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continued...

"The risk really is [in not] using the equipment properly," Cotton says. "You can hurt yourself on brand spanking new equipment. You should have an orientation to the equipment before you use it."

Consumers also have a responsibility to ask questions and demand answers. Start by asking yourself whether the club meets your personal needs. For instance, what are the business hours? Not everyone works Monday through Friday, 9 to 5 schedules. Will the club be open when you want to work out? Does the club have a diversity of programs that goes beyond machines and includes indoor cycling and aerobic classes, yoga or swimming? Are these offered at times you can be there? Is the location convenient to where you live or work? How much does it cost, and do you have to sign a long-term contract? And when touring clubs, Voris suggests that you closely examine the way the equipment looks, as well as basic hygiene issues.

"If the machines are all in a shambles, and the upholstery is cracked and split, and there is dust and hair and gunk on the equipment, that speaks a lot potentially about the maintenance of the equipment," he says.

There are other measures, too. Zlotnick says years of experience have taught her to check out the number of staff members the club employs. More importantly, she wants to see how many are on the floor and actually working with club members. And while Zlotnick says her current health club passes Voris' test -- clean, neat, and plenty of machines available - for safety reasons she's curious to know just how often the machines are maintained.

"I never see too many broken machines," she says. "But I would like to know. I'll go in there and ask that question, absolutely."

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