Fitness Facility Operators Defend the Value of a Membership

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Club operators weigh in on a recent Chicago Tribune column that questions whether joining a health club is worth the money.

Are health clubs worth the money? That's the question posed by a recent Chicago Tribune columnist who suggests prospective health club members proceed with caution when it comes to joining a gym.

As summer approaches, some people might consider a health club membership, "but joining a fitness center is also one of the trickiest purchases a consumer can make," the columnist writes. The column also suggests that people thinking about joining a health club should consider other sources of exercise, such as exercise videos, gaming systems with fitness components, running or playing sports.

So why should people still consider joining a health club? In an email to Club Industry, Bill McBride, president and COO of Club One, San Francisco, said many facilities now offer flexible membership options, certified and educated fitness professionals, and services such as fitness assessments that people could not get while working out on their own.

"It's apparent the majority of people are not able to get in shape without some support system, as evidenced by the United States' obesity epidemic, and quality clubs can play a major role with that support," McBride said. "So I would ask this: What would you pay to get motivating group fitness classes, hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment, millions of dollars worth of facilities, highly educated staff that care about helping you, wonderful amenities, lounges, child care and an environment to enjoy, disconnect and escape stress? Very high-end clubs offer this all for less than $150 per month, and in many cases memberships cost less than $60 per month. It seems that we should be promoting private health clubs as businesses that create environments that help people succeed with their goals, pay taxes, employ people and make their communities healthier."

Jeff Skeen, president and CEO of Titan Fitness, McLean, VA, acknowledges that while the column's statements might apply to some health clubs, many other companies make an effort to keep monthly dues low and offer fitness opportunities that go beyond what people would get from other physical activities.

"The interesting thing about the article is it mentions considering doing activities outside the gym such as playing sports. However, how many athletes do you know that count on the sporting activity to keep them in shape?" Skeen said in an email to Club Industry. "Anaerobic exercise is just as important as aerobic activity."

The column also suggests that prospective members explore options outside of name-brand health clubs, such as government recreation centers, because they are likely to be cheaper. For nonprofit facilities such as YMCAs, offering affordable memberships and financial assistance is a goal. But there also are social benefits to purchasing a membership.

"At the Y, we view membership as more than improving health and well-being; it's also about connecting and engaging members with a community and support system of people," Jessica Wylie, public relations manager for the YMCA of the USA, Chicago, said in a statement. "Our cause is to strengthen community though youth development, healthy living and social responsibility, and one way that Ys nationwide do this is by offering financial assistance so that everyone can benefit from the Y's programs."

The Chicago Tribune's column might judge fitness facilities harshly at times, but it also points out that for some people, knowing they are paying for a membership is what motivates them to work out. Club operators might not be able to change how the public views health clubs overnight, but they can make sure they make members feel like they are paying for something valuable.

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