Before joining a health club, industry experts and consumer specialists suggest you:
* Beware of "once-in-a-lifetime" deals and pressure to sign on the spot. Chances are, if you take a few days to think it over, the "today only" offer will still hold.
* Inspect the premises, and ask for a trial workout. Consider condition of equipment, cleanliness of the gym and locker room and how staff relates to members.
* Visit at the time of day you plan to use it. A gym that appears spacious at 3 p.m. may be over-crowded at noon.
* Ask about any limitations on use of facilities. Some have alternate days and/or hours for men and women.
* Ask about staff qualifications. Do they have training and credentials in physical fitness, or are they salespeople primarily? Are they qualified to advise you on nutrition also?
* Be suspicious if questions aren't answered to your satisfaction, or if you're made to feel uncomfortable about asking them.
* Take the contract home to read and talk over with someone you trust. Study the fine print, particularly concerning cancellation policy.
* Talk to current members. Are they satisfied with the way the club is run? Do they feel they've gotten their money's worth?
* Be wary of signing a contract for a spa that has not opened, no matter how great the discount. A deal that sounds too good to be true usually is.
* Check with the Better Business Bureau and consumer protection agencies to see how many complaints have been filed against the club and how they've been resolved.
* Start off with the shortest term contract available, to see if you enjoy and will continue to use the facility. Some clubs make their money on people who use the facility enthusiastically at first, then never return.
* Remember that a "lifetime" contract is good only for the lifetime of the club.