They Hire Some Dud Trainers
Don't be distracted by his ripped biceps and "staff" tee: There are hundreds of ways to get certified as a personal trainer--some via an at-home, open-book test.
"It's a completely unregulated industry," says Walter Thompson, Ph.D., a Regents' professor in the department of kinesiology and health at Georgia State University.
Before you shell out extra dough for a session with someone who may have learned everything he knows from Personal Training for Slackers, ask the gym manager about the hiring criteria for trainers. Check for years of experience and a certification that's accredited through the National Commission for Certifying Agencies. (Look for one of these acronyms: NSCA, ACSM, NASM, or ACE.)
Resume aside, watch the way a trainer interacts with clients, says Pamela Kufahl, editor-in-chief of Club Industry. If you want a Chris Powell and he's more Jillian Michaels (or vice versa), keep looking. Another red flag: He doesn't ask questions about your fitness level, past injuries, or other medical issues. A good trainer won't tell someone with a sore shoulder or tennis elbow to drop and give him 20.
You Can't Trust Them with Your Life
Sudden cardiac death during exercise is rare, but if your ticker does time out, what happens next can make all the difference.
If an automated external defibrillator (AED) is used right away, your chance of survival is more than 90 percent, according to the Annals of Emergency Medicine. Yet fewer than a dozen states require gyms to have one on the premises. Even if your gym has a device, there may not be anyone on staff trained to use it. (Not great news, considering every minute of delay lowers your chances of survival by 10 percent.)
Check if your gym has an AED and if the staff is required to have CPR and AED certifications, says Gil Fried, a sports management professor at the University of New Haven.
They May Keep Charging You After You've Canceled
Like that creepy boyfriend who just won't let go, gyms can make breaking up hard to do. Of the almost 7,000 complaints consumers filed against health clubs in 2011, the biggest gripe was billing and collection issues.
"Many times someone is still being charged for something they thought they had canceled," says Kelsey Owen, a spokesperson for the Better Business Bureau.
Say you relocate--some gyms will let you out of a contract only if you can give a sufficient reason that your membership can't be transferred to a gym location in your new town. Others will let you cancel only in person or by certified mail.
The rise of electronic contracts (membership salespeople asking you to review the fine print on a mobile device smaller than an iPad) is making things worse. "There's no substitute for having a piece of paper in your hand that you can review closely," says Alfreda Cooper, head of the Maryland attorney general's health clubs registration unit.
Before you sign on, make sure you clearly understand the gym's cancellation policy and billing procedures, how long you're locked in, and the ins and outs of the membership renewal process. And take home hard copies of all documents, says Greenberg. Some states give you a few days after you've signed to review and cancel if things don't seem right.
More from Women's Health: