Looking for a gym? Make sure you burn calories without getting burned!

ID-100114044If you’re like me, you probably regret some of the meals and treats you gobbled down over the holidays. I’m not making a formal resolution this year–I know how those turn out–but I am determined to get back into shape. Time to eat better and get more exercise.

Even if you like the outdoors as I do, sometimes the best place to get the exercise your body needs is a gym. It’s a good idea to put some thought into it, however. I’ve known people who signed up for gym memberships they later regretted–the bill was higher than they expected, they didn’t get the services they were promised and they couldn’t get the gym to stop billing when they tried to cancel.

If your New Year’s resolution is to shape up, Better Business Bureau advises you to do your research before you sign up with a gym. BBB has seen a steady increase in complaint activity with fitness centers over the past three years.

In 2013, BBB processed more than 3,200 complaints against fitness centers nationwide, more than a 20 percent increase compared to 2012, and nearly a 40 percent increase compared to 2011.

Many of the complaints involved contract and billing issues. Consumers turned to BBB after having difficulty cancelling memberships due to unforeseen personal circumstances. Other consumers allege they were never advised of certain fees after signing up for a membership, and that charges still occurred even after they cancelled their memberships.

BBB offers the following advice to help consumers select a fitness facility that will help meet their needs without putting a hole in their wallet:

  • Visit bbb.org. Before signing a contract, research the gym at bbb.org to see its BBB Business Review, which will show any history of complaints, details about those complaints and any advertising issues.
  • Consider your budget. Most facilities charge an upfront membership fee to join and a monthly fee thereafter. In addition, some fitness centers charge an additional fee for certain classes or amenities. It is important to decide beforehand what amount you can comfortably devote to physical fitness.
  • Take a tour of the facility. Don’t just sign up for a membership without doing an inspection yourself. Check the cleanliness of the equipment and the locker room area. See if the gym equipment is in good condition and maintained properly. Make sure the facility has the equipment and classes you are interested in using. Also, tour the gym at the time of day you will be using the facility to make sure the number of people there at that time will not limit your activities.
  • Ask around. Ask friends and family to recommend facilities and pick a couple that appear to align with your fitness goals and budget. Having others you know at the gym could offer more motivation to go regularly and conquer your goals.
  • Do not give in to sales pressure. Walk away from clubs that pressure you to sign a contract on the spot. BBB recommends taking a sample contract home to review before making a decision.
  • Review the contract before signing. Make sure the contract lists all services and fees, and any promises made by the salesperson. Find out what is included in the monthly fee and what will cost extra.
  • Get membership details. It is vital to understand how long the membership term is, whether it automatically renews and what steps you have to take in order to cancel. Some facilities give customers several days to reconsider after signing the contract.