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Run away fast from that gym contract

Beware Before You Join a Gym with a Long Contract

clarkhowardIf you’re like most people, you overindulged in calories during the holidays and then made a New Year’s resolution to eat better and exercise more. Here’s a warning so you can avoid getting eaten alive by gym salespeople.

The health club industry basically has two business models. In the good one, you pay month-to-month or quarterly with no real contract. But the sleazy business model involves long-term contracts designed to give your checking account a workout.

With the sleazoids, the downfall begins when they offer you a free tour of their facilities. The tour is done by a commissioned salesperson with the intention of getting you to sign a multi-year contract.
Once you sign that contract, the gym does what’s called “moving paper.” They sell it to a finance company that will take the note on for pennies on the dollar. That creates additional incentive for the club to sign up more members — and hope none of them ever show up to work out at once.

In a recent filing for the Securities and Exchange Commission, Bally Total Fitness disclosed that the average member visits the club one-half of one time per week. You’d be hard-pressed to find any fitness expert who recommends a full workout once every two weeks!

I recommend checking out hospital-affiliated fitness centers. They’re usually rehab-based or geared toward the hospital staff. They’re clean, well run and don’t force contracts. Most will sell memberships to the public. Visit the hospital nearest you to see if a gym is available.

Another option I’ve noticed are no-frills gyms that are open 24 hours and tend to price out at around $15 each month with no contract. But beware they may not even have showers; they simply offer exercise equipment at rock-bottom prices.

-by Clark Howard, Save More, Spend Less, Avoid Rip-offs

Find more answers to your consumer questions at You can also listen to his radio show live Monday through Friday 1-4 p.m. on AM 750 and NOW 95.5 FM News/Talk WSB.

7 comments Add your comment

mystery poster

January 20th, 2011
11:49 am

I hate that so many things these days require contracts. Gym memberships, cellphones, Internet providers, Cable TV, natural gas providers, etc.

I could go on and on….

Making customers commit to a contract means that we can’t seek out a different provider if the customer service or product is not up to par.


January 20th, 2011
11:54 am

Very glad to see this posted. There are many quality gyms that provide excellent results without requiring contracts. The CrossFit program has many local gyms that don’t require the contract.


January 20th, 2011
12:02 pm

I got burned by one of those 24 hour gyms…gave $15 per month rate, but every class I was interested in taking, such as kick-boxing, wasn’t included because the instructors are “vendors” who are not affiliated with the gym and thus, charged their own outrageous additional fees. I dumped them pronto after that.

Reid in EAV

January 20th, 2011
12:36 pm

I have been very happy with the YMCA here in Atlanta. Our family has been members of the East Lake facility since 2003, where we get pool privileges as well as the usual exercise stuff: classes, machines, cardio machines, etc. It also comes with away benefits, so if I’m in Manhattan (for example) I can get into the 14th Street Y with my Metro Atlanta card.

It’s month-to-month (we pay $85/month for a family of five) but with a one-time fee when you start… or restart, if you’ve let the membership drop. A great value as long as we use it, and we do. They also offer sliding scales for lower-income families, which makes the place a great reflection of the neighborhood, both newcomers and old-timers.


January 20th, 2011
12:43 pm

I know, this all about fitness gyms, I like the Y. No contract, pay for the yeAR OR BY THE MONTH.
It works really well for me, I like to swim and they keep the temperature a83-85 degrees. I use every[almost] muscle in my body with no stress on the joints. In the morning I go a few miles cross country skiing. I feel great all the time. Have a personal trainer, she keeps all the muscles loose and supple. I am going to have to speak to her about the rubber gloves, it makes me feel a little I am hamburger being kneeded at the grocery store, and her fingers are beginning to feel like rubber.
Well enough of that.

mobil smith

January 20th, 2011
4:53 pm

Gym memberships are for what the individual wants out of it. I’ve belonged to Bally for close to 20 years. I would guess that 80 % of the people I observe using my club have been using it almost daily for the past 15 years. If you do not have a history of liking gym class or working out long term membership investments probably are not for you. It costs me about $ 12 a month nowadays.


January 24th, 2011
3:01 pm

Our family just discovered the wonderful county parks and recreation gym membership. I cannot believe how affordable this program is. It is also far more pleasant and enjoyable. I agree with the person who stated that any and all “extra” classes were an extra cost. What a ripoff.


