Some cater to racquetball enthusiasts or aerobic dancers. Others are are geared to building rippling muscles through weight training. Some are social clubs where men and women make dates while working out in their leotards and gym shorts. Still others offer total luxury with Jacuzzis, massage and a personalized fitness profile.

Health clubs, like the people who join them, have distinct personalities. And if the proliferation of executives toting gym bags is any indication, these clubs are becoming increasingly popular throughout the area. In the view of George Allen, former Redskins coach and now chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, "the more good, well-organized health clubs we have, the better."

In choosing a club that is appropriate for you, some experts suggest you begin, as in real estate, with location. Check on available parking, transportation, crowds and convenience. Unless you'll benefit from the club easily, and regularly, there's no sense joining.

Facilities are important, too. Verify that the club has the activities that interest you most. Variety is important. If exercise seems like play rather than work, you're more likely to keep at it.

Allen advises prospective members to ask for a free or trial workout, talk to people who already belong and keep a lookout for organization and cleanliness. He emphasizes the importance of knowledgeable and experienced instructors. "If you don't understand something," he notes, "you lose interest."

Following are reviews of a sampling of health clubs throughout the area. In addition to these facilities, there is a plethora of exercise studios, gyms, Y's and swim clubs throughout the area.

Bethesda Racquet and Health Club, 4400 Montgomery Ave., Bethesda, 656-9570.

An attractive, full-service fitness club with a better than average social atmosphere. A camaraderie exists among members, who come to work out and make social and business contacts in the process. Facilities include nine racquetball courts, a restaurant and bar, basketball, indoor track, indoor pool, coed volleyball, Nautilus equipment, baby-sitting service and fairly good locker rooms. The facility appears clean and the equipment in good working order.

The club is in the process of expanding, adding eight tennis courts (four indoors), two squash courts and a new aerobics room.

Cost: Initiation -- $250-$475; annual fee -- $95; monthly fee -- $40-$68. No court fees. Once tennis is added, a "super" membership, limited to 300 to 400 members, will be more expensive. Current preopening prices for tennis membership are: Initiation -- $1,500; annual fee -- $95; monthly fee -- $80; court time -- $10-$16 an hour.

There are approximately 2,000 members, who also have free use of Courts Royal facilities, although Courts Royal members cannot use Bethesda Racquet & Health.

Capitol Hill Squash & Nautilus Club, 214 D St. SE, 547-2255.

The club is housed in an attractive red brick building that was originally an undertaker's livery stable in 1886. The building evolved into an auto repair facility, then a warehouse. Four years ago, the club put $1 million into renovation, resulting in three well-designed floors of compact exercise and court space. There is free parking next door.

The club has nine regulation squash courts (six can be used for tournament viewing). The weight room usually has instructors on hand to advise members of proper form. Equipment includes Nautilus, rowing machines, a cross-country ski machine, Lifecycles and other stationary bicycles. A mirrored exercise room houses a busy schedule of weekday classes, and a few classes on weekends. Locker rooms are modest but clean. Comfortable lounge area to watch, or wait for, games. Squash lessons and clinics available.

Free trial workout for squash, Nautilus or exercise class. Members can use three associated clubs in New York free of charge.

Cost: Initiation -- $250-$500; monthly fee -- $33-$47.

Chevy Chase Athletic Club, 5454 Wisconsin Ave. (Barlow Building), Chevy Chase, 656-8834.

This club is down the street from Mazza Gallery and the Friendship Heights Metro station. It is a small club, with five racquetball courts, one squash court, a conditioning clinic with Lifecycles, treadmills, Nautilus and some Keiser (air-pressure) equipment. Conditioning instructors have a background in exercise physiology or adult fitness. A variety of aerobics classes are held in a small exercise room. Inside the extremely clean locker rooms are sauna, whirlpool and steam.

Members have free reciprocal use of Athletic Express in Gaithersburg (700 Russell Ave.), a larger facility with 17 racquetball courts, a 25-meter swimming pool, a restaurant and bar, and a larger conditioning clinic. Both clubs have the same owners and management.

Cost: Initiation -- $250-$500; monthly fee -- $40-$55. Monthly fees for Gaithersburg members are $5 lower, so Athletic Express members pay an extra $5 if they want use of the Chevy Chase facility.

Approximately 990 members at Chevy Chase, 2,700 at Gaithersburg.

Courts Royal Nautilus & Racquet, nine locations -- three in Maryland, six in Virginia.

Friendly, social clubs, although many members are serious racquetball players. Facilities vary from location to location and include racquetball, tennis, Nautilus, aerobics, squash, sauna, steam and whirlpool. Members may use any Courts Royal club. Club supplies towels.

