“ How do you choose the right gym? How can you make sure you get the best deal? Give us your advice and tips here. „
There are five council owned leisure centers in Northampton and Lings Forum to the east of the town the nearest to me, three having swimming pools, what qualifies as a leisure centre to me, of which the Forum does. The other four are the new Duston Sports Centre in the west of the town, the central Mounts Sports Pool, the Danes Camp Leisure Centre (with leisure pool and slides) to the south and the Benham Sports Arena to the north. They are all fun in their own way and fully equipped with sports halls for racquet sports and gyms for kids and adults. We also have tons of private health clubs and gyms if you want to get stiffed by various monthly or yearly memberships. It's believed that one-in-ten people who take out these packages never attend the gym and one-in-five do just the first month.
Ling's forum is the only one of the five to have its own cinema, and a decent size to, part of my youth and a rowdy venue back then. Before the film started most of the kids would all hurl sweets onto the shiny wooden floor just below the screen (Mint Imperials bouncing nicely) to get them to clatter around and the man with the torch would look to throw us out. But we would all sneak back in through the fire exit and begin again. I think the first film I saw there was Airport 77! The cinema today is artier and shows likewise films and a good place to see movies. Its 2013 Oscar season at the moment. It's not cheap though, £6.20 for evening films (slight reduction if you have the council leisure card) and then £4.50 for over 50s and kids, with morning and afternoon shows also scheduled, Argo showing at the moment, the same Argo you can rent on DVD for half the price. To be honest it's doesn't really offer much value, prices high to keep it funded.
The swimming pool is not a 50m in any shape or form and full of old people with frilly swim caps or rowdy school kids, various sessions set aside for various organizations. It opens at 6:45am and closes at 9pm (the Forum closes at 10:30pm). They can fit in leisure swimmers but usually you only get the outside two lanes. It's not a crumpet pool lads. The pretty girls will be found in the dance hall doing Zumba and Pilates and all that girly stuff, elevated viewing available. The nightly Water Works Aerobics from 8:45pm to 9:00pm presumably means peeeing in the pool.
06:45 - 09:00 - Early Bird Swim (lanes)
09:00 - 11:30 - Educational Use / Available for Hire
11:45 - 13:15 - Lunchtime Swim
13:30 - 16:00 - Educational Use / Available for Hire
16:30 - 18:30 - Northampton Swim Club
18:30 - 20:00 - Evening Swim (Lanes)
20:00 - 20:45 - Water Works (Aqua Aerobics)
The on terraferma activities are the usual girly things of dancing and exercising to music with bottoms of various jiggling deliciously away. These exertions are split between the Studio 66 and dance studio areas and then they have spinning and dance boot camp stuff in the other area. A lot of the old squash courts have been converted into studios for those girly exercises and prove popular, all manner of pop tunes blaring out. Not sure of the prices as I just look at the crumpet after I have done my gym work. The gym area is multi gender and very basic most of the times although a bit more male in the day with bouncers and gay men tuning up to get the girls and boys on Saturday night.
10:00 - 11:00 - Body Define Dance Studio
11:00 - 12:30 - Mind, Body & Soul Yoga Studio 66
13:00 - 14:00 - Zumba Dance Studio
17:30 - 18:30 - Body Combat Dance Studio
17:45 - 19:00 - Mind, Body & Soul Yoga Studio 66
18:30 - 19:30 - Body Pump Dance Studio
19:00 - 20:00 - Mind, Body & Soul Pilates Studio 66
19:15 - 20:00 - Indoor Cycling Spin Studio
19:30 - 20:30 - TRX Bootcamp Circuit Dance Studio Sarah
17:30 - 18:30 - Body Combat Dance Studio
17:45 - 19:00 - Mind, Body & Soul Yoga Studio 66
18:30 - 19:30 - Body Pump Dance Studio
19:00 - 20:00 - Mind, Body & Soul Pilates Studio 66
19:15 - 20:00 - Indoor Cycling Spin (spinning) Studio
19:30 - 20:30 - TRX Bootcamp Circuit Dance Studio
20:00 - 20:45 - Aqua Aerobics
They have the perfunctory main arena for badminton, five-aside and the like with various events held there when Theresa special on, including music nights, plays and all manner of stuff, most recently used as emergency accommodation for campers and caravaners flooded out of the nearby and wonderfully named Billing Aquadrome. I remember it being used for an Alex Higgins snooker exhibition match. The may election count is also held there.
