It's January, and gyms are packed with what the pros call "turkeys", because they don't last long after Christmas. Far too many lock into costly unbreakable contracts, but our gym guide makes sure you'll lose pounds, not £££.
This is a full list of the latest free trials, pay-as-you-go deals and no-frills gyms from £10-ish/month. Plus see what to watch out for with contracts, and what to do when membership goes wrong.
In this guide
Don't commit unless you'll use it
Gyms are packed in January. But a few months later, half the people disappear. Resolutions may fade, but if you're locked into a contract, you could be paying £100s a year for nowt.
Gyms aren't cheap either. Add membership administration fees to the monthly charge, and the annual cost is usually north of £500.
Never think a gym costs £50/month. If you're locked in for a year's contract, always multiply it by 12 and think of it as a yearly cost. Remember...
£50/month might not sound too bad, but over 12 months, that's £600.
Don't be a 'gym turkey'
Like the novelty of a turkey Christmas dinner, enthusiasm for the gym can fade fast. If you're throwing away cash on unused membership each month and are out of contract, cancel.
Plus those surging with good first-time fitness intention should remember there's a decent chance their motivation may wane. By signing a year's contract, you're only keeping your wallet trim.
Martin asked people on Twitter to own up to the longest they paid for membership without going. We've been swamped with gym fails such as...
"Paid for the gym for 3 years at £69/month - nearly £2,500. Think I went twice for the odd swim in the 3 years." That's £1,250 a workout!
"Paid £270 for a year's membership, went for one swim. Most expensive swim ever."
"I used to pay £102/month for a family gym membership for 1 year, and I only went about five times."
"I bought a year's membership at LA Fitness and NEVER attended. What a waste!"
"I got myself tied into a 3 year gym contract at £12/month. I've only been twice and that was about 2 years ago.
Don't get weighed down by the cost of gym membership, try these light-weight options first:
- Free passes
Before you join the gym, grab a free trial to test whether the new fitness regime's for you.
It's possible to pay-as-you-go - consider paying a little more for a few months until you're sure you'll continue. Plus no-frills and council gyms often let you pay per visit too.
- Short-term memberships
If you're a newbie, it's better to use short-term membership at first, even if you pay slightly more per use/month until you're happy with the gym and know you'll stick. Also, no-frills and council gyms will often let you pay for a month at a time.
- Work out without a gym
You don't need to join a gym to get buff. If you're on a budget, read these quick tips on working out without a gym.
- Free Sweaty Betty classes
Women's fitness shop Sweaty Betty offers free pilates, ballet and other fitness classes (for men and women) at over 25 branches across the country. You need to sign up for its free membership card, then call or pop into your nearest store to book a session.
- Pound the pavement
Rather than paying for the privilege of being sandwiched between two sweaty blokes while listening to dodgy house music, run in the park for free. You could join Martin's new Run Challenge: How far can you go in 2014? All you need is a pair of trainers. Or, for free weekly 5k timed runs, check out Parkrun.
- Work out outside the gym
Examine your fitness requirements. You can run, cycle, do light weights (with those bottles of pop), yoga and a lot more without gym facilities. Why not do workout DVDs with friends or see if there is an Outdoor Gym near you?
- Find 75%+ off hidden Amazon fitness bargains
Amazon often offers 75%+ reductions, yet it directs people to other areas, sending them to products with higher profit margins instead.
There's a geeky way to manipulate Amazon's web links to display all heavily-reduced bargains. All you need to do is fiddle with Amazon web addresses (URLs) to bring up lists of knockdown prices, eg, running gear 75%+ off*, fitness equipment 55%+ off* & Sportswear 75%+ off*. See the Amazon Discount Finder guide for full details.
Though if you're looking to start free weight lifting, it's probably not for amateurs, so seek medical/professional help before you do yourself any injury!
- Join the Debt-Free Wannabe Running Club
Join the Debt-Free Wannabe Running Club, where MoneySavers support and help each other reach their goals.
- Tennis for free
Children, young people and families can get free tennis coaching sessions and free use of thousands of tennis courts across the UK with Tennis For Free. Free coaching sessions run at weekends and are suitable for all ages, with equipment also provided for free.
Totally free gym passes
Many gyms offer free passes and this is your chance to see if it fits. Here's a taster:
Just fill in the British Military Fitness free seven-day pass voucher by Sun 26 Jan. When prompted, enter our MSE Blagged code MSE14BMF. You can go to an unlimited amount of outdoor classes, within seven consecutive days. You must be 16 or over and not a current or past BMF member. Find your nearest.
