Remember, gyms are businesses. And businesses can close with little warning, as Gold's Gym at the South Mall in Salisbury Township did a few weeks ago. If you prepay a membership to a gym that closes, you could be left sweating out a refund.
Both members and gyms have obligations.
Gold's closed in mid-December. In a letter to members early in the month, the gym said the mall wouldn't extend its lease. Gold's said it plans to reopen near the Bottom Dollar store on Lehigh Street early this year, but didn't provide a date.
Members said they were told they could use the Gold's gyms in Whitehall Township and Bethlehem in the meantime, or pay $8 a month to freeze their membership until the new gym is ready. I heard from several members who said the alternate locations aren't convenient, and who think the freeze fee is unfair.
Members told me they hadn't been able to get answers about what facilities and classes the new location will have, which leaves them uncertain about whether to stick with Gold's.
Ann Tachovsky of Emmaus canceled her month-to-month membership. She told me the two-week notice was insufficient.
"It is obvious that [Gold's] do not consider their members at all," she told me in an email. "They have been talking about moving for years ... it would have been very nice if they had the new gym ready to switch over to or a very close guaranteed date of opening."
I got a workout trying to reach someone from Gold's to address the complaints.
A manager didn't return my call. Gold's corporate spokesman Dave Reiseman referred me to the franchise owner, KK Fit Allentown, which also didn't return my call.
Tachovsky said she won't lose money because she and her husband hadn't paid in advance. They will, though, possibly have to pay an initiation fee if they switch to a new gym.
Pennsylvania has a law designed to protect gym members from losing money in situations like this.
The Health Club Act requires gyms that sell memberships for more than one year or that require you to pay more than one month's dues in advance to file a bond or letter of credit with the state attorney general's office. Gyms can sell memberships of 12 months or less without a bond or letter of credit if they collect payments in equal monthly installments.
The bond is designed to ensure there is money for refunds if necessary.
Last year, the state attorney general's office resolved a lawsuit against a Northampton County gym it accused of violating that requirement.
The state sued Nazareth Powerhouse Gym and Fitness Center in 2009 seeking refunds for members.
Powerhouse had closed its location in Lower Nazareth Township and reopened near Bath. Several members complained to the Watchdog that the new location was smaller and the hours shorter. They said there were no showers or locker rooms. That new location also has since closed.
The state's lawsuit alleged the new gym wasn't "comparable" to the old one. It said the gym failed to post a bond or letter of credit to guarantee the long-term, prepaid memberships it had sold.