There is a bar and café to put all the calories back on and a small chill area. But the facilities are basic and so this no posers venue. There are is free parking though and you can buy yearly memberships now for the bigger savings, highly recommended.
Normal Opening Times
Mon to Fri: 6.45am to 10.30pm
Sat: 8.00am to 9.00pm
Sun: 8.00am to 8.00pm
Telephone bookings are taken from 8.00am
Phone 01604 837 300
I had often considered joining a gym and looked at a local gym attached to a hotel, they had a very nice heated swimming pool, all of the usual gym equipment, weights room and a studio for classes with varying times including before and after work. All sounded very good until they confirmed the price, £60 per month with a 12 month contract!! For someone who had never been to a gym before a 12 month was a long commitment if it didn't suit me. I decided against this gym as much as it was very nice the price and commitment was more than I wanted to sign up to.
Not long after I saw signs for a Pure Gym opening in my area, a little dubious of the £10.99 rolling monthly contract I thought I would go and find out a little more. The gym is basic with no swimming pool; however, they do have all of the equipment you would expect to see in a gym, a separate weights area and fitness studio for classes. The gym is open 24 hours a day, although it is not staffed from midnight to 5am so the changing rooms are closed during this time.
How do they keep the prices down - everything is communicated online, classes are free but must be booked online and places are limited, no staff overnight (CCTV cameras and an emergency help button), you have to take your own padlock to use the lockers and take your own towel.
I joined my local gym a few months ago, to be honest I don't have any choice it's that gym or nothing at all! Which is a little frustrating as it's not a very big gym and quite often I can't get on a piece of Equipment I want to use.
***About my Gym***
My gym is located in Rossendale, it is small consisting of around 4 cross trainers, which is my favourite piece of equipment to use. Quite a lot of running machines, 10 or so, and 8 or so exercise bikes and then some weight lifting equipment machines that works every part of your body.
What I like most about the gym is the variety of equipment, for example if I buy an exercise bike for £60 or so it's not going to be as sturdy the gyms exercise bike and it is also going to take up a lot of my space at home and will probably be used to hang clothes off!
It's not a very big gym but it seems busy all of the time, which I guess is a good thing but what I find frustrating is the people that are using the equipment, they go on it for 5- 10 Minutes, chatting to their friend not even breaking a sweat let alone needing any water. Like today for instance I heard a woman say "I have not seen any change in my body" urmmm yeah that's because you're not actually working out. Whereas I am there sweating, really getting a good work out as that is what you go to the gym for after all. And also I have seen women come in wearing tons of makeup, now again if your sweating there really is no point in getting yourself all done up.
My gym also has a lot of older people, I think this has something to do with the "Fitness on prescription" which is not something I know too much about but I am guessing they get referred by their doctor because of their health or weight issues.
When you are looking to join a gym and you have a choice of a few, which I wish I had, you can compare benefits of certain memberships. Lots of gyms these days offer a whole host of exercise programmes, swimming pools and classes.
Now with the bigger groups of Gyms they tend to be more expensive I have heard people paying up to £50-75 a month for gym membership which I guess is very expensive but I also think it depends if you are down there 5-7 days a week then it is worth it. But I only can get down the gym 2 x a week, I sometimes try and stretch to 3 x but it's hard with work commitments and 2 small toddlers.
***About my Gym Membership***
My gym membership is £24 a month, with this I can go to all the classes they have on such as spinning, aerobics and also use the swimming pools within the Rossendale area. The swimming pool is not located at my gym though which does not really make it that easy. But I guess it is nice to have the option. I am not really into gentle exercise I am more of the aggressive type, I like to feel the burn, and I want the sweat to be dripping off me by the time I have left the place.
When I joined the gym I also had to pay £15 for them to show me how to use all the equipment they call this an induction, think it is more a health and safety thing more than anything.
Also you will find that most gyms want you to sign up to a membership, I could pay as you go for mine but its £5 a session so if I go 2x a week I am more than paying for my £24 membership fee a month. I am also in a 6 month contract which means even if I decide I want to leave I have to pay the £24 a month for the next 6 months. I think this is quite a light contract as most want 12 months membership contract. I also have to put it in writing if I wish to leave a month before doing so. I can see why they do this as they have to make sure they have enough people attending the gym, which in my case my gym is busy! It's annoying and also frustrating when you can't get on a piece of equipment that you want to use.
