Gym memberships can make you sweat for the wrong reasons. Never think “it's only £40 a month”. If it's a year's contract, remember that's actually a £480 bill.
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.
Gyms are packed in January, but a few months later, half the people disappear. Resolutions have gone, but they're locked into a contract, possibly paying £100s a year for nowt.
Gyms aren't cheap. 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.
Like leftover Christmas turkey, many gym goers 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 enthusiasm may wane. By signing a year's contract, the only pounds you'll lose are from your wallet.
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 or for the odd swim in the 3 years." That's £1,240 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.
Try out these options first.
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. All you need is a pair of trainers. For free weekly 5k timed runs, check out Parkrun.
Examine your fitness requirements. You can run, cycle, do light weights (or baked bean cans), 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?
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.
Join the Debt-Free Wannabe Running Club, where MoneySavers support and help each other reach their goals.
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.
Just fill in the British Military Fitness free seven-day pass voucher by Wed 31 Jul 2013. When prompted, enter the exclusive code MSESUM. You can go to an unlimited amount of classes, within seven consecutive days. You must be 16 years old or over and not a current or past BMF member. Find your nearest.
Get a free three-day pass to use by Sun 30 Jun by filling out your details on Vouchercodes. You'll get an email with your voucher which you take with you to your chosen club. You'll need to ring up to book in advance. Find your nearest LA Fitness.
Only one voucher permitted per person, valid within a 90 day period.
Get a free 1-day pass by registering your details with Fitness First. You'll then get an email with your voucher. You'll need to activate your offer by calling the club you intend to to go to. Find your nearest Fitness First.
Valid at all First Blue and Platinum clubs, Black Label clubs are excluded. Over-16s only.
Just download the free five-day pass voucher for Harpers - it must be used on consecutive days, and is for local residents (aged 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.
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.
Paying as you go can work out more expensive. Yet if you're new to gyms, or may not need a full year's membership, 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, which often offer decent pay-as-you-go options.
Alternatively, PayasUgym.com sells pay-as-you-go passes for 1,000 gyms across the UK. As an example, LivingWell in Rotherhithe, south London is £8.95 per visit. But it would cost £12 per visit direct with the club.
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.
Do 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).
Gym membership broker The Gym Website* sells short-term gym membership for GLL and many local gyms.
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. For example, Spirit Health Club memberships can be cheaper direct from its site.
Buy a Spirit Health Clubs two-week membership from £25 and six-week membership from £62 online (though most are far more expensive). Again, check your nearest club for the price - there are a handful across England.
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.
No-frills chain PureGym has 43 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.
The Gym Group has over 32 branches in England, Scotland and Wales. Monthly membership costs £11 to £20 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.
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 £12-£14 per month on an 18-month contract 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 £149.
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.
Owned by Fitness First, Klick Fitness has six branches, mostly in the north of England. Membership starts at £13/month on an 12-month contract or from £16/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.
Xercise4Less has nine branches, all in the north of England, including Leeds, Wakefield and Wigan.
Membership is £10 - £15/month on a 12-month contract or £15 - £20/month with no lock-in at all gyms.
If you like the colour orange and live near Birmingham, Cardiff, Slough or Wood Green, north 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.
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.
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 most haggleable gym. 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.
LA Fitness: 66% off cost of membership with Tesco
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 Rewards, they are worth up for three or four times as much as when you spend them in-store.
LA Fitness is a member of the scheme, and you can use Clubcard vouchers as part or full payment towards an annual membership and joining fee.
Each £5 in Clubcard vouchers is worth £15 in LA Fitness vouchers. 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.
Special opening rates
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.
Your right to cancel gym membership is currently a big issue, with the regulator - the OFT - taking an interest, and is moving along at a fair pace. As of 8 Mar 2013, the situation slight differs depending on who your gym is...
The OFT forcefully persuaded these three major gym firms 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, an 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:
Other gyms are expected to follow suit, as the OFT continues its investigation. We'll update this guide when we know more.
If your gym ISN'T one of the three 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 got bored with it, so still be careful before signing up to a contract.
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 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.
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 to not 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. This is worth a try, as it's free.
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.
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