There is a good mix of ages, with the tennis crowd a little older than the fitness crowd, and the racquetball crowd in between. New members can use any Nautilus Fitness Center; those with older memberships can pay an extra fee to use the downtown Nautilus centers.

Cost: Initiation -- $131-$351; annual fee -- $99; hourly court fees -- $6-$12 (racquetball), $8-$20 (indoor tennis).

Approximately 30,000 to 40,000 members.

Crystal Racquet & Health Club, 1333 Crystal Gateway Arcade, Crystal City, Arlington, 979-9660.

A smaller facility than Skyline (members belong to both clubs), the Crystal City location is well organized and much more geared to racquetball, with 12 courts. There are only two tennis courts however, and no pool or track. But service is friendly and accommodating and there is a complete weight training area plus daily aerobics classes and a basketball court. Locker rooms are clean and comfortable, with sauna, steam and whirlpool.

Free underground parking for three hours, and Metro within walking distance.

Cost: Initiation -- $270-$480; monthly fee -- $22-$44. Senior citizen discounts. Guest privileges for a fee.

Approximately 1,600 members.

Executive Fitness Center, 1400 M St. NW in the Vista International Hotel, 466-4192.

An exclusive, classy facility, this is a much smaller version of Manhattan's Executive Fitness Center (also in a Vista International Hotel). In the District, approximately 175 members enjoy the luxury of not waiting for machinery, plus caring, educated instruction. No tote bags needed, because the center provides exercise clothing a (T-shirt, shorts and socks -- just bring your own shoes), hair dryers, shampoo, soap and towels.

The center features fitness profiling, including blood testing for triglyceride and cholesterol levels, cardiovascular screening, plus nutrition counseling. Also periodic reevaluations. Facilities: carpeted warm-up/stretching area; weight training with Keiser Cam II equipment (air pressure); cardiovascular workouts on stationary bikes, motorized treadmills, a Nordic track ski machine, and rowing machines. Immaculately clean. Separate saunas for men and women. No steam.

Hotel guests are allowed limited use of the facility for $7 a day. Limited hours: Monday through Friday, 7 a.m.-8 p.m., Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Members can use the New York center's more extensive facilities, including swimming pool and racquetball, without charge (except for possible court fees).

Cost: Annual fee -- $550; three-month membership -- $175; one-month membership -- $100. Massage is extra.

Holiday Spas, Fitness & Racquet Clubs, 10 locations throughout the area, 621-4096 (administrative offices).

Large, nationwide chain. Facilities are modern, extensive, top-of-line and clean at the newer and remodeled clubs; the older clubs are less attractive. Still, beware -- many people complain of high-pressure sales tactics. Facilities can include circuit weight training, Nautilus, Universal gyms, aerobics classes, indoor jogging tracks, swimming pools. These vary from location to location. For instance, there is a restaurant at the futuristic, neon Espre Center in Rockville, racquetball at the Fitness & Racquet Club in Greenbelt, but no wet facilities -- swimming, whirlpool or sauna -- at Fitness Center in Prince George's Plaza. And no towel service at any of the locations, according to a Holiday official. Attempts to sign up members' guests irritates some members. One visitor described Holiday as "an automat of physical fitness." It is a well-organized operation.

The chain started in 1959 and became publicly owned in 1968. Hours, with some exceptions, are Monday through Saturday, 10 to 10, Sunday 10 to 5. Mixed membership, ages 8 to 60, with most between 18 and 36. Trial workout available.

Cost: Varies widely, depending on the type of membership. Prices range from $294 to $1,800 for a one- to three-year period.

More than 50,000 members.

McLean Racquet & Health Club, 1472 Chain Bridge Road, McLean, 356-3300.

This was a tennis club until December 1984, when one of the six tennis courts was eliminated and the space used for a Nautilus area, a glassed-in swimming pool with an atrium effect and a wooden deck for aerobics. The result is a small, 20-by-60-foot pool, an average weight training area and an attractive mirrored space for aerobics. In addition, four racquetball courts were built adjacent to the tennis courts. Membership is changing during this transition period from hard-core tennis players to those interested in other activities as well.

The club offers sports medicine analysis and will design special programs for injuries and other physical problems. Weight training equipment includes Nautilus, Keiser (air pressure) and rowing machines, some free weights, five Lifecycles and three Monarch bikes. Class schedule busy during the week, but there are only two classes each day on weekends. There is a supervised nursery, coed whirlpool, and small, inadequate locker rooms with sauna and steam plus towels. Friendly and accommodating service.