Alot of the more expensive gyms have better equiptment such as tvs above all the individual machines. Mine is quite a simple gym and we have 2 big screens on the wall with subtitles and they normally have Sky news on but to be honest I dont think there would be anything I wanted to watch on the tv although I guess its nice to have your own screen.
I have not been to the gym for the last month, my children got ill and I was feeling pretty rough, I lost all motivation to do anything let alone exercise I also found I was making excuses as " I will have this week off but go next week". You have to organise your life to fit the gym in, everyone has the same amount of time. I work full time hours and have 2 small kids etc etc but a couple of hours out of your week is always obtainable, so when people say to me "I don't have the time for the gym" it seems that I surely must have bags of time! When in fact they are just making excuses for not wanting to go, its fine if you don't want to go to the gym don't. I must admit it's boring too but I like to eat cake so must go so i can stay the same size.
***What to wear and take with you***
Invest in some good sport clothes, I wear some Adidas climate tracksuit pants they stop the fabric sticking to my legs when I am sweating, also if you are a woman no matter what size bust get a good sports bra they cost around £20-30 but you only need one and they really are needed. Also a couple of vests, I find t-shirts are too baggy but it's all down to the individual and most importantly get some good trainers with good support. I have some Nike Air Max and I got mine in the sale for £59 which is a bargain.
I find my IPod shuffle is just the job for the gym, it cost £30 and I can store a few hundred songs on it. It's very small and gives me the motivation to keep going.
If you are serious about sweating it out at the gym you need a towel! Just a small hand towel is adequate
Another must is water, I tend to buy the multipacks when I am in Asda as it saves money as most gyms charge £1 for a bottle of water, My gym also has a water machine which you can use and fill up your water bottle if you need too for free.
If you are looking to join a gym you want one local to you, as there is no point in having one 20 miles or so away as you wont be bothered to go, So a small local gym is better then nothing. Also alot of gyms always tend to have on some special offers for new members and if you are paying per month for your gym membership it will motivate you to go more!
I feel so much happier now I am excercising and its nice to know i can still enjoy that yummy food without the guilt.
Well, I thought I would write about this as I am an avid gym user, in fact you could go as far as to say I have a teeny bit of an obsession, which spins from a halfway agreement with myself on how to manage my eating disorder.
The idea of my "review" is to mention some of the things I find very important in a gym, so when going, you have an idea of what to look out for, and what can be very important. My aim is to save you signing up for the year, without being aware of some of the nasties that you also sign up for. I cannot speak for every single gym but I can speak for the gyms I have used.
I strongly believe the gym can be good for many people, but its not for everyone and its very important that before you join, you decide what you want to gain from going to the gym, sort of like what goals you have. Try to have as many as possible- you may even pick up more while your at it, but don't count on the gym being a goal in itself, you need to have your own agenda, its called your motivation.
For the purposes of this "review", my aims were/are to maintain my weight (I am afraid if I don't exercise I will gain weight- this has been proven to me and I do not wish it to carry on proving itself to me any more!!). To get to and maintain a good level of fitness, above that of the general person on the street. To meet people and to save myself wandering aimlessly into shops and buying stuff I do not need or cannot afford. (Clothes and make-up).
So in all I am looking for a gym to be somewhere I can spend time in, couple of hours a week, without utterly dreading it and having sleepless nights! I need the equipment to work and the other gym users to be friendly. I also need to be entertained, weather its a TV or a gym class.
Here's my top 11 list of things that should be looked out for. (I did try 10, but number 11 was too important to leave out!)
How many of them are there? Are there enough? Try making your initial visit on the busiest day, a Monday or Wednesday or Thursday night seems to be the busiest at whatever gym I have been to, around 6-8pm. See if there are any queues, see if the machines are looked after- clean and fit for purpose (some may have the rubber bar protectors peeling off- not good and not hygienic!)
Speaking of hygiene! This is a very important point- is the gym clean? Does it smell clean? Can you see tissues lying around or sweat all over the floor (believe me it can happen) it is a risk, not just because it can create slipping hazards but because ring-worm for example is easily caught in many gyms. They are basicly caught through skin to skin contact, or, via sweat to skin contact. So if machines or mats are not clean...
Closely linked to that point are the shower rooms. These are my pet hate in my local gym, as they are constantly mouldy. Black mould can and does crawl up the corners and spreads along the ceiling of shower rooms if the showers are not kept clean. It does not smell good and while I am not aware of its hazard to human health (because I just avoid rather then deal with it and have a shower in this state) I cannot imagine it is healthy to be so close to something that obviously thrives in the damp conditions you are standing in. In my experience, you rarely get to go as far into the changing room as the showers, so make sure you ask. It may seriously change your mind about joining that particular gym.
