Tips on selecting a Health club

A health club can be invaluable in helping you maintain a regular aerobic and strength training program. But a health club membership can also turn expensive if you aren't careful about choosing a club that meets your particular needs.

Here are some points to keep in mind, when you're shopping for a place to work out:

Does it offer the services you need?

Many health clubs have a variety of aerobic machines, weight-lifting machines and aerobics classes. But you need to be sure that the machines and classes you prefer are available at the times you'll be using them. A trial membership of two or three months is usually a good idea.

Hint: Check the club at various hours, to see when it's most crowded. The greatest exercise hardware in the world is worthless if you have to wait a half-hour to use it.

Is the staff helpful and attentive?

If you're a beginning exerciser, you must get some coaching in the techniques of strength training. A well-trained staff will also provide guidance in using aerobic devices and give helpful, supportive leadership during aerobics classes. As you scout out clubs, look for those where the staff readily offers advice - you shouldn't have to ask for it. Also, be sure that all instructors are certified by one of the major fitness organizations

Does the club work as a base for other aerobic exercise?

Many people who walk, run or bicycle for exercise find it convenient and pleasant to use their health club as a starting and finishing point - allowing them a place to stretch, shower and do strength training afterwards, if they wish. If this is your plan, be sure your club is adjacent to a good walking, running or cycling area, such as a park or public promenade.

Is the pool appropriate for lap swimming?

Many health club pools are too small or crowded for extended lap swimming. If you plan to do aerobic swimming, look for a pool that's at least 20 yards long (25 is better still), is supervised by a lifeguard and offers organized lap swimming sessions at times that are convenient for you. Then make some trial visits to be sure the pool isn't overcrowded during the hours when you plan to swim.

What extras does the club offer?

Many clubs offer other services that can enhance your exercise experience. Options to look for include yoga classes, massage therapy, steam rooms, physical therapy and nutrition counseling.