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27 September 2021
We've all been there, signing up to a new gym filled with good intentions and notions of visible abs and biceps. Yet most of us never actually go to the gym and find that contracts are hard to break. This guide will take you through whether you need to pay for a gym at all, and if you do, how to shed pounds whilst saving £££s.
This is a full list of the deals we've found, from the latest free trials and pay-as-you-go deals, to no-frills gyms from £10-ish/month. Plus, learn what to watch out for with contracts, and what to do when membership goes wrong.
Whether it's feeling the urge to undo Christmas overindulgence, or thinking about your 'beach bod' in spring, many of us suddenly feel the need to join a gym at certain times of the year. However, joining on a whim can often mean you end up in a lengthy contract with a gym membership you don't use.
First things first, never think of a gym membership in terms of its monthly cost but a yearly expenditure instead. For instance, a £50/month membership will set you back £600 over the year. And don't forget to factor in any administration or joining fees to the monthly charge.
If you're throwing away cash on an unused membership each month and are out of contract, cancel, otherwise the only thing you'll be keeping trim is your wallet as these #gymfail tweets show:
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 - I only went five times.
Before you join the gym or a fitness group, grab a free trial to test whether the new fitness regime's for you. You can also ask a mate whether their gym gives them free guest passes, and work out with them for free.
Sadly there's not many free gym passes available at the moment, due to coronavirus safety measures, but we've rounded up what you can still get below.
Fusion Lifestyle has nearly 100 branches (71 of which are participating in this offer), mostly in London and south-west England. Fill in the form to get your free 1-day class pass if you're new to the gym.
Some locations are excluded, see Fusion Lifestyle for more info.
Get a £1 per week membership by registering with MoveGB. You'll initially pay £1 for your first seven days and will then be billed according to the billing cycle you've chosen during sign-up. MoveGB has told us that you're able to cancel your membership online at anytime, if you choose.
MoveGB doesn't have its own clubs, but rather gives you access to selected gyms, yoga studios, climbing walls, swimming pools, leisure centres etc. You can attend each venue once, and most venues will refresh their pass every 1-3 months so you can attend again.
If you'd like to revisit any of the venues whilst waiting for your pass to refresh, you can get access on a pay-as-you-go basis, with discounts of up to 30% off usual rates.
You'll feel the biggest benefit of services like MoveGB if you like your workouts to have a bit of variety. However, if you prefer to stick to the same gym nearest your house or place of work, MoveGB recommends you sign up with that particular venue directly.
Before the pandemic, free gym passes were more widely available. Below is a list of passes we've seen before – we've kept them here for reference so you can look out for them in the future.
Xercise4Less has 51 branches, mostly in the north of England, including Leeds, Wakefield and Wigan. It usually offers a free 1-day pass, but if you fill in this form you can currently get a free 5-day pass.
The pass is available to new customers, over the age of 16. The pass can only be used on consecutive days and will expire after 14 days.
Get a Blagged free four-day pass by registering with DW Fitness First* (formerly just Fitness First), until Tue 31 Mar. You'll receive an email with a barcode which you can use straight away. The four-day pass has to be used on consecutive days and cannot be split up. Over-16s only.
The free pass is only available to non-members, and you'll need to book an introductory session before you can use the gym. The pass has to be used on the day of your introductory session.
Around 110 clubs across the UK
You can get a free one-day pass for Énergie Fitness when you select your chosen club from the list (find your nearest) and fill in the form. To get to the form, select your chosen club, scroll down to 'Get a Day Pass', click 'Find out more' and fill in the form. You'll then be emailed your day pass which you'll need to print and take with you.
The day pass will enable you to access all facilities that your chosen club has to offer, which could include gym, classes, pool, sauna etc. It's one day pass per person and it can be used at any time.
77 participating venues across England and Wales
Freedom Leisure has 82 leisure centres (77 of which are offering this free 1-day pass) across England and Wales. Fill in the form and your chosen centre will contact you to arrange what day you'd like to use the pass. Once you've collected your pass, you can use the facilities for the day.
The pass will get you access to everything that the centre you've chosen offers, including gym, swimming pool and classes. However, facilities do vary between centres. You'll need to use the pass within 28 days of completing the form and it’s for over-16s only.
It's one pass per person and you must book an appointment at your local Nuffield Health gym in order to take up the offer.
The pass is only valid for seven days, so wait until you're ready before you sign up.
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.
Hussle* (formerly PayAsUGym) acts as a 'gym broker', selling pay-as-you-go passes for more than 2,700 gyms across the UK - from local council-run centres to posh spas. In some cases, it's cheaper to buy a day pass via Hussle than to go direct. It also offers a 10% discount when you buy five passes and 15% when you buy 10.
As an example, the Bannatyne Health Club in Russell Square is £13.50 per visit via Hussle, but it's £15 per visit if you go direct.
Just enter 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 - flash either at reception within 30 days of buying. What's good about Hussle is if you change your mind or can't make a session, you can cancel for a refund. For full details on how to cancel, see its Help section.
Call the gym to check it's not cheaper direct. If you use Hussle, please tell us your experiences.
Here are some examples of pay-as-you-go gym options for around £5:
The Gym - day pass from £4.75. The Gym has around 150 branches in England, Scotland and Wales. Gyms are open 24 hours a day and MoneySavers say equipment is plentiful and high quality.
Anytime Fitness - day pass from £4.50 (if you've used your free day pass). Anytime Fitness has over 150+ gyms across the UK.
You can also buy no-contract, monthly rolling memberships on Hussle, which give you access to multiples centres (depending on how much you pay per month). These vary from £10.49 to £199.50.
