Is Your Gym Exposing More Than Your Abs?

The gym is a great place to burn off steam — and to get scammed.

When Apple announced a serious hardware flaw last week, and the critical security patch that addressed it, my first thought was perhaps arbitrary: “That exploit would work at the gym.” My next thought: what else would?

The discovery of a zero-day exploit affecting hardware—specifically a WiFi chip embedded in the main processors of Apple devices—was serious news. The vulnerability makes it possible for a hacker within range to “execute arbitrary code on the Wi-Fi chip.” A similar vulnerability was announced and patched on the Android platform earlier in the month.

The gym is often seen as a safe space to burn off steam, clear your head and boost your heart rate but it can also be dangerous. The gym stores a lot of personal information and is filled with strangers in close proximity to one another. Because of this, it’s important to think about more than building physical strength — building cyber strength is crucial to making yourself a harder target to hit.

The gym is often seen as a safe space to burn off steam, clear your head and boost your heart rate but it can also be dangerous. The gym stores a lot of personal information and is filled with strangers in close proximity to one another. Because of this, it’s important to think about more than building physical strength — building cyber strength is crucial to making yourself a harder target to hit.

Here are a few things to make your next trip to the gym as scam-proof as possible.

How Is Your Personal Information Stored?

Your gym can require and request a ton of personal information: your Social Security number, driver’s license number, credit and banking information, your home address, and in some cases your medical or health information. When in the hands of the wrong person, this information can lead to identity theft and major breach of privacy.

Your job is to reduce your attackable surface and watch out for scams.

The first question you should ask is how your information is stored, and who has access to it. Don’t accept a vague answer unless it is the correct answer. “I’m not sure,” might indicate an ill-informed point of contact at the front desk or, worse, a total lack of data security. Don’t be surprised if everyone who punches the clock at your gym has access to your information.

Because of this, it’s important to think about what kind of information your gym has and why they need it. Try to limit what information they get, even if it is “required.” While the gym needs to identify you, they don’t need much data to do that. It’s your job to give them the bare minimum they need.

Juice Jacking

Be wary of charging your devices at the gym. Simply plugging your phone into the wall can make you vulnerable to juice jacking, a cyberattack where a charging port does double duty as a data connection that either steals user data or downloads malware to steal it at a later time.

Though it seems unlikely, if your gym’s owner isn’t up to date with scams, the gym may unwittingly allow a hacker to install a data-stealing kiosk for members to use.

Always pay attention to phone pop-ups. Both Apple and Android now have stopgaps to avoid juice jacking exploits, but the warning screen can be distractedly tapped away and ignored, thus opening the door to an intruder.
If you want to reduce the risks while charging your devices at the gym, look into USB cords without data transporting cables. You can also make juice jacking impossible by using the AC adapter your device came with or a back-up battery device.

Public Wi-Fi

Here’s another way your devices can leave you vulnerable to attack. Signing on to your gym’s public Wi-Fi can be risky — such is the case whenever you log on to a public Wi-Fi network. Another thing to remember: Hackers may not always ask for the gym owner’s permission to set up the Wi-Fi network that’s labeled with the gym’s name.

In addition to the fake Wi-Fi set up, there’s the threat of a man-in-the-middle attack. This attack can secretly alter the communication between two parties and even lead to eavesdropping by an unknown third party.

If you are going to log on to the Wi-Fi at your gym, always look for HTTPS in the address and the green lock near the URL of the sites you visit and think long and hard before visiting destinations like banks, credit cards and the like that require or provide access to sensitive information.

Remember, if you ever have any suspicion your information has been compromised, always contact your credit card providers ASAP. It’s also helpful to check your credit for any sudden changes (You can get a free credit report snapshot at Credit.com) While knowing the latest threats out there, and utilizing security updates the moment they are issued is great and absolutely necessary, it’s important to bear in mind that there is no anti-fraud silver bullet. Gyms are neither better nor worse than anywhere else when it comes to data security practices, but they are definitely places where you can be harmed.

If you assume your information is vulnerable, at the gym or anywhere else, and you take the effort to limit your data exposure and minimize your attackable surface, you have the best shot at staying in good shape. If you do find a security problem at your gym, maybe it’s time to demand solutions. At the very least, if you see something, say something. And if you’re really worried, find a new gym that practices better cyber and data hygiene.

Image: BraunS

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5 Ways Gyms Trick You Into Spending More Money

There are reasons why gyms can offer memberships at such a low cost: They generally find ways to supplement that base income.

$10 to $30 seems like a small price to pay for getting in shape — and it can be, if you stick to the treadmill, visit your club regularly and avoid getting hurt.

Still, there are reasons why gyms can offer memberships at such a low cost: They generally find ways to supplement that base income. Here are five ways your gym may be getting you to spend more money.