Changing rooms are something else to look out for. OK so you are unlikely to find mould here, but you may find dust and loose dirty tissues. Are they cleaned? I know that sounds like a daft question, but some gyms only clean the bins, and miss out the floor or dusting. Are there any freebies? Like shower gel, shampoo, moisturiser, do the hair dryers work and are there straightening irons? And more importantly, will you actually need them? They are extras that are in some way filtered into your membership fee, so make use of them!
The lockers- same goes, are they cleaned inside? Or are there empty bottles and again loose tissues. And can you rent lockers? Sometimes this can be very useful- for me it is, as things like yoga mats and trainers can be a hassle to carry back and forth, but how much do they cost? One gym I was at had them at £12 a month- they also had included a luxury package of a special room (which I never got to see) and my latest gym they cost £30 a month!! that's almost the same price as the membership! Are the lockers near to the showers? And fitness rooms? To me this really does not make any difference, but to some people it may be very important.
Gym classes! For me this is very important. I need to have something other then my own workout planned. It needs to be varied- as that's the point- I can workout alone, but I don't tend to vary what I do to the same intensity so if someone else can do this for me then great.
I have done my fair share of classes, I used to do around 14 a week at my last gym (they offered a whopping 160 per week in one gym) and have also been to many other gyms and sampled their classes. The best classes I have found to meet new people are circuit classes. I think this is because they are the toughest classes you will ever do, they ask a lot of you but at the same time you are meant to go at your own pace. You give as good as you get back. Because they are so hard, people seem to unite together and talk/moan/compete/joke, its usually a great atmosphere. For classes that stretch your coordination, step, aerobics and dance are good, maybe will also see if the teaching is up to scratch as you will often need that little bit more help then the regulars. Some teachers just do not bother to help, others don't have microphones and some are just plain annoying. Its up to you to see if they work for you. Yoga, Pilataes and swim-aerobics are all good for a more calming type of exercise. But some teachers just do day courses to teach what they do (yes that is true, I know some) its your job to work out if they are up to scratch or just in it for the money.
Base your decision on what you think you want from a gym- i.e. if its to lose weight, cardio classes like step, dance and aerobics are good, if its to maintain your fitness or provide you head space outside work/deal with mental health problems, then things like yoga are better to trial, and if your there to meet people, circuit classes, power pump classes may be better suited.
Weights. OK, so I really have to admit I don't know what I am talking about here, so I wont/can't say much. (I don't use weights unless they are used in a class). But look out for the weights area, if its important to you- it is important to build muscle so for most people the answer is yes, then check out what's available. The machines: again, are there queues, are they well looked after and clean? And the free-weights- are there enough? And also, can you get advice from a member of staff easily? So many people I see use the weights incorrectly which nor only can cause damage to your body but if your working out incorrectly can be a waste of your time (and waste of the others who queue behind you and copy what you have done). Injuries can mean you are not able to workout next time you want to visit the gym, its important to prevent them as rest is often the only way to fix them. Whilst your not going to the gym because you are injured, this wont actuaklly stop the next direct debit comming from your account- and more importantly, will not help you get any closer to your goal.
Find them, speak to them, they should be readily available (gyms are not allowed to run without one of them on the floor) they are there to help you, they are there to advise you on the machines and you should be able to book in to see them fairly easily. If you can't then there's a problem. If they don't know their stuff- e.g. cannot tell you how to use the free weights then there's a problem. If they are hard to find, there again is another problem. Fitness/gym instructors are there also to stop you causing yourself an injury- do not copy what other people do in the gym they have their own workout and their own needs, and often their own bad habits. If you do not work out properly, an injury is a very likely result.
I have found them all to be helpful and good to chat to, being friendly and approachable is important as they are generally the only other person who will see your body weight and body fat. For some people this is a big deal. Again, make sure they are approachable. They are a key to helping you achieve your goal.
What's on the TV. Very important, You may get by reading the paper (which by the way is no good if your trying to workout hard as you will naturally slow down to read- if you are going at a pace you can read and absorb information, then sorry, your not working out at your hard enough rate!) So watching, listening and thinking are what get you through, the harder your workout, the more bubble-gum like the information (music, TV whatever) needs to be. So think about what will get you through, music with a fast beat? Do you have a good music player? Are there music channels on the TV? Do you like what's on? Would you rather have soaps or sports games on? Remember, they may be there as extras but you are still paying for them, make good use of them!