So, you've decided a gym membership is for you. Here's a comprehensive set of tips to ensure you pay as little as possible.
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 such as:
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 enquiry.
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 but Virgin Active can also be flexible.
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.
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.
Some clubs have 'refer-a-friend' offers featuring gifts such as towels, padlocks or even holidays. So if you've already decided to join, see if you know someone who belongs already before signing on the dotted line.
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 Bradford in March 2017, which was offering a £4.99/month membership plan for three months when it first opened. When we look in June 2017, the price had gone up to £8.99, but we reckon this is still a decent deal as other Easy Gym clubs cost £16-£35/month.
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 can do without saunas, jacuzzis and fit gym instructors, there's been an explosion in no-frills gyms, with prices from £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, though you may need to bring your own towel, shower gel and padlock for the locker!
The prices of these gyms can change quite often, and there's occasionally special offers, so do check yourself before signing up.
Xercise4Less has 51 branches, mostly in the north of England, including Leeds, Wakefield and Wigan.
Off-peak membership starts from £9.99/month with a 12-month contract. Peak membership is from £14/month for a 12-month contract, or from £15.99/month with a 1-month contract.
How many branches? 51
Joining fee: Up to £0-£20 admin fee
Cost per month: £10-£23/month
No-frills chain Pure Gym has more than 250 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 £15 and £50 per month, which includes classes. You can cancel at any time.
The Gym has around 150 branches in England, Scotland and Wales (with more due to open soon). Monthly membership costs £13 to £32 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? Around 150
Pay as you go? From £6 a day
Joining fee: Up to £25
Cost per month: £13-£33 per month
Many council leisure centres are now run by Greenwich Leisure Limited and are branded as 'Better Leisure Centres'. There are more than 250 centres across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
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.
If you can't get a short-term membership direct from your local gym it's worth going via gym membership broker Hussle* (formerly PayAsUGym) which sells five-day, 10-day and unlimited 'Monthly+' passes for more than 1,500 gyms, including Nuffield Health, Bannatyne's Health Clubs and Livingwell.
While a one month pass for Bannatyne Health Club in Russell Square, London costs £54 direct, there's a £20 joining fee. From Hussle, it's a bit more expensive at £59.40, but there's no joining fee.
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.
With a Monthly+ pass, you can buy flexible, monthly rolling memberships on Hussle, which give you access to multiples centres (depending on how much you pay per month). The Monthly+ Pass gives you unlimited access to thousands of gyms across the UK.
Different gyms have different Monthly+ Pass prices and are separated into different tiers based on the gyms' own membership prices. The price of a Monthly+ Pass varies in price from £10.49 to £199.50.
When you convert Clubcard vouchers into Tesco Boost* tokens they're worth up to three times as much as when you spend them in-store.
£5 in vouchers gets you £15 to spend at Hussle* (formerly PayAsUGym).
There's more on maximising Clubcard points and reclaiming lost vouchers in our Tesco Boost guide.
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 and then, which have legal weight and, if possible, get them to sign to show the promise.
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:
If you have a smartphone, or can workout at home in front of your computer, there a plenty of free workout apps and online videos you can use to get fit for free. Take a look at our Deals Hunters blog to see our Top 10 free fitness videos and smartphone apps.
Women's fitness shop Sweaty Betty offers free Pilates, ballet and other fitness classes (for men and women) at more than 30 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.
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 (with those bottles of pop), yoga and a lot more without gym membership. Why not do workout DVDs with friends or see if there is an Outdoor Gym near you?
There are hundreds of local council-funded outdoor gyms that are completely free to use. Check out our blog on what kind of equipment they have and how to find your nearest one.
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.
Escaping a gym contract can be more difficult than outrunning Usain Bolt (even when he's only warming up). Sadly there's no one-set of rules when it comes to your cancellation rights, though gym-goers have been given more protection in recent years.
Rules tend to be based on a hotchpotch of different guidelines, codes of conduct and legal precedents, so it's rarely black and white. But you SHOULD normally have some protection.
Your contract should not be longer than 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 stories). If your contract's longer than a year, you may be able to challenge it.
You can also check to see if the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) guidelines on unfair terms apply. We've listed some of them below:
The following three rules should also apply. Six of the big chains – Pure Gym (which has taken over LA Fitness), Dave Whelan Sports Ltd, Harlands Group Ltd, Fitness First, David Lloyd's and Bannatyne's – agreed to them after an OFT investigation in 2013. They're also written into UKactive's code of practice, which more than 3,500 members are signed up to.
If you think your gym isn't complying with these standards you can report it to the CMA.
Here's what some of you said when we asked you to let us know if you managed to cancel your gym membership:
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 straightaway, 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 it's all sorted and my membership will cease. Easy peasy!
A friend was four months into a 12-month contract and wasn't using the gym 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 and said the gym had been brilliant and allowed him to terminate with no penalties.
If your gym's breaching the contract or it contains unfair terms, you've every right to fight back. It's always worth trying to complain in person first, but if that doesn't work...
This tool helps you draft your complaint and manage it too. It’s totally free, and offered by a firm called Resolver which we're partnering with it to help people get complaints justice.
If your gym isn't listed on the Resolver site yet, or you prefer to complain direct, try following the steps below:
If the gym won't play ball when you complain verbally, 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 it may have. The OFT (now the CMA) issued guidance about unfair terms in health and fitness clubs in 2002. Although this references an old law - the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations was replaced by the Consumer Rights Act in 2015 - the guidance is still relevant.
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 4040506.
Gyms that are members of the UKactive trade group agree to stick to the CMA'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.
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.
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