7 ways to save money on a gym membership

Consumer Reports

Joining a gym is an investment in your health, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to trim the cost.

Our annual New Year’s resolve to get in shape means that gyms sign up more new members early in the year than at any other time, and they’re all competing for your business. But there’s no reason to rush. “You can often get the biggest discount if you sign up late in the month, because health clubs have monthly sales quotas,”Andrea Metcalf, a certified trainer and health coach in Chicago, said. So take the time to research your options and ways to save.

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Call health clubs near your home and office to ask for a no-commitment trial. “Most clubs will give you a day or weeklong pass to try out the facility,” said Pam Kufahl, editor-in-chief of Club Industry, a magazine for fitness pros. Visit at the times you’ll be most likely to work out so you can see how crowded it is. Try classes you're likely to take. Ask members what they like and don’t like about the facility, and get a copy of the fee schedule.

You may be after washboard abs but you may get headaches instead. Read, Exercise caution before joining a health club.

While you’re deciding where to join, look for additional deals on gym websites, Facebook, and Twitter, as well as offers on sites such as Groupon, Living Social, and Gilt City. “These usually include discounts on memberships or classes,” Kufahl said. If a gym has a mailing list, sign up.

When you decide on a club to join, speak with a manager, who is more likely to have the clout to negotiate. Ask what the cost would be if you paid for a year (or more) in full instead of paying month-by-month. “You can often get a month for free or get them to drop an initiation fee if you pay up front,” Metcalf said. Also see if you can get some things you would usually be willing to pay for—such as a wellness assessment or a personal training session—free. If the membership includes things you won’t use, such as child care, classes, or a pool, ask for a reduced rate that doesn’t include them.

For instance, see if a club offers different levels of membership or discounts if you agree to go at nonpeak hours or on nonpeak days. “When I joined 24-Hour Fitness they offered me a cheaper membership limited to Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays,” Kufahl said. These special rates often aren’t advertised, she says, so be sure to ask.

Many fitness facilities will lower their monthly rates for large groups. One of the easiest ways to take advantage of this benefit is through your employer. The Sporting Club in Philadelphia, for example, has offered discounts of up to 20 percent to Temple University’s full-time employees. Ask your human resources department if your employer has deals with local clubs; if it doesn’t, ask if it would be open to setting one up.

You can also gather a group of friends and ask a gym manager if he or she would be willing to cut a deal if you join together. Or you might get deals on additional services, such as small group personal training sessions, Kufahl said.

Some health plans provide discounts on gym memberships. For example, some United Healthcare plans have reimbursed members up to $240 a year if they belong to a participating fitness center. Call your insurance plan's member services number (often on the back of your health insurance card) or check with your company's human resources insurance expert to see if you're eligible for a discount.

One of the most expensive charges you might encounter is a club’s cancellation fee. Although you might not be able to get it removed, so you should be aware of the stipulations so you don’t get stuck paying a penalty for a membership you can no longer use. You might have to let the club know you want to cancel two months in advance, for example, or send it a notarized letter to end the contract.

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If you find it hard to get to the gym regularly, you can still keep that New Year's resolution to get in shape by purchasing some workout equipment. Read our treadmill, exercise bike (including spin bikes), elliptical, and rowing machine buying guides to see which machine is right for you, and for some shopping tips.

Subscribers can see how well this workout gear did in our treadmill, exercise bike, elliptical, and rowing machine Ratings.

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