1. Ice-Cold Water

It’s common for people to bring few things with them into the gym, particularly at peak hours when space is tight. They tend to limit themselves to the essentials: keys, wallet and phone. Your gym understands you’re training light, which is why they have a cooler conveniently stocked with bottles of water and other assorted beverages, usually sold at a high markup.

Forking over $3 for a bottle of water post-workout might seem like a solid investment at the time, but if you work out five days a week and consume one bottle of water per day, add $60 dollars to the cost of your monthly membership — and that’s assuming that water is the only thing you buy.

2. Maintenance Fees

Did you read your membership contract before you signed it? Of course you didn’t. I mean, what could possibly be in there that’s worth squinting through all that fine print? Plenty, it turns out. Your gym may advertise that it costs only $20 a month, but your contract likely obligates you to pay an unavoidable, yearly maintenance fee. Where I live, that fee is usually around $50.

If you decide to cancel your membership after your contract is up, be sure to do so before that yearly maintenance fee comes due again, or else you’ll wind up eating those dollars as well.

3. A Juice Bar

Your gym likely makes big business by perpetuating the idea that you absolutely need some arbitrary assortment of nutrients, in an equally arbitrary number of grams, or you will squander your workout.

Most gyms are also adept at making you believe the liter of liquid candy you just consumed is somehow good for you. Because if it didn’t taste good, you wouldn’t drink it. And because it does taste good, you drink it habitually at a cost of about $5. Do that three times a week, and you can add $60 to the monthly cost of your membership. (Keeping track of your finances? You can view two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

4.Your Absence as Indirect Income

Gyms are banking on a certain percentage of members to stop showing up — and since most facilities require yearly contracts or offer their lowest price for signing one, anyone who gives up on their new fitness regime after two months has signed up for a big waste of money.

5. Personal Training Sessions

As a certified personal trainer, I feel qualified, and ethically obligated, to tell you I belong to a group of underpaid professionals who collectively only have half an idea of what they are doing. With that said, your gym will do the best they can to sell you a training session with one of these people at, once again, a completely arbitrary price. In my area, that price can be $60 to well over $100 per session.

These sessions appeal mostly to those for whom the prospect of getting into shape is both daunting and confusing. The sessions could prove worthwhile, but they’re also going to cost you. Here are a few ways to cut down the price.

Image: Tempura

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5 Signs Your Fad Fitness Program Is Really a Money-Waster

Here's how to tell if a fitness fad will have you losing dollars, not pounds.

There’s nothing wrong with paying for a fitness regime. If the program works, isn’t driving you into debt or causing any health problems, its costs could be negligible.

Unfortunately, fitness fads are a dime a dozen and many programs, plans or products don’t work as advertised. In fact, plenty are downright bogus. Do a quick search for “weight loss scams” on the Federal Trade Commission website, and you’ll see what I mean.

To help you avoid falling prey to a useless or predatory pitch, here are five signs a fitness fad will have you losing dollars, not pounds.

1. It Claims You’ll ‘Lose Weight … Effortlessly!’

Exercise, by definition, requires effort. To lose weight, you need to burn calories, which are units of energy, so expect a fitness regime to be accompanied by sweat, deep breaths and discomfort. If a workout involves little time, zero effort and minimal movement, it’s probably not worth the cost. Yes, doing a few minutes of crunches is better than nothing — but it’s still very close to nothing.

2. It Claims You’ll ‘Burn X Number of Calories!’

A popular — and effective — sales tactic in the fitness industry involves advertising the exact number of calories a client can burn over the length of a particular exercise program. But there’s more than one reason to disregard that promise.

For starters, the number of calories you burn during exercise can vary enormously. Second, it’s hard to tell what that number means in relation to actual weight loss. You’d have to be tracking your calorie consumption and keeping a regular log of your weight to have a frame of reference. Plus, even if you lost the exact number of calories promoted by a program, it might not matter. Remember, diet is a critical factor. What happens if you’re consuming twice as many calories as you need to burn to lose weight?

3. It Claims You’re ‘Guaranteed to Lose X Pounds in a Week!’

As in life, there are no guarantees in fitness. No one can know how you will respond to a given exercise. Educated health professionals and medical practitioners can’t make guarantees regarding your health, so be skeptical when some voice on the TV claims it can. Often the burden of success lies exclusively with the customer.

4. It Has an Asterisk Anywhere … or Everywhere

Qualifications abound in the fitness industry and a little star or cross can signify a number of things. “Only $29.99*!” Expect hidden fees. “Free Trial*!” Be prepared to enter credit card information that’ll get auto-charged if you don’t cancel the program before the promotional period ends. See “testimonials*”? Those claims may be unsubstantiated or only accurate under a narrow set of conditions.

Bottom line: If you come across an asterisk, read the fine print and ask plenty of questions before shelling out money. (Keeping track of your finances? You can view two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

5. It Uses a ‘Secret Proprietary Blend’

There are plenty of fitness companies out there, particularly those hawking supplements, that do their best to make you believe they hold some super-secret, space-age, chemical formula developed by a team of sleep-deprived engineers in a lab 5 miles below the earth’s crust that’s totally essential to losing weight. But there are no secrets in fitness, just the truths you may refuse to accept, so there’s reason to be extra discerning when a company drops the “p” word.