You must go to your first class within two days of receiving your email confirmation.
Get a free five-day pass to use by Fri 28 Feb by filling out your details via this LA Fitness form*. You'll get an email with your voucher which you take with you to your chosen club within seven days. You'll need to ring up to book in advance. Find your nearest LA Fitness.
Only one voucher permitted per person, valid within a 60 day period.
Get a free one-day pass by registering with Fitness First. You'll then get an email with your voucher. You'll need to activate your offer by calling the club you plan to to go to. Find your nearest Fitness First.
Valid at all First Blue and Platinum clubs, but not Black Label clubs. Over-16s only.
Register for the Harpers one-day pass. It's for local residents over 16 - proof of address may be required. Plus you need to book a free 15-min "fitness fast track" introduction in advance. Find your nearest.
It's one pass per person and you must book a free tour of your local Nuffield Health gym in order to take up offer.
You can get a free one-day pass when you enter the code MSE1DAY online at Pure Gym. It's valid for use till Sun 12 Jan (excludes Belfast) so make sure you pick a date by then when registering. Find your nearest Pure Gym.
It's one pass per person.
This one's a bit like the Duracell bunny that goes on and on - well for 14 days anyway. You can get a 14 day (consecutive day) pass at Fit4Less, Energie Fitness and Energie Fitness for Women when you buy two packs of Duracell Ultra batteries from Tesco.
You must buy a four or eight pack of AA or AAA Duracell batteries by Mon 27 Jan (it's £4.80 for two packs of four or you can get 2x eight packs for £10) then enter your postcode online at Duracell Gym Pass and enter the barcode from the pack. You'll need to print the voucher and call to arrange a visit by Wed 30 April.
One free trial per person, excludes current members. Subject to availability.
Use a mate's guest pass
Many gyms let you buy guest passes to work out with a friend. Gyms often give these to new members for free in the hope they'll show the gym off to pals.
If any friends have joined recently, it's worth asking. If you join yourself, be sure to blag extra guest passes – it usually doesn't take much effort.
Fitness First runs a 'bring a friend free on Friday' offer which gets a mate in for a free workout. You just need to sign them in at reception.
Paying as you go can work out more expensive. Yet if you've used up free passes or you're new to gyms, it can be worth paying a little more for a few months until you're sure you'll continue.
First check if you've a no-frills or council gym near you. These often offer decent pay-as-you-go options. Otherwise, our top picks include:
Simply Gym - £4. It has eight centres including in Cheltenham, Reading and Wrexham.
- The Gym Group - £5. It has 40 branches in England, Scotland and Wales and the gyms are open 24 hours a day.
- Fit Space - £5. It has eight branches in England, plus one in Belfast. There are no receptions (you just swipe a card), but several MoneySavers are fans.
- Klick Fitness - £5. It has five branches, mostly in the north of England.
- Xercise4less - £5. There are 14 branches, all in the north of England, including Leeds, Wakefield and Wigan.
- Easy Gym - £5. Great if you like orange and you live in Slough, London or Reading. There are 9 Easy Gyms to choose from.
Alternatively, PayasUgym.com acts as a 'gym broker', selling pay-as-you-go passes for more than 1,500 gyms across the UK - from local council-run centres to posh spas. Gyms which feature on the site must offer at least a 10% discount against the cost of a day pass when going direct.
As an example, LivingWell in Dartford, Kent is £8.15 per visit via PayasUgym.com. But it's £10 per visit direct.
Just plug in your postcode to browse nearby gyms, which each have a star rating from other users. Then register and load your account to buy passes. It sends an email and text message – just flash either at reception within 30 days of buying. What's good about PayasUgym.com is that if you can't make a session, you can cancel for a refund.
Call the gym to check it’s not cheaper direct. If you use PayasUgym.com, please tell us your experiences.
Longer trials are a good halfway house between paying as you go and signing up for a year's contract. They're usually more expensive than annual memberships, but you're free to go elsewhere once the trial's up – or to stop paying if you no longer go.
Most major gyms include shorter or even no-contract options. Here are some of the best (also see no-frills gyms, which offer no contract one-month membership options):
Harpers – two-week memberships
Spirit Health Clubs – two-week memberships
Buy a Spirit Health Club two-week membership from £25 (depending on location) and six-week membership from £62 online (though most are far more expensive). Again, check your nearest club for the price - there are 30+ in England.
