If your resolve to get fit has you headed to the nearest fancy fitness chain in your area, tread carefully: The Better Business Bureau has reported that complaints about fitness clubs are up by more than 90 percent in the past five years. In a recent release, the bureau notes that the most common gripes pertained to contract disputes (about 42 percent of complaints) and billing issues (about 32 percent). Another 15 percent of complaints came from consumers who joined a fitness center only to have it go out of business shortly after, leaving them to try to recoup their advanced payments.
The findings dovetail with the results of Consumer Reports’ first-ever fitness club survey More than 10,000 of our online subscribers who use a fitness facility answered questions about the staff, classes, crowds, equipment, cleanliness, locker rooms, billing issues, and other features at their respective gyms. We learned that consumers were happier with independent or nonprofit gym options—including private studios for yoga, dance, and Pilates, and gyms at community centers, schools, work, YMCAs, and Jewish Community Centers (JCCs)—than with most big health-club chains.
A common gripe was contract or fee issues (about 16 percent of respondents overall). At the two lowest-scoring chains (Bally Total Fitness and Town Sports International), a higher percentage of respondents had encountered problems, such as unexpected dues hikes or the inability to suspend a membership temporarily while away (34 and 28 percent, respectively).
Canceling was also problematic: Thirty-eight percent of respondents who’d left a big gym in the past three years reported at least one problem, such as continuing to get bills after cancellation or excessive time and effort needed to cancel.
Of course, large-chain gyms can offer certain extras that smaller outfits can’t, such as personal training packages, spa services, child care, and electronic tracking systems. If these extras are important to you, consider a big club but check out a company’s complaint history with the BBB’s free reliability reports.
In addition, both the CR and BBB reports offer useful tips for choosing a gym and avoiding common pitfalls, so you don’t get burned while you’re feeling the burn. Check out our Ratings (subscribers only) to see how your gym stacks up.
—Jamie Hirsh, associate editor