A very important point here: membership tie ins! My last gym was one which allowed you to cancel at 4 weeks notice of the next billing date, so the worst possible scenario was you were there for just under 2 months, best case was 4 weeks. Most gyms will tie you into an annual contract- but even then, read the small print! They will only cancel if you ask AND if you give them enough notice- some will automatic sign you up for an additional YEAR unless you specify not. And as always, the "very fair" price you had been paying in the original year may not then be valid the second year. (solution to this by the way, is to end the contract then restart as a new member. It can save you money- but again, check the small print, if they see your not totally new you may lose your rights to a reduced membership fee.)
I have to add this, but I guess from what I will say, for some people it obviously does not matter. The smell! Some people just seem to refuse to wear deodorant. I do not know why they chose not to wear deodorant, but the smell can and often is offensive. And it only takes one person in some gyms. Sometimes you can escape the smell by just moving on, irritating but its sometimes the only solution. But can you do this? Is the gym too small/too busy to simply change machines? And also, is there more then one! I am ashamed to admit it but I just didn't think about this point when I joined my current gym- these people just didn't exist at my last one! But I wish I had. The smell is enough to keep me from going, it is now a struggle to get to the gym and this is my number one reason as to why. Unless you have experienced it, you will not know what I mean!
I was going to add a few more points: distance from the gym/ease of getting to one, cost of membership including joining fee, freebies such as free towels when you attend...but aside from glazing over these in previous paragraphs, (e.g. you pay for the freebies through your membership), they are fairly obvious from the outset (e.g. why would you go to join a gym that is 2 bus rides and 3 train journeys away). They are valid points though and I didn't want you to think I had forgotten them! You goals though should see you through the bulk of the difficulties you may find in actually getting to the gym.
I hope this has helped someone! (especially as this advice is not just from the heart, its written free- dooyooo wont pay me for this, its a discussion). It is advice I will be following when my current membership runs out (next February) and I hope there is something in there someone can take note from.
I used to work in the health and Fitness industry for 9 years and in that time I joined a lot of people up to various gyms. However there were times when as a sales person, I hated my job because I felt like people were often getting ripped off and not getting the best deals available. In light of that (and the fact I know it still happens today) I have put together a comprehensive guide to getting the most out of your gym membership, how to get the best deals and how to make sure you get the support you need.
(Apologies to whoever read my first review on this topic, there is an element of repetition but I have gone into more detail in this review)
GET THE BEST JOINING DEALS
As a general rule, the best months to join the gym are January and February as they often put great offers on (buy one membership get one free/£0 joining fee etc. However as a little tip, December is often a good time to join also because it is the quiestest month for gyms and they are desperate to get people to join. There won't neccesarily be offers in place, but if you are a good negotiater, you will pretty much get whatever membership you want because nobody wants to join before christmas(Follow my guide below to negotiate the best deal).
In the summer months, gyms often put an offer on which is a week or a months trial. This is a great idea if you want to check the gym out for a while before going for the dreaded 12 month contract!!!! (A week trial is normally £10, but you can ask for a free 3 day trial from the sales staff, so I would go for that!)
BEATING THE SALESMAN
When you go to look around the gym, the sales staff will have to show you around. This involves sitting down first and going through something called a "needs analysis" or "pre qualifying". They sit down and you have a chat about why you came into the gym, what you want to achieve, what you like doing in the gym, how important it is to achieve your goals. All of these questions are cleverly arranged so that you completely buy into joining the gym, because if the sales person is good at there job, you should find that you have no "barriers to joining the gym". Just be aware that the sales person isn't really that bothered about your goals at all (maybe thats a bit cynical because I did) but in essence they are trying to find out what pushes your buttons and will thus, play to your weaknesses! This sounds horrible but thats the reality of their job. After this question time, they will show you around the gym....this is called the "tour". Their job at this point is to make you say "YES" to everything and will ask a number of leading questions like........
Do you like what you've seen today?
Can you see yourself training here?
If you like what you've seen, can you see yourself joining?
etc etc you get the idea......
The shallow psychology behind this is to get you into the pattern of saying "YES", as when you get asked to join at the end, you subcontiously will want to continue that pattern and say yes to joining. (unbelievable but absolutely true!)