If you can't get a short-term membership direct from your local gym, first try haggling. Then go via Gym membership broker PayasUgym.com which sells five day, 30 day and 90 day passes for more than 1,500 gyms, including Active4Less, Zest and Simply Gym.
While a one month pass for Simply Gym in Reading costs £19.99 direct, there's a £20 joining fee. From PayasUgym.com, it's a tad more expensive at £25, but there's no joining fee and once your month's up, that's it.
Many are discounted, but how good it is depends on your local gym – just do a search in your area to find details. Always check what the gym offers directly too.
If you can forget saunas, jacuzzis and fit gym instructors, there's been an explosion in no-frills gyms. Prices are £10-£20/month, you can usually cancel any time and MoneySavers' feedback is hugely positive.
More are opening every month, so if you can't find one near you, check again later. The other boon is that there's often no minimum contract length. Here are the main cheap-as-chips chains. Though, often you'll need to bring your own towel, shower wash and padlock for the locker!
No-frills chain PureGym has 59 branches across the UK, including several in London, Edinburgh and Manchester.
MoneySavers have been impressed by the facilities, though say the gyms can be busy at peak times.
Membership costs between £19 and £26 a month, which includes classes. You can cancel at any time. If you’d rather pay-as-you-go, it charges £6 a time.
- How many branches? 59 UK-wide
- Pay as you go? Yes - £6 a time
- Joining fee: £25
- Cost per month: £19-£26 per month
The Gym Group has 40 branches in England, Scotland and Wales. Monthly membership costs £11 to £21 per month, depending on location, and there’s no minimum contract length.
Gyms are open 24 hours a day and MoneySavers say equipment is plentiful and high quality.
- How many branches? 40
- Pay as you go? Yes, £5 a time
- Joining fee: £20
- Cost per month: £11-£21 per month
Smaller chain FitSpace has eight branches in England, plus one in Belfast. There are no receptions (you just swipe a card), but several MoneySavers are fans.
Gyms cost £10-£14 per month on an 12-month contract (add £29 joining fee) or £20ish per month with no lock-in (you still need to give 30 days' notice to cancel). Alternatively, you can buy annual membership for £120 - £140 when you pay up-front.
- How many branches? 9
- Pay as you go option? £5 a time
- Joining fee: £29
- Cost per month: £10-£20
Council gyms: From £20ish/month
Run by local councils, public leisure centres have refreshingly transparent pricing, often with no minimum contract length and pay-as-you go options.
While facilities are cheap ‘n’ cheerful, membership's usually under £30 a month. Also check out local universities and colleges, which often have gyms open to all, with good facilities at a fraction of private-chain prices.
Check on your local council's site to see what it offers. Use Gov.uk's local council finder.
Klick Fitness: From £13/month
Owned by Fitness First, Klick Fitness has five branches, mostly in the north of England. Membership starts at £13/month on a 12-month contract or from £18/month with no lock-in. This includes free classes.
You can also pay-as-you-go for £5 a time at all clubs, or get three day-passes for £13.
- How many branches? 5
- Pay as you go? £5 a day
- Joining fee: £15 with contract/£20 without
- Cost per month: £13-£20
Xercise4Less: From £10/month
Xercise4Less has 14 branches, all in the north of England, including Leeds, Wakefield and Wigan.
Membership is £10 - £15/month on a 12-month off-peak contract (peak it's from £15/month) or £15 - £20/month (off peak/peak) with no lock-in at all gyms.
- How many branches? 14
- Pay as you go? £5 a time
- Joining fee: £20 admin fee
- Cost per month: £10-£20/month
EasyGym: from £16/month
If you like the colour orange and live near Birmingham, Cardiff, Slough or London, EasyGym is another option. Memberships start from £16/month or from £28/month including classes, and there's no lock-in.
Alternatively, you can pay as you go for £5 a time.
- How many branches? 9
- Pay as you go? £5 (£4 for classes)
- Joining fee: £25 (free at new clubs)
- Cost per month: £16-£30/mth
SIMPLY Gym: from £17/month
A fairly new player to the team, Simply Gym has eight centres including in Cheltenham, Reading and Wrexham. Memberships start from £17/month including free classes. There's a £20 joining fee though, but no cancellation costs.
