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Office of Consumer Protection

Health Club Memberships

Health clubs can be a great way to stay in shape, but before you use one, you have to choose one.  Lookbelow for some tips on choosing to join a health club. 

  • Location, location, location!  The less convenient your health club is, the less you will go.  Figure out when you wish to go to your health club and where you will be at that time so you can choose a club that’s not out of your way.
  • Size matters  .   Big clubs can be overwhelming, but small clubs may be limited in the amount and variation of classes and equipment.  Which size is best for you?
  • Most things in life aren’t free.  How much does membership cost?  Are there any fees?  How about discounts or specials?  Does the price match the service?
  • What types of equipment are available?  Is the equipment in good shape?  Is it a quality name?  Does it fit your body, or is it adjustable?  Can the staff teach you how to use the equipment?  Does the gym help you design a workout program or provide a fitness card to keep track of your workouts?
  • How clean is it? Are the bathrooms dirty?  Check if they have showers or locker rooms.
  • Is it getting hot in here, or is it just me? It may not seem that important at first, but after an hour working out, the temperature could get uncomfortable.  Make sure your club has air conditioning or fans and good ventilation.
  • Are there any fitness classes?  Are you interested in any of them?  When are they offered?  How crowded are they?
  • Let me see your qualifications. Does the staff have any practical experience, certifications, or formal education (such as degrees in physical education or exercise physiology)?
  • Is there health screening available?  See if the gym offers body fat testing, cardiovascular testing, and strength and flexibility testing.
  • What other amenities does the club have? Is there a juice or snack bar, massages, a sauna or a steam room, personal trainers, nutritional or weight control counseling, or other amenities you want? 

What should I know about contracts?   When thinking about joining a health club, and signing a contract, there is a lot to consider.  For example, you should think about the length of the contract.  Often, people use a club regularly when they first join, but then quit going soon after, so ask whether a month-to-month or other short-term contract or trial membership is available.  Also consider the type of payment you can use.  Is monthly payment is available?  If the club closes you may lose less money. Note that some clubs collect monthly but may also charge an annual fee. 
It’s important that before you sign a contract, you have made sure that everything you’ve discussed is in it and that all of the services you want matches and is included in the price.  Make certain that all promises made by the salesperson are replicated in the contract.  Keep a copy of the signed contract and receipts for payments.
Under Maryland law, you can cancel a health club contract within three days of signing it by giving written notice in person or by certified mail, return receipt requested. Make sure to keep a copy of your cancellation letter and the return receipt or get a receipt verifying your cancellation from the club. You may have other cancellation rights under your health club contract. Be sure to read over the contract and make sure you understand any additional cancellation rights you may have.

A health club must be registered with the Consumer Protection Division of the Office of the Attorney General. You can check a club's registration status by calling (410) 576-6350 or at http://www.oag.state.md.us/Healthclub/consumer.htm.
Every health club contract must contain a "Notice of Consumer Rights." Health clubs that do not use contracts must provide their customers with a copy of the Notice or post it prominently in their facility. 
If the business is bonded or bond-exempt, the Notice must include: the business' registration number, whether the business is bonded or bond-exempt, the amount of the bond posted if the business is bonded, that the consumer may cancel the contract and receive a refund of all money paid within three days of signing the contact, the consumer's rights if the business closes for a month or more, and the consumer's right to an extension of the contract if the consumer is disabled for a period of three months or more.
If the business is a pay-per-day business, the Notice must include: the business' registration number, that the business is not required to carry a bond, that the business does not charge any initiation or upfront fees, that the business does not require consumers to purchase more than one day's services at a time, and that the business does not collect payment from consumers prior to the day services are provided.

What if my health club closes or changes ownership?  If your health club or fitness school closes, there are a few things you should do.  You will want to contact your bank or credit card company to stop any automatic payments and to charge back any payments made for services not received.  Also, if the club was bonded and if you have paid in advance, notify the Consumer Protection Division at healthclub@oag.state.md.us.
If the club changes ownership but remains open, ask the new owner for a contract with the same terms as the one you have. Unless the new owner is honoring your old contract, you cannot be required to join the new club. If you are unable to get written confirmation that your old contract will be honored, contact the Office of Consumer Protection by calling 240.777.3636  or consumerprotection@montgomerycountymd.gov.

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