Max Out Your Membership

By Kelly James-Enger |

During the first few weeks of every new year, health clubs are crowded with new members, determined that this will be the year they finally get in shape. By mid-February, however, many of these well-intended exercise resolutions have fallen by the wayside, and lots of folks all but disappear until the onset of swimsuit season.

Just having a health club membership isn’t enough – you have to actually use it to reap the fitness and quality-of-life benefits you’re after. And the more you use it, the bigger those rewards are likely to be.

More or Less

Whether you’re new to fitness or have been exercising for years, chances are you’re not taking advantage of everything your club has to offer. Of course, not every person needs or wants all of a given club’s services and facilities, but unless you do a little sleuthing and experimenting, you could unwittingly miss out on some features that are right up your alley – and already paid for, or at least within easy reach.

Consider Connie. She’s in her mid-30s, a married mom with kids and a demanding job as a paralegal. She runs on the treadmill at her gym several mornings a week, then returns home to get her kids off to school. She tried the sauna a few times and loved it, but she can’t justify the time spent “doing nothing,” so she mostly just rushes off after her workouts. She’s never set foot in the pool; nor has she ever tried a group fitness class. She thinks she’s too much of a klutz, and besides, she doesn’t really know what all those different classes are about anyway. She figures you probably need special skills for most of them, and that “exercise is exercise.” She just wants to put in her time on the treadmill and get out of the club as fast as possible.

Connie’s neighbor Abby also works outside the home as a consultant and has two young children. Abby works out at the same club as Connie but in a very different way. She takes a cycle or step class on some mornings, yoga or Pilates on others. After her pregnancy last year, she consulted a personal trainer to help her lose her baby weight. She still checks in with her trainer for new recommendations every few months, and with his help, she has not only created new fitness goals but also learned her way around most of the equipment in both the cardio and weight rooms.

If Abby’s pressed for time in the morning, sheʼll exercise over her lunch hour at a club near her office, then shower and change before she heads back to work. Abby rarely gets sick, but if she does feel a cold coming on, she hits the sauna to assist her body in detoxing and de-stressing.

Abby makes use of the club on weekends, too. Saturday mornings she often comes with her husband and kids. Her kids play in the childcare center or take fun fitness classes while she and her husband circuit train or take a whirlpool together. Some mornings, her husband takes the kids home while she stays for a massage. On Sundays, he heads out for a long run with the club’s running group. This winter the whole family plans to take a discounted ski trip organized by their club.

Because she is at the gym so often at different times and locations, Abby has managed to try out more than a dozen group fitness classes and has found a few favorite instructors at both clubs. Several of them have offered her great workout tips, including adaptations for targeting specific muscle groups and recovering from an old knee injury. She has also met a lot of other members, including several moms who work out on the same schedule, and she now feels very comfortable at the club – even when she’s not looking or feeling her best.

Several club employees know Abby by name. Last week one of them told her she could get a member discount a local health food store. It saved her $20. Another told her about a club-organized winter-fun outing that helped her family discover a great new sledding hill and meet some new friends.

Collecting on Investment

Both these women pay the same amount for their gym membership, but Abby is getting a lot more from hers.

The benefits of maxxing out your membership go far beyond simply getting more for your money. When you take advantage of all that your club has to offer, you’re more likely to integrate fitness into your way of life, to see improvements in your fitness, and to stick with your workout commitments over time.

“Many people, whether they’ve just joined a club or been a member for years, stick to a few familiar activities,” says fitness expert Joan Price, who hosts a popular fitness Web site ( and is the author of several books including The Anytime, Anywhere Exercise Book (Adams Media, 2003). “But your club probably offers dozens of other activities that are new to you, and well worth a try.”

Scouting Mission

The first step in making the most of your club membership is taking stock of all your options. Take a stroll around the entire gym. Go into the workout studios. You’re likely to see equipment you havenʼt noticed before.

Just because you always hit the free weights, don’t assume the machines are useless; they may let you work your muscles from new angles. If you usually circuit train on the machines, try incorporating some dumbbells, deadlifts or stability work into your routine. Learn how those fitness balls work and what those stretching gadgets are for.

The same goes for cardiovascular equipment. If you always run on the treadmill, you’re going to neglect certain muscle groups. Add in some time on the elliptical trainer, rowing machine, or bike – or swim for 30 minutes – and you’ll have a much more balanced program.

Check out the list of group classes and try a new one every few weeks. In fact, over the course of a couple months, you might make it a goal to try out all the group fitness classes offered for your fitness level. Or up the ante by joining a triathlon-training group or learning how to rock climb or scuba dive.

Next, visit your club’s Web site and its membership service and activities desks to find out about the full range of benefits and activities available to you. Or, if you’ve been a member for a while, consider asking for a re-orientation from a membership adviser. Whatever you do, remember that your health club membership represents a significant investment – in yourself. So get your money’s worth: Get to know your club, and see what you’ve been missing.

Want to make the most of your membership? Start with these tips.

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