Everyone needs to exercise. That's no mystery. But choosing the right way to exercise can be a challenge. While some are able to stay self-motivated and do solitary exercises like jogging, or calisthenics, others need to get in their fitness by playing a team sport or joining an exercise group.
But many consumers around the globe choose to join a gym, usually for the variety of exercise equipment, access to personal trainers, and having others around them for inspiration.
Choosing the right gym can be as challenging as going through one of its exercise regiments. Not only in terms of finding a fitness center that meets your fitness desires, but also one that has fair and transparent payment clauses.
Take LA Fitness for example, which as of this writing has received barely over one out of five stars in our ConsumerAffairs complaints and review section. Poor reviews from our readers about the gym are in the hundreds.
Many of the complaints are from customers who have been affected by LA Fitness buying out Bally's Total Fitness in 2011. Consumers were promised by LA Fitness that Bally's members wouldn't be impacted in terms of having the same membership, and being able to access all of LA Fitness' gyms. Customers were also assured that prices wouldn't go up once they made the switch.
This wasn't the case for Fred who wrote to ConsumerAffairs from Chicago, Ill.
"In my case, I was going to the same Bally's for more than 20 years," he said. "Three months after LA Fitness closed the Bally's I went to, I was told that the replacement, an LA Fitness location 2 blocks away is a 'Signature Club.' LA Fitness claims that my Bally's membership is based in a suburb 30 miles away. I don't own a car and can't even get there. LA Fitness now said that if I want to use the location close to me, my membership will increase 4.5 times that it was before."
Just to be sure our readers weren't overstating the case, we ran a computerized sentiment analysis of postings to social media by about 120,000 consumers over the last year. The findings: LA Fitness veered from a high of about 50% positive to a low of 28% in June.
And just what is it consumers like and don't like about LA Fitness? It's a long list but this graph shows the highlights:
And issues with LA Fitness don't stop with the gym not properly honoring Bally Memberships. Many people have complained that overall quality of service has declined since the two gyms merged.
Csaba of San Pedro, Calif. said he received harassing calls from LA Fitness, about updating his credit card information. Obviously Csaba wasn't comfortable providing this info over the phone, so he declined and received rude and aggressive responses from the customer service department. And to make it worse he even received these invasive calls on Easter Sunday.
One of the most popular complaints, not only for LA Fitness but all gyms, is the inability to cancel your membership when you decide to use another gym or simply work out at home. It's among the chief complaints with the Better Business Bureau when it comes to gym membership issues.
Many fitness centers already anticipate that you may cancel your membership early, so they purposely make it extremely difficult to do so. Similar to how Facebook or other social networking sites make cancellation difficult, in hopes people will find it too time-consuming and just choose to stay on.
Experts say it's important to be extremely cognizant of a gym's cancellation clauses, and most times written notice within a specific time frame is needed to successfully cancel your membership.
There are countless reported cases of consumers still paying for gym memberships years after they stopped using them. How to permanently cancel your membership should be the first question you ask when deciding to join an exercise facility.
Only the contract matters
The next step is to remember that what the salesman tells you means absolutely nothing -- as in not one thing. Nada. The only thing that matters is what the contract says. Read it. And keep it in a file where you can find it. If you do not follow the procedure outlined in the contract to the letter, your heirs will be left to straighten things out.
Some gyms will also covertly apply unexpected fees to your bill. Many consumers have reported being billed for new gym equipment offered, and some have been billed a pool or sauna fee in addition to their membership costs. It's also important to know exactly what membership fees will include, and if you'll ever be billed for any extras the gym provides.
According to a report entitled "Fitness Industry Analysis 2012- Cost & Trends", there are over 29,000 fitness centers in the U.S., which grew from only 17,000 about ten years ago. The report also shows that 41 million Americans hold gym memberships, and at least half of those consumes belong to nationwide gym franchises.
All that glitters ...
Gold's Gym won't be winning any popularity contests either. ConsumerAffairs analyzed about 63,000 consumer comments posted on social media over the last year.
We found Gold's net sentiment fluctuating wildly from about 100% to nearly zero -- sort of like a workout newbie trying to do a bench press without a spotter.
And if those 63,000 comments aren't enough for you, consider the 400 or so consumers who took the trouble to write extended ConsumerAffairs reviews about their Gold's experience, giving the slumping fitness chain barely more than one out of five stars.
As consumers opinion goes, this isn't so hot. Gold's is in about the same shape as the hung-over meathead who drops a 45-pound plate on his foot.
Valerie of Sebring, Fla. said although her two-year membership expired with Gold's, the company kept billing her. She then went to the bank and changed debit cards in hopes the company wouldn't be able to extract money from her account. But then she received a collection notice from Gold's Gym threatening to harm her credit.
What's even more upsetting is that Gold's then offered her a new membership package, promising that if she signed up, her billing issues would be wiped clean.
Read the contract!
This case is an example of why you have to make sure your membership isn't automatically renewed after your membership runs out. In many cases, contracts go to month-to-month status after the initial contract term. It is still up to the consumer -- that's you -- to exercise your right to cancel, usually by sending a certified letter to the address specified in the contract.
If you don't follow the procedure outlined in the contract, gyms wll keep taking money from your bank account.
ConsumerAffairs contacted the headquarters of Gold's Gym to ask them about the large amount of complaints concerning hidden fees and its cancelation policy.
I spoke to a company rep named Libby who said, "Most people who phone us with angry complaints have failed to read our contract. If you're in a two-year contract, and you break it, you'll have to pay a $100 cancellation fee unless you move 25 miles out of the franchise area. We would then need a copy of a lease agreement or a utility bill to prove that you moved."
Libby said the company had no plans to change its policy, despite the numerous complaints.
OK, Libby, but our sentiment analysis finds a pretty big reservoir of ill will that somebody might want to take a look at.
The phone call demonstrated that the company has no flexibility in its policy no matter how inconvenient it is for the customer. This is a sign that Gold's Gym sort of counts on its customers not knowing what the clauses are.
One would have to assume the company would lose a great amount of money if all of its customers were in the know about its gym policies.
At this point, consumers might consider that too much time pumping iron and using their devilish exercise machines can make you muscle-bound. After all, flexibility and endurance are as important as brute strength and you don't need a gym to get them.
Instead using big commercial exercise facilities, you might want to consider working out at home, as many of the same fitness results can be achieved on your own. Furthermore, you'll save the hundreds sometimes thousands of dollars gym clubs charge, and you can use that money to purchase one or two pieces of equipment that specifically serve your fitness goals.
Also, working out in front of strangers or in a big display window may not be a source of motivation for you, but instead be a hindrance. If you prefer having a personal trainer, you can hire one independently that will be a fraction of the cost of getting a trainer through a gym. However, be sure to check the trainer's credentials, or have a friend or neighbor suggest a trainer for you.
With a constant stream of TV commercials, and ads about large gym facilities, one can easily forget there are many ways we can stay fit. Many exercise clubs make consumers feel if they don't join a gym they're doing their body and health a disservice, which is obviously not the case.
Be sure to carefully select the type of workout plan you want, and if you decide that's an exercise facility, be sure to do your homework.
Just because a gym is close to your home, or is heavily advertised doesn't mean it's right for your exercise goals or your wallet.
Everyone needs to exercise. That's no mystery. But choosing the right way to exercise can be a challenge. While some are able to stay self-motivated and do...