BBB Offers Tips for Choosing a Fitness Center

January 08, 2014

If your New Year's resolution is to shape up, you're not alone. According to, lose weight is the top New Year's resolution, which beat saving money, quitting smoking and volunteering. 


According to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, there are more than 30,000 health clubs in the U.S., with more than 50 million gym members. During this time of year, health clubs often cut rates to attract the New Year's resolution crowd.


However, Better Business Bureau serving Greater Maryland advises consumers to carefully research their fitness options before signing up. BBB has seen a steady increase in complaint activity with fitness centers over the past three years.


In 2013, BBB processed more than 3,200 complaints against fitness centers nationwide, more than a 20 percent increase compared to 2012, and nearly a 40 percent increase compared to 2011. Many of those complaints involved contract and billing issues.


Consumers turned to BBB after having troubles cancelling memberships due to unforeseen personal circumstances. Other consumers alleged they were never advised of certain fees after signing up for a membership and that charges still occurred even after they cancelled their memberships.


BBB offers the following advice to help consumers select a fitness facility that will help meet their needs without putting a hole in their wallet.  


Visit Before signing a contract, research the gym at to see its BBB Business Review. This will show any history of complaints or advertising issues. In Maryland, the health club industry is regulated by Maryland Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division. Health clubs, gyms, weight loss centers and self-defense schools are required to be registered. Verify if the business is meeting the required state regulations.


Consider your budget. Most facilities charge an upfront membership fee to join and a monthly fee thereafter. In addition, some fitness centers charge an additional fee for certain classes or amenities. It is important to decide beforehand what amount you can comfortably devote to physical fitness. Regardless of the length of a contract, ask if you can pay monthly. If the club closes, you may lose less money. 


Take a tour of the facility. Don't just sign up for a membership without doing an inspection yourself. Check the cleanliness of the equipment and the locker room area. See if the gym equipment is in good condition and maintained properly. Make sure the facility has the equipment and classes you are interested in. Also, schedule a tour of the gym at the time of day you would likely use the facility. Make sure the number of people there at that time will not limit your productivity.


Do not give in to sales pressure. Walk away from clubs that pressure you to sign a contract on the spot. BBB recommends taking a sample contract home to review before making a decision. Make sure the contract lists all services and fees, and any promises made by the salesperson. Find out what is included in the monthly fee and what will cost extra. Under Maryland law, you can cancel a health club contract within three days of signing a contract by giving written notice in person or submitting certified mail, return receipt requested.  Make sure to keep a copy of your cancellation letter and the return receipt or obtain a confirmation for your cancellation.