It's been a great couple of years for King James. He scored the MVP bag and...
It's a brand new year and you’ve decided to take better care of your body. Now all you need do is find yourself a gym to work out at and you’re on your way to a fitter, hotter bod. It’s a piece of cake. But how do you decide which gym membership to take up aside from obvious factors like proximity and accessibility? Before you succumb to the first sales pitch you hear (because you just want to start working out already), you owe yourself to find out if the gym in question is just a space with a few dismal pieces of equipment or if it is an establishment that’s committed to helping its members achieve their fitness goals. Be wary of aggressive sales reps who are more interested in getting a sales commission than meeting your needs. To help you avoid getting stuck in a bad contract, we talk to industry insiders and list six important questions you should ask before signing on the dotted line.
“Talk to the trainers instead of the salespeople, because the latter know very little about what goes on in a gym or how to improve your fitness” – Irving Henson, director and co-founder of Pro-Fit.
1. “Do you offer a complimentary fitness assessment?”
Following workout routines as illustrated in magazines or copying your super-fit gym-buddy’s moves does not guarantee you’ll get the same results, simply because fitness is not “one-size-fits-all” – it has to be tailored to your needs. Identify the effective workout routine for you starts with taking a fitness assessment. The test should include a detailed discussion about your health and fitness history, tests for body fat, resting heart rate, previous injuries, blood pressure, etc. The more thorough this is, the more effectively your trainer is able to craft out workout regimens that best suit you.
“It is imperative to start off with a one-on-one consultation with our certified trainer to understand not only your fitness history but also your objectives, before tailoring a workout routine to help you reach an achievable goal within a given timeframe,” Ben Salter, the fitness manager at Pure Fitness, explains.
2. “How qualified are your trainers? Which organisations are they certified under?”
Currently, there is no law against uncertified personal trainers working at gyms. Although there are experienced and well-informed fitness enthusiasts who are hired as trainers, the lack of proper certification means members are unable to place full confidence in their trainers. Is he teaching you the proper ways to use equipment? Does he know what exercises target which particular muscles? These are important if you don’t want to put yourself at risk of injury.
Nationally or internationally accredited organisations, such as the Singapore Sports Council, American Council on Exercise (ACE), American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), etc, prepare their trainers to meet strict national standards in exercise science and exercise programme before receiving any real time on the gym floor. Generally, a gym that employs nationally or internationally certified trainers reflects their interest in the safety of their members as with their success. Among the list of popular gyms in Singapore only a handful, including Pure Fitness, True Fitness and Pro-Fit Institute, employ nationally or internationally certified trainers.
3. “How often do you clean your facilities?”
We shed millions of dead skin every hour, especially from handling gym equipment. So it’s unrealistic to expect a completely sterile environment. According to Dr Philip Tierno, director of clinical microbiology and immunology at New York University Langone Medical Center, “as soon as a piece of equipment is cleaned, the next guy comes along and imparts his germ imprints, and the next guy after him, and so on”.
However, you should be able to expect at least a couple of scrub-downs a day. While touring a fitness club or gym, look out for dust bunnies at corners, beneath or on top of equipment, and on the locker room floor. If you can spot them, chances are the gym is not big on keeping clean. How the locker room smells is another good indication of whether they take cleaning seriously.
“Be wary of the pooling water in the shower stalls, if they don’t drain properly your flip-flopped feet may be exposed to bacterial and fungal infection like athlete’s foot.” Dr Tierno cautions.
4. “What kinds of fees are built into the contract? Are there hidden fees?”
Gyms in Singapore offer different contract terms, ostensibly to meet the needs of different individuals, but almost all of them tag on a one-time administration fee and/or joining fee over your contract fees. These can come up to $300 or more, so it pays to read the fine print before you sign. Ask why this is necessary and why it is so high. If anything sounds fishy to you, ask for clarification. How they handle such queries can be indicative of how helpful it they are as an organisation.
Take careful note of the basic contract terms. Most gyms do not allow basic members to access multiple locations, and limit access during peak hours or the number of visits per week, or the kinds of classes you can join Ask exactly what facilities, times and classes your membership entitles you to use to avoid getting short-changed by unscrupulous organisations. Limited use is fine if you can keep to certain time brackets and use only specific areas of the gym, but can prove to be inflexible and frustrating. You may want to pay extra premiums to include more flexibility in your contract to accommodate irregular work schedules or changes to your fitness goals.
Perhaps the most annoying expense you’ll encounter is the cancellation fee. If you have to terminate your contract before it is due for any reason (e.g. injury or relocation), you may have to fork out an equivalent of a month’s membership. Some gyms don’t even offer an exit clause, which means you’ll have to keep paying until it expires. Among the popular gyms we spoke to, only a couple of gyms including Pure Fitness and Fitness First offer the option to terminate your contract before it expires.
5. “Tell me about your group fitness programmes and instructors.”
A good gym isn’t just about equipment and facilities. Increasingly, group fitness classes are becoming the mainstay of a well-rounded gym or health programme. The quality of these programmes can be indicative of the commitment of a club towards its members so it pays to scrutinise what programmes are offered and who the instructors are. Again, be very wary of clubs that allow unqualified people to conduct classes, or cannot engage a regular instructor who can follow through an entire course.
“Consider this, how are you supposed to commit to a fitness programme if there isn’t a regular instructor who can be committed to your success?” Pete McCall, an ACE-certified professional trainer, emphasises. “A motivated and well-trained instructor can watch what you’re doing, if you are pushing yourself too far or if you’re at risk of injuring yourself. It really adds value to your gym membership when you have the opportunity to build a relationship with your instructor.”
6. "Can I get a free pass to try out the gym first?"
You won’t buy a pair of jeans without first trying them on for size. Similarly you need to try out the facilities of a gym before you decide to get a membership. Most established gyms offer guest passes of between three days and a week.
“If a gym doesn't let you try it out first that’s an absolute a red flag,” says Lynn Cunningham, regional director of operations at Crunch Fitness. “It gives the impression that they’re hiding something.”
If you’re going to be using the gym during peak hours make sure you test-drive the facility then. Any attempt to steer you away from peak hours may indicate that they haven’t invested in enough equipment for their members. You want to join a gym to work out, not wait your turn to use equipment.
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