If getting in shape is one of the things you’ve resolved to do, then before you go out and pay good money to join a health club, there are some things you should know. Learn what questions to ask and pitfalls to avoid as you search for the club that is just right for you.

  • Shop around. Call or visit at least two clubs to learn about dues, hours of operation, facilities and classes. 

  • Think about where and when will you want to go to the club. Which will be more convenient to you, a club closer to work or closer to home? Does the club allow you to use multiple locations? If the club’s location isn’t convenient to you, you probably won’t use the club enough to get your money’s worth.

  • Remember the “12 minutes” rule: people generally stick to an exercise routine only if their facility is within 12 minutes of home or work.

  • Be sure to tour the facilities. Visit the club on a day of the week, and time of day, that you would normally use it to see if it’s overcrowded. Are there long lines at the equipment, or crowded aerobics classes, at the time that you would be using the club? The most common reason given by new members who cancel a membership within three months of joining is overcrowding.

  • Take the time to decide if you feel comfortable in the facility. Are staff members friendly and helpful? Are new members provided with orientation and instruction on how to use equipment? Does the club seem too big for your taste? Or too small? While on the tour, spend some time alone talking to current members. What do they like and dislike about the club? If the club tries to stop you from doing this, assume they have something to hide.

  • Ask the club for a guest pass and do a trial workout. Closely examine the club’s equipment and locker rooms. Is the club clean and well maintained? Is the equipment shabby or broken? Are the dressing areas, showers and steam room or sauna clean? Is there enough room for people to shower and dress?

  • Does the club offer the type of equipment and programs that you want?

  • Does the club offer instruction in a sport or activity that you might want to learn?

  • Check certification of the fitness staff. Make sure aerobics trainers are certified by one of the major aerobics organizations. Weight trainers should be certified too - - it’s easy to hurt yourself if lifting improperly. And check whether trainers are helping or socializing.

  • Check for safety. State law requires all health clubs to have cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) equipment, including breathing masks and protective gloves. A recent law also requires large health clubs with more than 500 members to have defibrillators and trained personnel.

  • Don’t succumb to high-pressure sales tactics or feel obligated to sign a contract immediately. If you’re uncertain about whether to join, tell the health club representative that you need time to think it over.

  • Know your rights. Under New York law, you have three days to change your mind and cancel a health club contract. You also have the right to cancel for the following reasons: if the club ceases to offer the services stated in the contract; if you move 25 miles from any club operated by seller of the contract; or if, upon a doctor’s order, you cannot use the club for more than six months because of significant physical disability. Also, no health club contract can exceed $3,600 per year (excluding tennis and racquet ball facilities) and no contract can be for a term longer than 36 months.

  • Ask the club owner to show you that the club is bonded, or if not, why it is exempt. Health clubs must file a bond or other type of financial security for the benefit of consumers who have pre-paid for their memberships in the event the club closes. Clubs must put a notice of this bond in all their contracts and must post this notice in the club. Clubs are exempt from the bonding requirement if they do not offer pre-paid memberships, or if they offer a monthly payment option of less than $150 and the contract does not exceed one year or contain an automatic renewal provision.

  • Research the club’s track record. Contact the Department of Consumer Protection, the state Attorney General’s office and the Better Business Bureau to find out whether they have received complaints.

  • Review the contract carefully before signing. Is everything that you were promised written in the contract?

  • Think about joining for a short time or on a monthly basis. While this may be more expensive annually, you won’t be committed if the club isn’t right for you. And it will minimize your risks if the club closes.

  • Whatever plan you choose, don’t have your bank account debited. Pay by credit card, which provides greater protection if there’s a problem. And if the club closes suddenly, you’ll probably be able to receive a charge back for the unused portion of your membership.