You had such good intentions when you bought that expensive recumbent exercise bicycle—so why are you only using it to stack magazines? You were also certain the “ab” contraption you bought—while sitting on your couch watching late-night TV and inhaling a pint of Ben & Jerry’s—would make all the difference, but so far it’s just a convenient footrest. Ring a bell? Well, at least you have plenty of company: The fitness industry thrives on good intentions.

Maybe the facilities of a health and fitness club—coupled with the financial commitment of membership—could finally provide the motivations you need to get fit and stay fit.

Our Ratings Tables will help you compare the quality, prices, facilities, and services offered by local clubs. But before joining the fitness-center club, first compare the costs of joining a club to the many other fitness options. A lot of fitness-club customers waste a lot of money on memberships they don’t use.

Before joining a club, think about your own motivations and interests—and consider alternatives. Many consumers pay fitness clubs a lot of money for activities available more cheaply elsewhere.

In fact, most people can save money and meet all their fitness and recreation needs without joining private fitness clubs. You can do pushups, situps, and many other exercises at home for free. Walking, running, and biking are very inexpensive. A regular soccer or basketball game at a nearby park is not only inexpensive but probably a lot more fun than lugging weights around a smelly gym. For a one-time investment of a few hundred dollars, you can buy various types of home exercise equipment.

Local governments offer exercise facilities and programs. Recreation centers and local parks have cardiovascular fitness equipment, weightlifting rooms, tennis courts, swimming pools, aerobics classes, basketball courts, sports leagues, and much more—all free or much cheaper than comparably equipped private health clubs.

For example, the Federal Way Community Center offers a fitness center, three gymnasiums, indoor pools, indoor track, a wide range of group exercise classes, and a climbing pinnacle. For access to all facilities, adults pay $8 per day ($5 for seniors and teens). Adult residents can pay $39.99 per month with no term commitment.

Access to the Tukwila Community Center costs $5 daily for adults ($3 for seniors and youth) or $29 per month for residents ($19 per month for senior and youth residents). Seniors (ages 50 and up) can use the fitness room for free from 6:30 to 11 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

Seniors will also find good deals in Renton. The Renton Senior Activity Center has a fitness room, available only for adults ages 50 and up for only $1 per day. The fitness center at Renton Community Center offers $1 entry to seniors on weekdays between 6:00 and 9:30 a.m. Fitness passes for residents of all ages are $20 per month or $200 per year ($24 per month or $240 per year for nonresidents) for the Renton Community Center.

The Seattle Parks and Recreation Department operates eight indoor pools and 12 community centers with fitness centers. Adults pay $3 per visit ($2 for seniors) to use a fitness center and $5.25 per visit to swim ($3.75 for youth and seniors).

Even if you expect to eventually join a private health and fitness club, spend a few months trying the alternatives. That will give you a better idea as to whether you really are likely to stick it out at a club and which activities and facilities matter to you.