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Search Engine Optimization Tips for Review Sites: Google Places, Yelp and (coming soon)

SEO, By , Published November 25, 2012

Google PlacesThere are several popular online location service websites and apps that can make a big difference for your brick and mortar establishment’s online visibility. If you run a pizza place in Portland, for example, if you can get your establishment near the top of the search list when locals search for a place to grab a slice, you could end up with a lot more walk-in customers. In this article I’ll take a look at a few different sites and ways to help improve your search results and information.

Using Location Directory Pages

Google Places, Yelp, and Foursquare are some of the most popular location search services on PC and smartphones for businesses. They are all free to set up and can offer several additional tools beyond simple directory submission. I’ll also point you towards some other directory sites that could help your business, but these social media sites are some of the most important to get set up, and the additional tools they provide are well worth looking into.

One of the most crucial parts of ensuring your search results will rank now is making sure that your Google Places info is set up and optimized for search. Google Places and Google+ Pages offer great SEO benefits on the most popular search engine. First you will want to make sure that all of your information is correct on your Google Places page. Then you need to verify your location in order to show up on Google’s search engine results page. The quickest way to verify is via SMS, which only takes a couple of minutes.

Here is a helpful article with some great tips on optimizing your page specifically for Google Pages.

Customer Reviews

Customer Reviews are also a big part of how your business will appear in search results. Some companies have been known to pay writers to generate positive reviews, but many of these websites do try to clear false reviews when they can catch them. This factor may seem a bit outside of your control, but really this is where a little bit of customer service can go a long way. By responding and attempting to rectify a negative reviewer’s problem, other users will see this attention to detail, and that reviewer may even go back to adjust his or her review.

Here are some great ideas to generate more quality reviews on Yelp. Good reviews can make a big difference, as a well reviewed establishment is likely to pull many more new customers, so it can be well worth putting some energy into establishing your brand and presence on yelp.

Running promotions to encourage more reviews

Many location sites and apps such as Yelp and Foursquare offer businesses opportunities to promote specials for the online community. This is a great way to engage these communities and generate more reviews and likes for your page. Whether it’s just a like or a full review, a good special can really help get people talking about and sharing your business online.

Address Citations

Another important factor for boosting your search results are the citations for your address and phone number. You need to make sure that your address and number appear the exact same way anywhere they appear on the web. In this case, your address is your citation, and the more it appears around the web, the higher your pages will rank in search results. If alternate versions of your address appear, I would recommend doing whatever you can to fix them. You can use it as your signature in community forums and social media sites as well as submit it to other local directories, to boost your citations and results. If you are not sure which version of your address to use, you should use the exact version that the Post Office would use. You also want to make sure to use a local phone number, as this will rank much more highly within location services than an 800 number or non-regional number like you might be assigned on Google Voice or Skype.


You will want to identify what keywords people search for to find the type of business you operate. You should incorporate these keywords into your pages and your images as often as possible (within reason, spamming keywords can result in diminished search results). Here is a helpful free keyword finder from Wordstream, where you can enter a basic keyword related to your business to find several niche related keywords people might be searching for. Also keep in mind that keywords that appear in your title, URL, and within the first 1,000 characters of your page weigh more heavily on the ranking systems than those found near the bottom.


Images are another important step for your location pages. Pictures should be formatted so that they will appear appropriately in a search results page, and since the first uploaded image is the first to appear with your page, I’d recommend using a clearly recognizable logo. Images should be formatted to 290×290 pixels and carry a .jpeg or .png extension. Other useful images to include are a picture of your establishment from the outside, so that visitors can easily recognize it when they arrive, and maybe some images to display your products or portray the services you offer. This article offers a lot of helpful advice on optimizing your images for the web.

Additional websites that can improve search engine results

These are some other pages that Google incorporates into its ranking system, so if they apply to your business I would recommend setting up pages and trying to garner some reviews on these sites:

Angie’s List


City Search

Insider pages

Judy’s Book

Service Magic

Not only will these help to boost your search results and give you more places for additional address citations, but it’s a good idea to get linked into these communities so that you can be accessible in regional searches on that many more websites.

Increasing your visibility increases your clients

It’s simple really, the more people see and hear about your establishment, the more people know about the services you offer when they need them. Since most people only search for a place when they are looking to use their services, having your search results rank highly can make a big difference in your customer base. It’s free to list and post with a majority of these sites, so it’s well worth a little bit of your time to make sure you have your information and SEO content in place. I hope these tips and resources can help you on your way! Make sure to check back here at the CEM blog for more tips on SEO and advice for your social media marketing.




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