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Resolve to Choose The Best Health Club

With Thanksgiving behind us, Christmas around the corner and the annual march of New Year resolutions soon to follow, this is the season most people decide to join a fitness club. But the options can be daunting, and to the novice it can be confusing. Fitness clubs come in many varieties and not one size fits everyone. Here's an overview of features that should help make your search relatively pleasant and simple.

Location . Research proves that use diminishes quickly if the club is more than four miles (10 minutes) from your home, not from work. But an exceptional club might make a longer commute worth it. Ideally, the club should be close enough to home for weekend use.

Cleanliness . The primary reason people leave their health club is because it's not clean enough. Make a point to check the bathrooms and workout areas carefully. Look in corners and under equipment to see if they're scrubbed and dusted. Ask yourself if you'd feel comfortable walking barefoot on the bathroom floor.

Value (notice I didn't say price). Most people have a budget they have to live within and budgeting for a health club is no exception. But keep in mind if you don't use the club or are unhappy there, then "cheap" really means "expensive." Finally, a club should have one price for all members, although discounts for students and corporate memberships are common, so don't hesitate to ask if these are offered

Size . Large-scale clubs generally appeal to those who enjoy the atmosphere of working out with a crowd, while smaller clubs cater to a more defined demographic and limit their memberships to ensure the opposite.

Hours . Determine when you will be using the club most often and that the hours of operation coincide. Pay attention to weekend and holiday hours and make sure they won't limit your workouts.

Childcare . If your routine requires childcare, make a point of meeting with the childcare staff to make sure you're comfortable with the environment.

Specialties . If you want to do yoga or Pilates or personal training, review the qualifications of the staff to determine how long they've been practicing. Also, find out if they have a college degree in physiology or a personal training certificate. Watch them work and feel free to speak with their clients (without interrupting a session of course).

Quality of equipment . The club should welcome your request to try out the equipment before you make a commitment. Most clubs will have equipment manufactured by four or five of the major manufacturers, but just like automobiles every manufacturer makes several grades of equipment so don't rely on brand alone.

Amenities . Here's a short checklist to determine which amenities are important to you.

* Does the club provide towels, and is there a charge for this service?* Will you undress/shower in a locker room, or are there private bathrooms?* Are body wash, shampoo and conditioner and hair dryers provided?* Are lockers available and are they large enough to hang business clothes?

Composition of membership . Does the club allow children to work out there? If so are they supervised? Is the membership primarily twenty-something and you're middle aged? Before making your decision, make a point to workout there at the time of day you would be using the club. A club's demographic can change drastically by time of day.

Make your list, check it twice and you'll be well on your way to a New Year's resolution -- to get in shape -- that works out.

Dan Zahler is an exercise physiologist, myofacial trigger point therapist and kinesiotherapist, and is co-owner of Anytime Fitness in Wilton.

Do you think you'll have any fitness related New Year's resolutions? Care to share them here? We'd love to hear them.

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