- How many branches? 8
- Pay as you go? £4 for non-members
- Joining fee: £20
- Cost per month: £17-£20/mth
Swanky gyms want you to think contract prices are fixed. They're not. The gym sector is fiercely competitive, so there are tons of ways to slim down the price. If you're signing a contract, make sure you read What to watch out for in contracts below.
Most gyms employ a commission-driven sales team to sign you up, making them a prime candidate for haggling.
Even phoning up to find out the costs of membership, we were asked our name, number, if we'd visited before and what our fitness goals were - the sale was on even for a quick inquiry.
Don't settle for the standard package. With a bit of chutzpah you should be able to slice a wedge off the cost, especially towards the end of the month, when sales staff need to meet targets.
Once you've got the price down as far as you think it'll go, ask for some free guest passes on top. MoneySavers say Fitness First is the easiest gym to haggle with. Virgin Active can also be flexible. LA Fitness usually won't lower the price but will throw in freebies such as towels and padlocks.
If you go for a gym tour and they won't agree to a deal that day, go home without signing up. The phone often rings a few days later with a new offer. For top phrases to grease the wheels, read the full High Street Haggling guide.
Cut the cost of membership with Tesco Boost
You can join LA Fitness* for a third of the normal price if you collect Tesco Clubcard points. When you convert Clubcard vouchers into Tesco Boost* tokens which are worth up to four times as much as when you spend them in-store.
LA Fitness is a member of the scheme, and each £5 in Clubcard vouchers is worth £15 in rewards which can be used as part or full payment towards an annual membership. All new LA Fitness members pay a joining fee, so don't forget to factor this in - ask at your local club.
There's more on maximising Tesco Clubcard points in the Boost Tesco Points guide.
Cheap corporate membership
Check if your employer offers subsidised gym membership or has a relationship with a gym, which can be at silly prices. If not, speak to your HR department and suggest they set up a deal.
- Get a mate to refer you
Some clubs have 'refer-a-friend' offers featuring gifts such as towels, padlocks or even iPods. So if you've already decided to join, see if you know someone who belongs already before signing on the dotted line.
Special opening rates
New gyms often offer cheap 'founder' memberships to drum up custom. To find new gyms, scour industry publications such as Club Solutions and Health Club Management, as well as gyms' own sites. We found an Easy Gym due to open in Wandsworth in Spring 2015. It's offering the first 300 sign-ups a £1.99 membership plan (for first three months) then £18/month for the remainder of the year contract.
Most gyms provide cheaper membership during 'off-peak' hours. If it's possible for you to visit the gym during the daytime, work lunchtimes or at weekends, you could slash the cost.
If you're signing up for a year, remember sales staff often work on commission. So if their slick patter says "if you're ill you can freeze membership, or take a holiday", ask to see it in the contract.
If they say, "It's not there, but it's fine", make notes there which have legal weight and, if possible, get them to sign to show the promise.
Here's a list of what to check. For further examples, read this useful publication by the Office of Fair Trading.
- How long are you committed for?
This is the biggie. Be wary of contracts longer than 12 months. Also check that they don't renew it automatically.
- How much notice do you need to give to cancel?
Even when you're out of contract, gyms often require 30 days' notice to cancel. Make sure you understand these conditions.
- What happens if your circumstances change?
Ask what happens if you are ill or injured, move house, get pregnant or change jobs. Think about the proof you'll need, such as a doctor's letter. Can you freeze your membership or transfer it to someone else?
- What if your favourite service stops?
If you're only joining because the gym offers a creche, Zumba dance classes or certain equipment, ask if you're allowed to cancel if this is withdrawn.
- Does the contract renew automatically?
Most contracts for gym membership automatically continue once the initial membership period expires. Make a note of the date by which you should inform them if you don't want this to happen.
- What do other members think?
If you're taking a free trial, ask folk in the changing room if they're happy with the gym's contract or service (wait till they're decent first!)
Your right to cancel gym membership was a hot issue with the regulator - the OFT - during 2013. It's moved along at a fair pace and a major shake-up of gym contracts means you may be able to freeze or cancel membership if you experience a major change in your personal circumstances. If you're a member of these gyms, read on:
Dave Whelan Sports Ltd
Harlands Group Ltd
In March 2013, the OFT forcefully persuaded Fitness First, David Lloyds and Bannatynes to clean up their act, by allowing some members to cancel early, or in some cases freeze their contracts.
Under the new rights, if there's a change in your circumstances (eg, a serious injury or job loss) which makes gym attendance difficult or unaffordable, you may be able to cancel mid-contract, with more flexibility than before.