Once you've been shown around, you are at the business end of the deal (the bit where you are supposed to join). This is where they will go through all the prices. Be aware of sales people writing some prices larger (actually writing the price in a larger font) than other and putting circles around them. This is a psychological cue to pick that membership. A cheap Derren Brown esk trick, that unfortunately works on many people.
Below are a few hints and tips to help you get the best out of your gym membership................
1) suggest you're really keen to join TODAY but you don't want to pay the joining fee. FF sales staff are not targetted on joining fees so will waver this completely if they think you will join that day.
2) You will always have to pay the admin fee, this is a clever fee designed by the fitness industry as a whole to get more money out of you. Sorry!
3) Join the gym 3 DAYS FROM THE END OF THE MONTH. The sales staff are desperate to hit their targets and will give you all sorts of reductions (many will put you onto a reduced corporate rate to get the sale even if you don't work for a large corporate company! I've even known some to put people onto an Off-peak membership but give them full use of the gym (This does flag-up at reception but the reception team will not quiz it because it happens all the time!)
4) Ask the sales team for free passes, they will hand them out like confetti if they think they'll get a sale out of it
5) Just before you join, ask for free passes and sunbeds. The sales person WILL throw these in if they think it will get them the sale.
6) THE BIG ONE ....getting out of your contract within your first 12 months. Anyone that has tried this will have found its air tight. However, here's the small print you didn't read.
a) You have a 30 day money back guarantee so if you're not happy about the gym, you can exercise this clause. This is never mentioned by the sales people but is in operation.
b) You can quit if you say your moving house and the place your moving to DOES NOT have a fitness first within a 5 MILE radius. Its in the contract so make use of it.
c) If you suffer injury and cannot train you can legally terminate you membership provided you have a doctors note.........good time to be friends with someone in the NHS or medical student.
Some gyms do offer smaller contract lengths but they are not very cost effective, nearly all gyms work off of 12 month contracts. To cancel the contract at the end of 12 months you should just put it in writing in the last month (i.e month 11 if you want to quit after a year). Check that your direct debit has been cancelled. The gym should do this, but on countless occassions I've seen them forget, so do it yourself if needs be. (just be aware, if you cancel your direct debit BEFORE your 12 month contract is up, you WILL get debt collectors chasing you!
7) if you work for a big company, you can get a FREE MEMBERSHIP at FF if you negotiate a deal with the sales staff to Promote FF within your company. This is a farce because usually you only need to get 7+ people to join which generally occurs out of luck more than your own efforts! You can also apply for a reduced corporate rate if 5+ people from your own company are willing to join.
Some other tips:
If you are looking to join a gym, make sure you visit on a monday or tuesday at about 6pm. This is the busiest time for gyms and will give a fair reflection of how busy it will get (remember the sales person will never say it gets busy.....instead they usually say "it's popular" a sneaky way to make it look a positive rather than a negative)
If you like classes, ask them about waiting lists. Most classes can only take about 25/30 people depending on the size of the gym. popular classes like spinning and yoga often get full and if this is what you like doing, CHECK YOU CAN GET ON THE CLASS before you join.
Check for hidden costs. These usually take the format of Classes costing extra, extra for towel hire and extra to put your clothes in a locker! Always worth asking just to be sure, you don't want any nasty suprises!
If you are being shown around, ask a member of the gym their opinion rather than any of the gym staff (no matter who they are). All gym staff members are geared up in sales, so they will always try to sell it to you positively whereas a member will give a fair appraisal.
The gym is there to support you with your training. Make sure that you a) have an induction where they will show you how to use all the equipment. b) they have to provide to you free of charge a programme of exercise, but trust me the follow ups on your programme can be awful at some gyms. My advise it to book in a regular slot on a monthly basis to have your programme reviewed. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO PAY FOR THIS, but watch out for the gym trying to sell you personal training programms. These are great if you need the extra help, but not necessary if your experienced in your training methods. Personal training also costs anywhere from £25/60 depending on the experience of the trainer, quite expensive when you can get a regular gym trainer to fix you a programme for free!
I hope some of this helps, I love keeping fit but hate getting ripped off, I hope this saves you all some money.
PS: It comes as no suprise to read about levels of customer service going down once you've joined. FF are well known for this as they are a top heavy organisation (basically they concentrate more on getting new customers in rather than keeping the ones they've got happy! The proof of this is they're one of the only companies in the industry who do not employ something called a retention manager (someone who looks after the current members to keep them happy).