Why fitness centres can be bad for you

Fitness centres can be bad for your health, says a new report.

Glenda Cooper, Social Affairs Correspondent, investigates Consumers' Association claims that your pockets are not the only thing damaged by expensive fitness centres.

Leisure is big business these days as we all go for "the burn". A study by the Henley Centre think-tank predicted last year that the pounds 1bn sports services, health, fitness and leisure club sector will grow by 60 per cent over the next five years.

But the Consumers' Association claims today that some fitness centres are not coming up to scratch for the amount of money that we pay them. Its magazine Which? sent two under-cover fitness inspectors to four private clubs, four public leisure centres and two large hotels with fitness facilities for residents and local members.

The inspectors asked how much classes and membership was, noted how helpful staff were, examined the changing rooms and checked out the range and quality of equipment. Then they took part in one fitness class and a gym induction in each centre.

In their opinion the private clubs came out no better than the public ones and said that improvements could be made at all the places they visited.

Aerobic instruction was "poor" they claimed, with seven out of ten fitness classes taught in a "mechanical and impersonal manner, with little or no contact between the instructor and individual participants". Which? said that some instructors did not bother to find out whether there were newcomers to the class or correct the people who were doing exercises wrongly.

An aerobics class at the Sports Connexion Leisure Club in Coventry was said to be "potentially unsafe" because the instructor paid little regard to the participants' needs. Mike Taylor, director of Sports Connexion was very disappointed with what the Which? inspectors had said. "In my view this instructor is as safe as you can get. He is RSA qualified and teaches around the area. I really don't understand it," he said.

Instructors at Meadowside Leisure Centre at Burton-on-Trent, and the Spiceball Park Sports Centre in Banbury were also said to be poor.

Mark Thornewill, Meadowside's leisure contracts manager, said: "We looked at the report and accepted we could improve in certain areas. We have introduced an induction scheme for beginners and an independent appraisal system for our instructors which is to be ongoing."

Mark Bremner, operations director of DC Leisure which runs Spiceball Park, said that while they welcomed any audit they had found the report "too negative".

Helen Parker, editor of Which?, said: "The poor quality of aerobics class teaching we found is particularly worrying. We want to see the keep-fit industry doing more to ensure that instructors have standard, thorough and recognisable qualifications." However, the magazine said that its findings should not put people off exercising, but it urged people to choose their centre carefully.

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