Consider these factors before joining a health club:

* Personal recommendation. Seek comments of current members.

* Facilities. Make sure the club has the activities that interest you most.

* Maintenance/cleanliness. Look for fresh paint, modern equipment in good working order, and cleanliness -- especially in wet areas (sauna, steam and whirlpool).

* Locker rooms. Check for roominess, cleanliness and comfort. Towel and laundry service, permanent lockers and toiletries might be provided, as well as hair dryers, curling irons and disposable razors.

* Convenience. Consider transportation, parking and travel distance.

* Crowds/reservations. Some clubs require reservations for court time and even for exercise classes. Can you normally reserve a court in one day, or does a game require a week's planning? Visit clubs at the time you'll work out. A club that's deserted at 3 p.m. may be sardine city right after work.

* Stability. Determine the number of years the club has been in existence, if it has changed ownership -- and if so, how frequently -- to help ensure that it's not likely to close in the near future. Contact your jurisdiction's local consumer protection agency and Better Business Bureau for the number and nature of complaints.

* Cost. Check on the costs and the term of commitment. Some memberships restrict the days or hours you can exercise. Check for hidden costs such as towels, lockers and court fees.

* Contract. Read the fine print. Look for reciprocal benefits with other clubs and facilities, and cancellation and refund policies. Ask questions about anything you don't understand. Under local laws, clubs must have a "cooling off" period ranging from three business days (which can include Saturday) to 15 days.

* Atmosphere. Some clubs are chummy, some have a core of serious fitness enthusiasts. Be sure you choose a club that has the ambiance you want.