Fitness centers have become increasingly popular over the years due to changing lifestyles.
Fitness centers evolved in the 20th Century along with the science of exercise physiology. The general public began to understand the benefits of achieving an accelerated heart rate through exercise. Consequently, athletic clubs previously organized for racquet sports, billiards, shooting and archery were replaced with exercise facilities called fitness centers or health clubs containing cardio machines, exercise classes, free standing weight machines and free weights. According to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, the average American who patronizes these facilities is likely to be assertive, concerned with health, socially active, college educated and have a strong work ethic. Thus, they are well-equipped to thoroughly evaluate numerous factors before joining a fitness center. Selection of a fitness center should be based on answers to the following questions:
The fitness center market is diverse and can meet a variety of patron interests. According to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, over 40 million Americans hold memberships in fitness centers of various types. The conventional dual-gender health club holds the largest share of the market and provides a full range of equipment and services. Express clubs are limited in scope and target beginners or those who desire a workout of moderate- to low-intensity. Some fitness centers limit membership to one gender with the aim of fostering an atmosphere that is supportive. Work-based fitness centers vary widely in scope and provide the advantage of convenience. Community-based fitness centers are located in suburbia and cater to the whole family. They typically include a swimming pool, playground, outdoor courts and indoor facilities to accommodate a variety of exercises, sports and recreational activities. University or college recreational centers are usually comprehensive to meet the needs of the entire school community. Many of these centers generate profit by selling memberships to the non-academic community. Some fitness centers are aligned with large medical centers or hospitals. In such arrangements, the focus is often highly specialized, offering features such as cardiac rehabilitation or physical therapy.
The equipment in highest demand by patrons of fitness centers includes free weights, treadmills, stationary and recumbent bikes, stair steppers and climbers, elliptical (cross trainer) machines, plate loaded equipment, selectorized (resistance) machines and rowers. Services in the form of technical assistance and exercise classes are also provided at fitness centers. Personal training, strength training and fitness evaluation are in high demand, as are classes in aerobics, kickboxing, yoga and group cycling. Additional amenities such as food and beverages, lounge areas and child care services can increase the convenience or desirability of a facility. According to Child Care Resource, fitness centers do not have to obtain a license to provide child care services. It is important for potential members to observe the child care services in operation and interview staff prior to use.
Licensure of the fitness center and certification of its training staff are good indications of quality. The Fitness Standards Council is a not-for-profit international organization that has established standards for the fitness industry, licenses facilities, certifies trainers and protects consumers.
Patrons have several avenues of recourse when a fitness center falls short of expectations. The Fitness Standards Council investigates any complaints against its membership regarding violations of quality standards or ethical behavior in the fitness industry. Serious violations can result in revocation of licensure or certification. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) attempts to resolve complaints in an equitable and timely manner. Once a complaint is filed with the BBB, it is transmitted to the business within 48 hours with a request for a response within two weeks. The BBB boasts a 70 percent success rate in resolving complaints. Fitness centers often ask members to sign a waiver to ward off negligence claims. These waivers do not absolve ownership of its responsibility to uphold codes of health and safety. Violations can be reported to local and state boards of health.
A convenient location no farther than a 10 minute commute from home or work will increase the likelihood of adhering to routine workouts. The atmosphere of the facility is important to examine and includes decor, music and video entertainment as well as the cleanliness of the equipment and locker rooms. Characteristics of club membership contribute to the atmosphere and can affect comfort. This factor includes the average age of the members, their dress and their motivations for patronage.
Money is the bottom line for many potential fitness center members. Considerations include contracts, initiation fees, payment options, trial memberships, cancellation clauses and membership types that specify frequency or type of use. Sales staff should not pressure potential members into a hasty decision. Anyone considering membership should review the particulars at home, away from the sales staff, before signing on the dotted line. Existing members can provide insight into the quality of the fitness center operation and value for the cost. Ownership should be willing to provide the names of members willing to provide candid opinions. In addition, ownership should not be offended by on-site queries of members.