Cost: Initiation -- $325-$650; monthly fee -- $50-$90.

Approximately 1,000 members.

National Capital YMCA Service Center, 1711 Rhode Island Ave., NW 862-9622.

An amazingly complete fitness facility with an abundance of beautiful workout space. Seven floors house an indoor 25-meter, six-lane swimming pool, full-size gymnasium with basketball and volleyball courts, three-lane indoor running track, three weight rooms plus a Nautilus center, six racquetball courts, four squash courts. Attractive, roomy, well-maintained locker rooms. Aerobic dancing classes at extra charge; classes also open to the public for an additional surcharge. Sports nutrition and weight management programs available for extra charges.

No court fees. Free towel service. Laundry service free or inexpensive depending on membership type. Saunas. Steam and whirlpool depending on membership category. No formal reciprocal arrangement with other Y's, but members can pay a fee to use them. No trial workouts, just tours on a staff-available basis. May be a waiting list of a few months, especially for women, but with regular turnover, this moves quickly.

Cost: Initiation -- $25-$250; annual fee -- $166-$777. One lower-cost membership category is for retired persons over 64 and for people 18 to 21. Some memberships include weekend privileges for spouses and children. Approximately 5,000 members. All ages.

Nautilus Fitness Center, 1901 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, 887-0760. Other locations: 1101 Vermont Ave. NW and 9860 Lee Hwy. in Fairfax.

A crowded, busy center with a tiny aerobics area and lots of Nautilus equipment, this club is well-used by many men and women who want to fit a workout into their busy schedules. With regard to the tiny, messy locker rooms, one instructor commented, "We make do." Still, members are obviously serious about weight training, and, because of the crowds, some members enjoy a sort of social atmosphere waiting in line. Coed sauna and whirlpool. Towel service available.

Members can use any Courts Royal facility in Maryland or Virginia, offering access to court sports including racquetball, tennis and some squash.

Cost: Initiation -- $351; annual fee -- $99; aerobics -- $2.50 a class.

Estimated 6,000-10,000 members.

Regency Racquet Club, 1800 Old Meadow Rd., McLean, 556-6550.

This club is definitely for tennis aficionados. There are courts everywhere, indoor in the main building (six), indoor/outdoor under a bubble (four in winter, five in summer -- the fifth is a walkway, too), and eight outdoor courts. The restaurant and bar provide a marvelous view through glass of the indoor tennis games in progress. There's also a Nautilus room that seems a little dreary and a small aerobics room (all classes cost extra). Adequate locker rooms, four squash courts, one racquetball court, one platform tennis court, two outdoor pools, massage, a coed whirlpool, and steam (for men only) are available. Regency members can use all Courts Royal facilities in the area as well, though Courts Royal members cannot use the Regency.

Cost: Initiation -- $100-$400; annual fee -- $95; monthly fee -- $30-$80; court fee -- $2-$4 an hour.

Skyline Racquet & Health Club, 5115 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church (Bailey's Crossroads), 820-4100.

The epitome of an exciting, full-service health and racquet club with every imaginable activity -- a 25 meter swimming pool, five tennis courts, four racquetball courts, indoor jogging track, exercise classes, basketball, volleyball and a restaurant and bar. Weight training area includes Nautilus, Paramount, McLevy and Quinton equipment, free weights, Lifecycles, other stationary bikes, treadmills and rowing machines. Social activities include ski trips, parties and organized teams for sports outside the club including softball and flag football. Large locker rooms with free towel service. Tennis and racquetball lessons, massage and manicures available at extra charges.

The club's attractive, busy setting seems conducive to both social exchanges and serious workouts. If there's a drawback, it's that tennis court time is at a premium, especially winter and prime-time evening hours. Members say it's difficult to get a reservation unless you plan early. (Reservations can be made seven days in advance.) Racquetball and tennis lessons available to nonmembers for a fee. Guest privileges for a fee. Members have complete reciprocal usage of Crystal Racquet and Health Club in Crystal City.

Cost: Initiation -- $270-$485; monthly fee -- $22-$44. Senior citizen discounts.

Approximately 3,400 members.

Spa Lady Inc., 20 locations throughout the Washington area, 642-8100 (main office).

Spa Lady is a chain for women only. It's personality is pastel and feminine; the K Street location, for instance, is very pink. Spa Lady offers a complimentary trial workout, but in the process one must undergo a high-pressure introduction sales session. Those who resist joining might fall prey to a series of pushy follow-up calls.

