A Fitness Check
Jan. 22, 2001 -- Fitness is phat. Whether Americans are
sweating for a svelte, sexy body, or just trying to lose the grip on their love
handles, health clubs and memberships to them are booming in the United
In the last year, the number of health clubs in America has
grown 5% to 15,910, according to the International Health, Racquet and
Sportsclub Association's 2000 Trend Report. The report also found that over the
past decade, club memberships have increased by one-third to approximately 30
Yet how much do you know about the standards followed by your
gym to ensure its equipment is safe and in good working order?
"I don't know of any equipment standards, per se," says
Mike May, director of communications for the Sporting Goods Manufacturers
Association, an industry trade group. "It's the level of competition for
members that keeps health clubs on top of their equipment. If your standards
fall, so will your membership numbers. So it's in your own selfish best
interest to keep them up to speed and running smoothly."
In all her years of training, physical therapist Deb Zlotnick,
40, says she's never really worried whether the equipment she was using was
regularly maintained and safe. Probably like many health club members, she
assumed there was a list of standards and codes enforced by a local, state, or
federal agency. She was wrong. "It surprises me that they leave it up to
the honor code," she says.
A large percentage of those lifting and pushing themselves into
shape are baby-boomers like Zlotnick, who lives with her husband and daughter
just outside Philadelphia. She's been a member of several health clubs during
the past 19 years. "It makes me feel good, and I feel like I'm doing
something for myself," she says, crediting her dedication to her father,
who at 66 still works out four days a week.
May says manufacturers know it's in their best interest to make
sturdy, reliable machines, because in the tightly knit world of fitness clubs,
it doesn't take long for word to spread about a faulty piece of equipment.
"Most fitness companies like to feel they are like the
Maytag repairman," May says. "They sit around all day with nothing to
do because nothing breaks."
It doesn't always work that way, says Richard Cotton, a
spokesman for the American Council on Exercise, and chief exercise physiologist
with First Fitness Inc. in Salt Lake City.
"With strength machines, things can break," Cotton
tells WebMD. "I think ... equipment maintenance is important to getting a
good workout. It's a drag to work out on machines that are not properly
But Cotton says equipment safety isn't a huge problem for
health clubs. Most clubs have some kind of regular maintenance program, either
through a dealer who represents a manufacturer or in-house.