By Catherine Blinder
With the start of each year come those perennial New Year’s resolutions. By far, the most popular type of resolutions revolve around ways to improve our health, such as eating better or getting more exercise. While there are many ways to tackle these on our own, sometimes it helps to join a gym or sign up for classes. Gyms and fitness centers can be great resources, as long as you clearly understand what they are offering you, and you are prepared to take advantage of everything offered.
Television, online and newspaper ads abound this time of year promising great deals for joining gyms. These offers can include such things as: waiving a joining or registration fee; low monthly fees; or a package deal for an extended period of time. While any of these can be beneficial, be sure to understand what you’re getting for your money, and compare the final costs against memberships at other facilities.
Questions to ask prior to signing up:
- What types of facilities, equipment or features are included, such as a pool or group exercise classes?
- Do the facility hours fit your schedule?
- What type of support is there, such as an orientation or free personal training?
- What is the policy if you decide to cancel your membership early?
- Can your membership be put on hold if you are traveling for an extended period?
Chances are that the gym may require you to set up an automatic monthly payment, drawing the fee either from your bank account or a credit card. This isn’t necessarily bad, removing the monthly headache of remembering to pay, or having your membership unintentionally terminated. However, it is important to keep in mind that these fees will be withdrawn regardless of whether or not you used the facility.
In fact, it is anticipated by gyms that a large percentage, if not a majority, of their members will continue to pay their fees without actually coming in to use the facility – this is how gyms keep the rates relatively low.
So, the most important way to get value for your membership is actually using it. And, of course, this is the hardest part. During the first few weeks of the year, as virtually everyone swarms the gym looking to make good on their resolution to be healthier, the place will be packed with your enthusiastic fellow members. If you are patient and dedicated, however, by mid-February most people have retreated to their old habits and if you are determined to go regularly, you will find more class space and shorter lines for the most popular machines!
Find a way to be the exception to the rule. Start with a realistic goal, such as just getting to the gym once or twice per week. If you attempt to change too much too quickly, such as committing to being there every day for hours at a time, you’ll only be setting yourself up to fail. Slowly over time, as you get more accustomed to the routine, you can increase your schedule.
Be sure to celebrate your successes with measurable milestones, such as:
- attendance – recognize yourself for every 10th visit to the gym
- weight loss – track the pounds at small intervals, like every 2 lbs.
- increased strength – the addition of larger weights to your workout
- greater endurance – spending more time or traveling greater distances on the cardio machines
The key is to be consistent. Good habits, such as being physically active, form slowly over time. If you keep at it for six months or more, it’s more likely that you will be able to keep it up for the long run. And that’s when you’ll really see the benefits of your hard work paying off. Just make sure you do your homework and understand what the opportunities and the limits of your gym membership are!
This article was written by Catherine Blinder, chief education and outreach officer of the Department of Consumer Protection of the State of Connecticut. To learn more about how the Department of Consumer Protection can help, visit us online at www.ct.gov/dcp.