As well as this, the three clubs, with almost a million members between them, have agreed to:
- Not say it's a fixed contract length if it isn't. If membership automatically continues on a rolling basis after the initial period expires, the gym should be clear about this.
- Be more transparent about key membership features - such as cancellation rights, and for these to be provided upfront as part of the sales process.
Later in Sep 2013 following another OFT investigation into gym memberships, LA Fitness, Dave Whelan Sports Ltd and Harlands Group Ltd agreed to undertake similar changes to their contracts.
LA Fitness and Dave Whelan which have nearly half a million members agreed to cancellation rights for gym goers who moved house or re-located from their place of work by more than 10 miles (15 miles for Harlands Group members). What's more, LA Fitness also pledged to stop offering 24-month contracts.
We asked you to let us know if you managed to cancel your gym membership and these are some of the success stories:
"My gym cancelled my membership during the 12 month contract period. I just went in and asked if they could because I was having to move away, and they did it straight away no problem.
"I've been a member at Virgin Active for years and now I've a new job, it's difficult to get out during the day, the classes I love have changed time so I'm hardly going these days. I decided to cancel and I was ready to argue. But I got an email to say all sorted and my membership will cease. Easy peasy!
"A friend was four months into a twelve month contract & wasn't using it much. I advised him to write a letter asking if they would allow him out of the contract as he wasn't getting full use of his membership. A week later, he thanked me & said the gym had been brilliant & allowed him to terminate with no penalties.
If your gym ISN'T one of the those above, and your circumstances change, try challenging your gym to see if you can cancel. Mention that you're aware other gyms are now allowing some members to cancel early, and see what it can do.
These changes are aimed at people who genuinely can't go to the gym any more, not just if you get bored with it, so still be careful before signing a contract.
Member of ANY other gyms - they still must act fairly
If the above doesn't apply to you, one of the OFTs guidelines on unfair terms may. Check through the list below to see if you have grounds to get your contract cancelled:
You're on a contract that's OVER 12 months
In 2011, the High Court ruled it was unfair for gyms to tie in members for more than one year (see the Tens of thousands can cancel gym memberships and More gym-goers will find it easier to cancel contracts MSE News Story). If your contract is longer than one year, you may be able to challenge it.
The club makes big changes to services
The OFT's guidelines say contracts are unfair if they allow clubs to supply something different from what was agreed, unless the change is minor. So if, for example, your gym closes its creche, or the opening hours change, you may be able to leave.
The gym hikes prices
If your contract says the club's allowed to make unrestricted membership fee hikes, this is likely to be considered unfair.
The gym automatically renews your membership
The guidance says it's unfair to automatically extend contracts, relying on people's inertia or ignorance.
Unclear wording on membership terms
The OFT tells gyms that contracts should clearly explain minimum membership periods and notice periods. If the wording's unclear, you may have a case.
How to complain
If your gym's breaching the contract or it contains unfair terms, you've every right to fight back. If you manage to cancel by following the steps below, please tell us what happened.
Step 1: Complain in person
When starting a complaint, it's best not to go militant unless you have to. The first easy step is to go to reception and explain that you want to cancel.
Step 2: Complain in writing
If the gym won't play ball, write a complaint letter and send it to the head office. Send all letters by recorded delivery, so you can prove they received it, and always save a copy.
Your letter should mention any unfair contract terms you think your contract may have. If you meet silence or the response is rubbish, write again and be persistent. For information or advice, try calling the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 0845 404 05 06.
Step 3: Complain to UKactive
Gyms that are members of the UKactive trade group agree to stick to the OFT’s guidelines on unfair contracts.
If your gym's a member and you have not had any luck complaining directly, try contacting UKactive. As a trade association, it can offer further advice and in some cases may contact the gym on your behalf. Its worth a try, as it's free anyway.
Step 4: If all else fails: take 'em to court
Hopefully you will settle it. But if you strongly believe in your case, have tried all the steps above and it still won't cancel your contract, taking it to the small claims court is a last resort, although it isn't for everyone. If you're a court novice, try to seek help from an informed friend or advice centre.
Yet before you get legal, you're expected to try to resolve things directly, and ideally send a ‘letter before action’ to say you are going to take them to court. If you don't try, the judge is likely to look unfavourably on your case, so always use the steps above first. For more on small claims rules, see the How to Complain guide.
Did this system work for you? If you managed to cancel your contract, please tell us about it in the Gym Cancelling discussion.