keep you in line? Do you like group classes? Commit to a place that can give you the tools you need."

In their guide, "How to Choose a Health Club," the American Council on Exercise (ACE) recommends using a day pass or trial membership to check on the following:

"How clean is the facility? Is the music too loud? Is most of the equipment in working order? Too many 'out of order' signs may indicate poor maintenance. Are new members provided with a club orientation and instruction on how to use equipment?"

ACE suggests talking to current members, checking a Better Business Bureau for complaints, and choosing a club that belongs to the International Health, Racquet, and Sportsclub Association and must abide by their standards.

As always, read the fine print before signing on the dotted line. Does that deep discount come with a two-year commitment? Is there also an initiation fee? Find out exactly what the membership includes. Do you have to pay extra for towels, childcare?

Talbott says the right gym can make all the difference. "You can stay fit outside the gym but it's harder. The gym is a good crutch. It's part of your routine, a place where you can go to every day."

As Woody Allen once said, "Eighty percent of success is showing up."


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