Workout locally

I'm off to my weekly spin class, but before I go, I thought you dear readers might be interested to know that most gym-goers prefer locally owned health clubs over often-grimy national chains. According to a survey that will be featured in Consumer Reports' February issue, commercial gyms (think Bally or 24 Hour) scored low for machines, locker rooms, classes, and overall cleanliness. Here are Consumer Reports' tips for how to make your workout a delightful, healthy experience. Happy exercising!

1. Know the options.

· Big chains can be pricey but often offer extras including personal training, child care, spa services, and electronic tracking systems that allow consumers to log in with a PIN and monitor their workout progress towards fitness goals. Life Time Fitness got top marks in CR’s ratings for everything except crowds and value, for which it earned average scores. At the women-only Curves, customers were generally satisfied, but cited limited workout options and substandard locker rooms. Gold’s has better than average variety of equipment but otherwise didn’t stand out.

· JCCs and YMCAs often offer classes and are most likely to tailor them to specific groups, including kids, women, and seniors. College and university gyms provide greater access to large-scale athletic facilities such as basketball courts, racquet courts, and even climbing walls (32 percent of school gyms in the survey had them vs. 10 percent of commercial clubs).

· Gyms in apartment buildings or housing complexes are convenient but tend to have limited equipment.

2. Make the most of the visit.

· Ask for a free trial. Every chain CR visited offers these, for periods of one day to one week. Assess the crowds, equipment, class schedule, and locker rooms. If the pass lasts longer than a day, come back at different times to see how conditions change.

· Ask about different membership options. Most clubs have several options, with varying levels of access or amenities. Seniors or students should ask about special discounts.

3. Be smart after joining.

· Work out during off hours. Peak times at most gyms are from opening to 11 a.m and 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on weekdays and early morning to noon on weekends.

· Take precautions. The antibiotic-resistant MRSA infections mentioned in recent headlines can spread through shared gym equipment, mats, and towels. Use the alcohol spray or wipes most gyms provide to wipe off equipment before and after use.

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