"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 lubricated."
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.
"If a club is buying through a dealer that represents a manufacturer, oftentimes the dealer will have a maintenance contract where they will set it up with the club to come out and check the equipment on a monthly or weekly basis," says Harvey Voris, chairman of the fitness products standards committee of the American Society for Testing and Materials. "We don't see a lack of maintenance as being as big a problem as people just not paying attention."
Voris says bigger clubs and national chains are more likely to do their own maintenance. But that's not necessarily a good thing.
"The bigger ones have in-house maintenance staffs, because they have so many clubs in a given area," he says. "But that guy is also responsible for the wet areas like the spas and the johns. A lot of times, that tends to be a transient position."
For health clubs that want to perform their own equipment safety and maintenance checks, the American College of Sports Medicine publishes guidelines. "This could be considered a standard of care for the industry," Cotton says.
The guidelines recommend inspecting all equipment parts for defects prior to installation. After the equipment is in place, the club's staff should perform another safety check. A system also should be developed to promptly remove any machine that is defective or potentially dangerous. Finally, the guidelines direct that "an ongoing inspection and preventative maintenance program should be conducted for all equipment."