1. What’s It Cost?
OK, this one is obvious, but, as I’ve written before, gym memberships are cheaper than ever. It’s easy to see a low monthly rate and sign-up without fully understanding the costs. If you end up biting off more than you can chew and don’t make your monthly payments and your account goes into collections, it could end up hurting your credit. (You can check up on your credit with a free credit report snapshot on Credit.com.) Speaking of which …
2. Is There a Maintenance Fee?
Since the average cost of a gym membership has plummeted over the years, the need to supplement that lost revenue has risen. It’s common for gyms to charge an annual “maintenance fee” to members. And since gym memberships are annual contracts — at least through the first year — that initial $30 to $100 fee is unavoidable.
3. Do I Have to Sign a Contract?
Gym membership contracts — like many contractual obligations consumers are subjected to — are non-reciprocal. Only one side benefits, and that side isn’t yours. Some gyms offer a non-contractual, monthly payment option, but the monthly rate is usually comically large to persuade you to choose the contractual option. Be sure to ask what all your options are.
4. What’s the Cancellation Policy?
If you signed an annual contract, you might be locked into a year’s worth of monthly payments or at least face a buyout fee. If your contract is up and you decide to move on, you may have to wait a month or so, as gym contracts generally require notice before cancellation. Also, cancellation processes can be made intentionally cumbersome, with the hope that you’ll decide it’s easier to keep the membership than deal with the process of canceling. Make sure you understand what you’re facing if you decide to tap out.
5. What’s My Motivation?
Have you ever purchased a piece of exercise equipment you now use exclusively as a clothing rack? A gym membership can be just like that, but without the benefit of having a place to stow your skivvies. It’s common for people to believe joining a gym will move them to action, but a membership alone isn’t going to get you off the couch. Motivation first, gym membership second.
6. Am I Healthy Enough for Exercise?
The squat rack is the last place you want to be when you discover you have a heart condition. Unless they have the initials M.D. or D.O. after their name, no one in a gym is qualified to assess your gym-readiness. Consult a physician at regular intervals to avoid the horror of a medical emergency and the related hospital bills.
7. Is the Gym Insured?
At peak hours, a gym can be like a large room of people simultaneously experiencing every life stage of development while surrounded by heavy objects and moving parts. In other words, it can be dangerous. Before joining a gym, make sure the facility is insured.
8. Do I Have Adequate Health Insurance?
These days, most gyms make you sign a liability waiver, meaning, unless the gym’s negligence is indisputable, you’ll likely have to cover your own medical bills. If your insurance is thin (or non-existent), treadmill at your own risk.
9. What’s the Commute Like?
Only you can determine what is or is not a reasonable distance to travel to a gym, but it’s best to avoid any gym that’ll have you stuck in gridlock. Trust me, there is no greater deterrent to fitness than 5 p.m. on the Garden State Parkway.
10. Does This Gym Have a Good or Bad Reputation?
It’s easy to get stuck on the low cost of a gym membership and sign yourself up for a year at the nearest treadmill factory. But one off-putting experience can have you avoiding the club and wasting your hard-earned dollars. It’s best to get a reference from someone who shares your goals or at least look up reviews online.
11. How Experienced Are the Trainers?
Gyms supplement their revenue by offering high-cost personal training sessions, using certified personal trainers to whom they pay a small percentage of the hourly rate. But the barrier to entry for becoming certified is pretty low: You have to take one written test, which can be failed and retaken into perpetuity. (Full Disclosure: I know this, because I am one.)
As such, don’t assume a trainer is the right person for the job, simply because your facility suggests them. As with gym memberships, choose your trainer based on reputation.
12. How Much Does the Gym Charge for Water?
As with supermarkets, gyms have coolers and counters loaded with impulse items. You can fall into the habit of relying on the gym for your fluids when it is more cost efficient to bring your own. Note the price — and prepare to pack a water bottle.
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This article originally appeared on Credit.com. Teddy Drimonis is a certified personal trainer, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu purple belt and writer living in New Jersey.