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Good to shop around for gym

Tue., Jan. 18, 2011, midnight

Well-researched decision can save money, time

DETROIT – Tanina Mackey decided in December 2009 that she wanted to lose weight and get in shape. At 323 pounds, she had had enough.

So she started hunting for a fitness program or gym or something that would work for her. The 27-year-old from Detroit was all too familiar with what wouldn’t.

In 2005, the single mother of 5-year-old Jaden signed a three-year contract for a membership at Bally’s Total Fitness. It cost about $800, and she paid up front. She went for about four months, then quit.

“It was too crowded, and I had child care issues,” Mackey said. “It wasn’t available when I needed to go. Plus, while it was less than 15 minutes away, I work in the different direction.”

Bye-bye $800. Hello resolution that didn’t stick.

This month, millions fighting to keep New Year’s resolutions are flooding gyms and fitness centers looking for the right fit, price and environment.

Experts – and people like Mackey – say making a well-researched decision can save money and time.

“It’s a good idea to shop around,” says Jess Sobolewski, a physical activity coordinator for MHealthy, an employee wellness program at the University of Michigan.

“Visit a lot of places. Call or go there because they won’t put prices online. But really, if you want to find a good deal and get a good feel, it is worth it to go to a few places to check them out.”

Mackey started her search at Body Rhythm Aerobics & Dance on James Couzens in northwest Detroit. She liked the fitness classes it offered and the price was right: about $35 a month, no contracts.

“The women were inviting,” she said, and they had no issue with her son attending the class and sitting in the back while she finished her workout.

But then a deal featured on the Web site caught her eye: It was for a women’s-only, monthlong cross-fit boot camp at Better Life Fitness in Redford Township, Mich. She bought it for $30 and began attending a 5:45 a.m. class that had her flipping tires and doing push-ups while her son stayed home with a relative.

She liked that class so much that she invested in a $140-a-month membership for six months. She’s also plunked down $228 for a package of visits to Vixen Fitness, a pole fitness studio.

Everything she tried started with a free trial or a discount or coupon, Mackey says. But she’s willing to pay the right price for what works, too.

“It’s a short-term investment,” she says, “for long-term results.”

Already, Mackey has lost 70 pounds. And she still hunts for good deals. In October, she found a personal trainer, for free. Yes, free.

At the Don Bosco Hall Community Center at Chicago and Westwood in northwest Detroit, visit between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. and you can grab some one-on-one time with a certified personal trainer at no charge, thanks to a grant from the Skillman Foundation.

The best place to start a workout search is close to home – no more than a 10- or 15-minute drive, experts say.

“You want to keep it 15 minutes or less,” says Jon Otzman, the director of marketing and membership at the South Oakland, Mich., YMCA. “If it is more than 15 minutes away, it makes it a lot more challenging. You don’t want to spend over a half hour in the car.”

Once you have a radius, see what is offered in the area and begin making some visits. It’s hard to get a sense of a fitness center from a Web site, and many gyms won’t talk prices with you unless you come in.

If you take a tour of a facility, try to get a sense of the environment. Finding a place that’s comfortable is key, said Grace Derocha, a wellness care management consultant for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

“Observe the people and see how they’re being treated when you’re there,” says Derocha, who has worked at several gyms. “Step away from the tour guide and if someone is walking by, ask them why they like the gym. That’s always revealing.”

And don’t be afraid to ask for a freebie. Most gyms will give at least one free visit to potential members.


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