Finding the perfect gym or health club can feel a bit overwhelming.  How do you know if you're making the right choice? Fortunately, if you do some work ahead of time, you can feel confident in your final decision. Here's what to consider before committing to a club.  

1. Shop around. Start by asking friends and neighbors for recommendations, checking the local yellow pages, and reading advertisements in the local newspaper. Gather names of clubs, centers, and facilities near your home, then ask people for their recommendations.

2. Find out who goes there. Begin by considering your comfort zone, then try to match your profile with that of the club. YMCAs, for example, usually cater to families, and that's apparent by examining the course schedule at the front desk, where classes might range from swim lessons for toddlers to chair-based yoga for older adults. When visiting a club for the first time, look for clues-how old are the typical users? Is there daycare for small children? If this information isn't obvious, simply ask the staff.

3. Think about location. You may not always have a lot of choice in this department, but a club or center that's convenient located will most likely be better for you. The exception: if you're looking for something very specialized, the extra driving time may be worth it.

4. Go on a tour. A tour is always a must. Before you visit, however, consider what it is you want most from this club. If you enjoy group exercise, ask to see the class schedule. If you like running or walking on a treadmill, ask about peak hours-when is the club busiest? Remember to check out the locker rooms, sauna, or other facilities. Be sure to ask about club hours, too.

5. Get the details of the contract. Make sure you ask about the details of membership such as the monthly or yearly cost, initiation fees, annual dues, and extra fees for classes. It's very important to understand the complete financial picture before signing any type of agreement. Also, make sure you ask about ending your membership, just in case it doesn't work out.

7. Try before you buy. Many health clubs will offer a free one-week membership so you can try the club before you commit. Ask about this option, even if it's not advertised. While you're trying the club out, keep an eye out for little details, such as how clean the bathrooms are and the condition of the equipment. Also take this time to talk to other members about their opinion of the club.

Choosing the right health club or fitness center for your needs doesn't have to be stressful. The more research you do and the more questions you ask, the more likely you will be to make the best choice for you.