Food and Drug Administration regulations don’t require manufacturers to include how much of each ingredient in a “proprietary blend” is actually in their product, just the weight of the mix itself. In other words, the term is often code for caffeine pills, plus some unpronounceable, inert filler chemicals that do nothing to advance your fitness goals.

While getting in shape can take hard work, the formula is basic: diet and exercise. Plus, you can get fit without breaking your budget. Here are a few ways to get started.

Image: BogdanBrasoveanu

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12 Questions to Ask Before You Join a Gym

Get the most out of your gym membership by asking these questions before signing on the dotted line.

Summer bodies are made in winter, as the old industry adage goes, but nothing says “time to get in shape” like swimsuit and tank top season. If the warm weather’s got you considering a new fitness facility, here are 12 questions to ask before signing up for a gym membership.

1. What’s It Cost?

OK, this one is obvious, but, as I’ve written before, gym memberships are cheaper than ever. It’s easy to see a low monthly rate and sign-up without fully understanding the costs. If you end up biting off more than you can chew and don’t make your monthly payments and your account goes into collections, it could end up hurting your credit. (You can check up on your credit with a free credit report snapshot on Credit.com.) Speaking of which …

2. Is There a Maintenance Fee?

Since the average cost of a gym membership has plummeted over the years, the need to supplement that lost revenue has risen. It’s common for gyms to charge an annual “maintenance fee” to members. And since gym memberships are annual contracts — at least through the first year — that initial $30 to $100 fee is unavoidable.

3. Do I Have to Sign a Contract?

Gym membership contracts — like many contractual obligations consumers are subjected to — are non-reciprocal. Only one side benefits, and that side isn’t yours. Some gyms offer a non-contractual, monthly payment option, but the monthly rate is usually comically large to persuade you to choose the contractual option. Be sure to ask what all your options are.

4. What’s the Cancellation Policy?

If you signed an annual contract, you might be locked into a year’s worth of monthly payments or at least face a buyout fee. If your contract is up and you decide to move on, you may have to wait a month or so, as gym contracts generally require notice before cancellation. Also, cancellation processes can be made intentionally cumbersome, with the hope that you’ll decide it’s easier to keep the membership than deal with the process of canceling. Make sure you understand what you’re facing if you decide to tap out.

5. What’s My Motivation?

Have you ever purchased a piece of exercise equipment you now use exclusively as a clothing rack? A gym membership can be just like that, but without the benefit of having a place to stow your skivvies. It’s common for people to believe joining a gym will move them to action, but a membership alone isn’t going to get you off the couch. Motivation first, gym membership second.

6. Am I Healthy Enough for Exercise?

The squat rack is the last place you want to be when you discover you have a heart condition. Unless they have the initials M.D. or D.O. after their name, no one in a gym is qualified to assess your gym-readiness. Consult a physician at regular intervals to avoid the horror of a medical emergency and the related hospital bills.

7. Is the Gym Insured?

At peak hours, a gym can be like a large room of people simultaneously experiencing every life stage of development while surrounded by heavy objects and moving parts. In other words, it can be dangerous. Before joining a gym, make sure the facility is insured.

8. Do I Have Adequate Health Insurance?

These days, most gyms make you sign a liability waiver, meaning, unless the gym’s negligence is indisputable, you’ll likely have to cover your own medical bills. If your insurance is thin (or non-existent), treadmill at your own risk.

9. What’s the Commute Like?

Only you can determine what is or is not a reasonable distance to travel to a gym, but it’s best to avoid any gym that’ll have you stuck in gridlock. Trust me, there is no greater deterrent to fitness than 5 p.m. on the Garden State Parkway.

10. Does This Gym Have a Good or Bad Reputation?

It’s easy to get stuck on the low cost of a gym membership and sign yourself up for a year at the nearest treadmill factory. But one off-putting experience can have you avoiding the club and wasting your hard-earned dollars. It’s best to get a reference from someone who shares your goals or at least look up reviews online.

11. How Experienced Are the Trainers?

Gyms supplement their revenue by offering high-cost personal training sessions, using certified personal trainers to whom they pay a small percentage of the hourly rate. But the barrier to entry for becoming certified is pretty low: You have to take one written test, which can be failed and retaken into perpetuity. (Full Disclosure: I know this, because I am one.)

As such, don’t assume a trainer is the right person for the job, simply because your facility suggests them. As with gym memberships, choose your trainer based on reputation.

12. How Much Does the Gym Charge for Water?

As with supermarkets, gyms have coolers and counters loaded with impulse items. You can fall into the habit of relying on the gym for your fluids when it is more cost efficient to bring your own. Note the price — and prepare to pack a water bottle.

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