Joining a health club chain can be a good idea if you travel around the country, or if it’s useful having a branch near home as well as one near work. If this type of flexibility is the main reason for your joining a chain, check the conditions and make sure there’s no penalty for using a ‘non-home’ gym. It’s also worth bearing in mind that pricing structures may vary between branches — so it might be cheaper to join at one location and attend another.
Quite a few survey respondents belong to one of Australia’s two major health club chains, FITNESS FIRST (16% of respondents) and FERNWOOD (a women-only gym — 8%), so we can give some detail about experiences with these chains.
"I was very surprised when I joined this gym that I wasn’t given a tour of the facilities and an explanation of how the equipment operated. When I enquired about this, they told me that I’d have to book and pay for a session with one of the gym’s personal trainers."
FITNESS FIRST is now the largest health and fitness operator in Australia, with 32 centres throughout the country, and centres in 13 other countries.
It claims it’s dedicated to ensuring each member has an exceptional experience on every visit to the club — that they will find comfortable surroundings, inspiring images, friendly staff and members, and the latest in programs and equipment.
We found that compared with other gyms, FITNESS FIRST respondents were less likely to have been shown how to use equipment by a qualified staff member, offered a fitness assessment or advised on an appropriate exercise routine.
They were also more likely to report being subjected to high-pressure sales.
"The personal trainers at Fernwood are terrific. It’s just the day-to-day staff who act like commissioned sales people."
FERNWOOD has 54 clubs throughout Australia and plans to open more. It claims to offer women a safe, secure, supportive environment where they can exercise, slim and learn about good nutrition and weight management.
We found that compared with other gyms, FERNWOOD members were more likely to report that staff offer advice and support — most were shown how to use equipment by a qualified staff member and advised on appropriate exercise routines, with staff readily available.
However, like FITNESS FIRST members, there were more complaints than average about high-pressure sales.
Michael of Sydney had problems with his gym from go to whoa. "No orientation was included (as in showing you how to use the equipment and showing you around the facilities) when joining. If you wanted someone to show you around you had to pay for a minimum three sessions with a personal trainer. The additional cost was $70 an hour or $60 an hour for 10 sessions if paid upfront."
Michael says the service provided was worthwhile in the long run but it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing: "The personal trainer was unreliable and wasn’t prepared to train early in the morning when it was convenient for me — and consequently wouldn’t turn up."
"I wrote to request my membership be cancelled, but it wasn’t cancelled until one month after the request. So they still got another month out of me, despite the fact that I hadn’t been for the last three months."