Activities offered include a regular schedule of slimnastics and aerobics classes, Cam-Star (air pressure) and Nautilus equipment, Universal Gym, whirlpool (except K Street), sauna. There are no locker room amenitites like towels or shampoo. Coin-operated hairdryers.

Cost: Different fee structures, with some memberships good at all locations, some not. Range from $225 for six months, to $360-$400 for 18 months, to $625 for 36 months. Some memberships are renewable at guaranteed rates.

More than 40,000 members in the metropolitan area.

The Sporting Club, 8250 Greensboro Dr., Tysons Corner, 442-9150.

Luxurious, well-maintained, and efficiently run full-service health club with 17 racquetball courts, four squash courts, 25-meter indoor pool, outdoor pool with sun deck. Weight training area has 41 Nautilus machines, 17 Lifecycles, Olympic free weights, Keiser (air pressure) equipment, Universal gym and rowing machines. Many leagues for basketball, volleyball, racquetball and squash. Parties and other social events are available, but members tend to be serious about their workouts. Seven-day schedule of aerobics and body design classes. Well lit, well maintained. Exclusive ambiance.

Locker rooms are complete with sauna, steam, jacuzzi and wooden lockers, and massage is available. Always clean. Towels, hairdryers, deodorant, shaving cream, shampoo provided. Roomy.

Nursery for children. Reciprocal membership with clubs in Atlanta, Denver and other cities. Complimentary workout possible.

Cost: Initiation -- $200-$500; monthly fee -- $60-$90. No court fees with full membership. Guest privileges for an extra fee.

The Washington Racquet & Fitness Club, 3134 Branch Ave., Marlow Heights, 894-5300.

Tucked away in a run-down shopping center just off Suitland Parkway, this club is pleasantly complete, modern and cheerful. Facilities include an indoor jogging track, small 25-by-55-foot pool, 12 racquetball courts (one with a basketball net for half-court play), coed whirlpool, locker rooms with saunas, aerobics room for exercise classes (mostly concentrated in the evenings), and three weight rooms (a men's Universal, a coed Nautilus and a women's Universal). The weight rooms have Monarch exercise bicycles, and the club plans to add free weights by the end of April. No steam. Massage available for women only. No trial workouts. There is also a nursery.

There's also a social aspect to the club -- four racquetball courts have glass for viewing, and they encircle a restaurant and bar called Racquets. Racquets features a disco on Tuesday nights and live entertainment Wednesday through Sunday evenings. Social activities also include ski trips and special holiday parties.

Cost: Memberships range from $120 to $1,295 for three months to 10 years; certain privileges are extra; court fees -- $6.60-$8.80 an hour. Members' spouses can join for half price, their children for less.

Approximately 5,300 members, but this figure includes both current and expired memberships.

Washington Squash & Nautilus Club, One Lafayette Centre, 1120 20th St. NW, 659-9570.

A compact but comfortable in-town club with 10 squash courts, a Nautilus room and an aerobics studio. Since this is a widely used club with limited space, reservations must be made for court time and even exercise classes. Unlike many other clubs, you can't just walk in here for any scheduled class. Members say they sign up for aerobics a week ahead. If not, they're put on a waiting list. Nautilus is on a reservation system, too, during busy weekday hours and all day on weekends. Still, this is an appealing little center aimed at the downtown business clientele.

Amenities include adequate locker rooms, towel service, shampoo, soap, deodorant, hairdryers, laundry service for a nominal fee, and saunas.

Cost: Initiation -- $300; monthly fee -- $29-$64.

Approximately 1,300 members.

Watergate Health Club, 2650 Virginia Ave. NW at Watergate Hotel, 298-4460.

Small but clean and well-kept club with 50-by-30-foot indoor swimming pool, small mirrored exercise room with aerobics and slimnastics classes (five daily Monday through Friday, two each on Saturday and Sunday). Only nine students per class -- first come, first served. Fitness evaluation, weight room with 16-station Marcy Gym equipment, dumbbell, one Lifecycle and six other stationary bicycles available. Sun deck for summer tanning. Also, private men's and women's sauna and steam. Coed jacuzzi. Locker room attendants. Towel service, two hours' free parking, private locker for annual members, laundry (bathing suit service) included in dues, as soap, aftershave, hand cream, hair dryers. Massage available seven days a week to members and nonmembers.

Members' average age is 45-50 and "includes successful businessmen, diplomats, politicians, and young professional women."

Cost: No initiation fee. Single membership -- $785 a year, $130 a month or $16 a day; couple membership -- $1,470 a year; classes -- $2 each.

Approximately 450-550 members plus hotel guests at no charge.