Nearly 43 million people are members of health clubs across the United States, according to the International Health, Racquet, and Sportsclub Association. “The first few months of the year are a popular time to join fitness clubs,” says Rosemary Lavery, spokeswoman for the IHRSA. With New Year’s resolutions comes a boost in gym club enrollment: From January through March, 31% of total new memberships are sold, followed by October through December, when clubs acquire 24% of new memberships. If you’re considering joining a health club, check with your doctor first; then check out these tips to get the most for your money.
Take advantage of corporate wellness programs. If your employer offers the option of joining a specific gym as part of its corporate health initiative, don’t pass up this perk. Employees often get discounted rates on initiation and membership fees.
Comparison shop. Check out at least three facilities before choosing one. See if you can get a gym to match the monthly rate of a competitor, and pay close attention to rates and special promotions. Ask if the gym offers special rates for families, students, union members, or senior citizens. Also, contact your state’s consumer protection office, attorney general, or the Better Business Bureau to find out if a health club has had any complaints filed against it.
Use a free trial pass. It’s always worth trying out fitness centers before making a commitment. Many facilities offer free passes for periods ranging from one day to one month. Free passes can often be found by visiting a gym’s Website.
Negotiate a deal. Once you’ve selected a gym, the real work begins. It’s time to negotiate. Never settle for the first price quoted. Most gyms employ a commission-driven sales team to sign up new members, and that means they have flexibility in what they can offer. According to the IHRSA, the average monthly rate is $39 to $55 per month for an individual and $102 for a family. Also, ask that the initiation fee be waived or reduced.
Consider off-peak hours. Some gyms offer a lower monthly rate for using the gym only during off-peak hours. For those who can commit to working out early in the day, late in the evening, or on the weekends, this might be a viable option.
Review the contract at home. “The consumer would be wise to read the contract and be clear about what will happen if they cancel their membership. The cancellation policy is especially important for a long-term contract,” says Frank Dorman, spokesman at the Federal Trade Commission. Consider signing a one-year contract or month-to-month membership; when it’s time to renegotiate, you’ll be in a better position to ask for a lower rate. Stay away from purchasing lifetime memberships–it’s illegal for gyms to sell lifetime memberships in 34 states, according to the IHRSA.
Don’t just join, go. Use the facility as much as possible. “Usage is equated with the idea of getting the most for your dollar. If you go frequently, you’re going to get a better