Comparing Local Gyms
Last updated in November 2018
When considering a fitness facility, consider several points, including what its members say about it, location, membership fees, contract terms, facilities and equipment, classes, and amenities. Our Ratings Tables include many of these details for area facilities.
Review Ratings from Customers
Our Ratings Tables report ratings of the facilities by their customers. We regularly survey Checkbook and Consumer Reports subscribers, plus other randomly selected individuals, and ask them to rate health and fitness centers they had used “inferior,” “adequate,” or “superior” on the following aspects of service quality:
- Quality/maintenance of facilities and equipment
- Adequacy of facilities/equipment for demand
- Quality of instruction
- Availability/convenience of organized group activities
- Friendliness of staff
- Providing what the sales staff promised
- Overall value for your money
For facilities in the area that received at least 10 ratings, Our Ratings Tables show the percent of each club’s surveyed customers who rated it “superior” (as opposed to “adequate” or “inferior”) on each survey question. Click here for further discussion of our customer survey and other research methods.
Although several clubs rate quite high on all survey measures, we receive scads of complaints about many other facilities, as evidenced by the ratings shown for them on our Ratings Tables. The most common complaints relate to lousy facilities and equipment, and indifferent customer service.
Check Complaint Histories
Our Ratings Tables also show counts of complaints we gathered from the Consumer Protection Division of the Washington Office of the Attorney General for a recent two-year period. Click here for more information on reported complaint counts.
Try It Out
Before joining any club, tour it and ask for a guest pass so you can try it out. Consider:
Is the location convenient?
If you can’t easily reach the gym, you probably won’t use it. Consider only ones close to your home or job. Most chains offer memberships with access to several different branches, too.
Is it open when you need it?
Check hours of operation. Is it open early enough for you to nab a cycling class before work and late enough for you to hit the treadmill after the kids are in bed? Note the hours of the specific facilities you expect to use; for example, the tennis courts may be open until midnight while classes end by 9 p.m. If you’re interested in specific classes, make sure they’re offered when you can attend them.
Does it have the facilities and amenities you want?
Check whether the club has the types of facilities and equipment you want. Our Ratings Tables list this information for the ones we’ve evaluated. Almost all offer some form of weight training. Many also have racquetball or squash courts, but indoor pools, indoor tennis courts, basketball courts, and indoor tracks are less common. Our Ratings Tables also indicate whether facilities have features like saunas, showers, towel service, and lockers. Remember that we say nothing about the size or quality of what is offered: One club’s pool might be about the size of another gym’s hot tub.
Does stuff work?
Even if a club offers all the facilities and equipment you want to use, that won’t help you if it’s poorly maintained. Our Ratings Tables report how surveyed customers rated clubs for “quality/maintenance of facilities and equipment.” Some clubs received “superior” ratings from more than 90 percent of their surveyed customers; others were rated “superior” by fewer than 30 percent.
Does it offer the classes and activities you want?
Check the club’s schedule of classes for the current period to see what’s offered and when. But know this won’t tell you how quickly classes fill up or how often they’re canceled at the last minute. To provide greater insight on class and activity availability, our Ratings Tables report ratings on our survey question “availability/convenience of organized group activities.”
Is it crowded?
Good facilities and equipment don’t matter if you have to wait an hour to use that Stairmaster. Our Ratings Tables show ratings on “adequacy of facilities/equipment for demand.” When trying out a club, visit it during the time you’re most likely to use it, and see if there are lines for equipment, check sign-up rosters for courts to see how full they are, and ask club members whether it gets too crowded.
Is it clean?
Our survey asked about “cleanliness”; as our Ratings Tables show, clubs’ scores varied widely. When you check out clubs, pay particular attention to the state of locker rooms, showers, and swimming pools.
Does it offer childcare?
Our Ratings Tables indicate which clubs offer childcare. If you’ll be dropping off your tots, inspect the kids’ area. Is it clean, well maintained, and secure? Are age-appropriate toys available? Are workers attentive and plentiful enough to safely supervise the number of kids, and do the kids seem happy?
Is the staff competent and helpful?
You want a well-staffed club with good tennis pros, energetic class leaders, and trainers who can explain machines and weights. They can help you progress quickly, stay motivated, and avoid injury.
Ask how much experience various staff members have and whether they have certification—but be aware that there are many certification programs, and some of them are meaningless.
Certification programs sponsored by the Athletics and Fitness Association of America, American College of Sports Medicine, American Council on Exercise, and The Cooper Institute are among the most respected. Although certification through these programs may not ensure competence in every facet of exercise, most provide a good foundation for personal trainers and fitness center workers. Also find out whether any instructors have bachelor’s or graduate degrees in physiology or related fields. In recent years the fitness industry has become increasingly professionalized.
You can judge staff competence to some degree by observation. Ask weight-training instructors what kinds of activities they recommend for reaching specific goals, and then ask why. Attend a class to see if the teacher is motivating and attentive to students.
Is the atmosphere right for you?
Different clubs have different vibes. Some are very attractively decorated, others more bare bones. Some seem oriented toward socializing; others provide little opportunity for mingling. Although in-person visits are the only way to find out how a club feels to you, our survey’s feedback on “friendliness” provides some enlightenment.