Be Sure to Investigate Thoroughly Before Joining a Fitness Center

Dorian Martin Health Guide

    Dad just signed us both up for the Senior Circle program at one of the area hospitals. The impetus of this decision was so that he would continue to exercise since he no longer qualifies for physical therapy through home health. As part of the program, we can purchase access to the medical center’s wellness center as well as to an exercise class provided through the wellness center. And the medical center is working with a local fitness center to construct a brand new fitness center right next to the medical center. Once that’s open, we’ll get a special rate at the  new center, which is scheduled to open in January 2014.

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    So should we join the new facility when it opens? It’s tempting, but the American College of Sports Medicine recommends doing a comprehensive review prior to signing the paperwork because the quality of fitness facilities, their staffing and the programs offered can vary greatly.


    Prior to joining, take advantage of tours and trial memberships in order to learn more about the facility. Ask to observe the classes and get a copy of the class schedule. You should also inquire as to whether the instructors know how to modify exercise programs to meet your individual needs and whether there are programs designed to address individual’s specific medical conditions.


    Also ask whether class instructors are required to go through certification programs, how often they receive training, and how they develop their exercise programs. ACSM recommends that you only consider a facility that has a professional staff with the appropriate education and training related to their jobs. These qualifications should include a college degree in a health-related field (kinesiology, exercise science or physical education) from a credible institution as well as a certification from a nationally recognized organization. “Any certification should be based upon job-related performance criteria which have been validated by scientific research in the field and analyzed for reliability,” the ACSM publication states, adding that many certification programs actually are not in line with industry standards.  You should also check to see if the staff members are regularly trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and first aid, as well as the use of automated external defibrillators.


    Many health facilities offer youth programs. If this is something you’re interested in, be sure to ask about what the level of supervision is. The answer should illustrate that appropriate supervision should be provided at all times. Some states require that staff have background screening, specific training and be licensed; therefore, you want to ask about these topics to ensure that a health facility that you’re considering is up to standard. The facility also should have a posted emergency response evacuation plan that staff are trained in and ready to execute if needed. The facility also should have an automated external defibrillator on the premises.


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    The actual physical facility also should be evaluated. Any fitness facility that you’re considering should meet the requirements of all laws, regulations and standards, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as local laws, regulations, building codes and ordinances. You should also find state-of-the-art exercise equipment. You need to explore a wide range of issues, ranging from adequate parking, lighting both inside and outside, and adequate heating, cooling and ventilation. See if the facility is clean and well-maintained, and whether there are physical or environmental hazards that are evident. Furthermore, you need to determine whether the facility is easily accessible; a long drive to get to the gym probably will mean you won’t get there very often and may become a gym drop-out.


    Another area to consider is pre-activity screening. Some facilities offer pre-activity screenings that assess whether an individual has a medical condition or risk factor that needs to be addressed prior to exercise. Fitness centers also may offer health and fitness screenings that are specific to the type of exercise in which you are interested, as well as fitness assessments. Also, ask whether there will be an orientation to the facility, including all exercise equipment, if you join.


    Prior to joining the gym, the ACSM recommends that you take the physical activity readiness questionnaire (PAR-Q) to determine your readiness to begin an exercise program. Questions include:

    • Has your doctor indicated you have a heart condition or that you should take part in physical activity only with a doctor’s recommendation?
    • Do you experience chest pain when doing physical activity?
    • Have you had chest pain during the past month when not doing physical activity?
    • Do you lose balance from dizziness?
    • Do you ever lose consciousness?
    • Do you have a bone or joint problem that could worsen due to physical activity?
    • Are you taking prescription drugs for blood pressure or a heart condition?
    • Are there any other reasons you shouldn’t participate in physical activity?

    The ACSM recommends that you consult a physician prior to joining a gym if you answered to one or more questions on the PAR-Q, are older than 40 and have been inactive, or if you’re worried about your health. However, if you’ve answered “no” to the various questions, you probably can safely start exercising.


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    American College of Sports Medicine. (nd). Selecting and effectively using a health/fitness facility.

Published On: October 21, 2013