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Exercising Judgment: 12 Things to Know Before Joining a Gym

Congratulations! You’ve decided to join the gym. You are now part of a club that is some 57.25 million people strong. With that many fitness facility-attending, exercise equipment-using people, it can’t be that difficult to do, right?

Kind of. Not all gyms are created equal. There is a broad selection from which to choose. Big box, boutique, activity specific, gender specific, you can find something to suit your needs.

But beyond a place to burn calories and build strength, there are some aspects of choosing a gym that you will need to research before you put pen to paper.

Hidden Costs

According to Statistic Brain, the average monthly cost of a gym membership is $58—which may not seem like a lot if you are paying $3/day for a cup of coffee. However, it is good to note what other fees are tacked on to your advertised “low” monthly membership costs.

To avoid confusion, make sure you ask about any and all fees that will be involved in the cost of your membership.

Initiation Fee

Many gyms will have a one-time initiation or sign-up fee. In isolation, this is not necessarily something that is “hidden,” but it is often not mentioned or is added into the cost of your monthly fee. If you are expecting to pay $29/month, adding a $199 initiation fee (when broken down into twelfths) bumps your monthly payment up to $45.58.

Annual Fee

This is perhaps the biggest one to keep an eye on. As the name suggests, it is an additional fee charged once a year. This fee, if broken down into a per-month payment will similarly cause your monthly cost to rise. Another thing to be wary of is whether it increases year on year.

Termination Fee

You want out of your contract? There’s a chance that you will have to pay. This is another area of the contract to which you will need to pay attention.

Best Time to Join

Ask your regular gym goer about the first month of the new year and it will more than likely be met with a scowl—and some choice words regarding the influx of newbies. January, while your resolution is still fresh, may seem to be the best time to join a gym, but that’s what a lot of other exercisers think too. You will be vying for equipment with quite a few people.

According to this ABC article, there are better times of the year to consider your foray into fitness facilities. If cost is your primary driver, December is a good time as gyms will be looking to add to their New Year’s crowd and oftentimes will incentivize.

Summertime is traditionally slower for gyms too. Look for the deals in May and July as fitness facilities try to entice new members with better deals.

Talk is cheap. As are the promises that are made before you join a gym. But they can be costly if you don’t have them written into the contract. Make sure that what you are promised is all in writing.


Length of Contract

gym contract detailsCommitment. It can be a serious issue for exercisers. In fact, on average, most gym-goers only last 5 months before they stop heading to the gym.

This is a very important consideration. Most savvy consumers will have a certain amount of healthy skepticism when it comes to signing up for a membership to anything. And as well they should. Not every business is on the up-and-up with regards to their clients’ best fiscal interests.

Gyms know that many of their clients will suffer from buyer’s remorse. That is where the contract comes in. It’s good to know how long you are on the hook for if your “health investment” has gone stale.

Many states have imposed a 36-month limit on health club and gym memberships now, effectively ending “Lifetime Contracts.” Make sure you know your rights.

Contract Freedom

If you don’t want to be tied down to a long-term commitment (“it’s me, not you”) look into pay-as-you-go or month-to-month options. Fitness facilities would prefer to get the guaranteed monthly check, but they won’t turn your money away. Ordinarily, however, you have to pay more per month to have the privilege of not being in a long-term relationship.


So when you stop going, does your gym stop charging you? This is something that you MUST check the fine print on. As discussed previously, if you want to get out of your contract you might have to pay a termination fee or even have to give 30 days notice—meaning you pay another month. has advice on the best way to cancel your contract:

Before you sign, make sure you have the gym’s cancellation policy in writing, and you understand it well. Send your cancellation in writing, with a return receipt request.

Also, take the paperwork into the gym and get someone to sign it in person, if possible.TIP: Most gyms will insist on direct debit. If so, use a credit card as it will be easier to make a stop payment on, or issue a chargeback, than on your bank account. It may seem like more work, but if possible, pay by check every month.


Budget-Friendly Alternatives

There are some fitness facilities that will offer great deals on membership. You might not get all of the perks that come with other fitness facilities, but you will get a place to exercise.

Men’s Fitness has compiled its list of Best Gym Membership Deals Around the Country, and if you only have time for chain exercise shops, Smart Asset pairs it down to The Best 3 Gyms For Your Wallet.

Prepaid Memberships

Costco offers its shoppers the opportunity to buy a two-year membership to 24hr Fitness in advance. The plus side to this is that there are no hidden costs or surprises. And if you stop going, you’ve already been billed and don’t have to budget for that money to disappear from your account.

However, it is not unusual for gyms to close down. That means finding a new place to workout. So there’s potentially more travel time to a new facility that might not have the vibe to which you have become accustomed.

Can You Fly Then Buy?

Find out if your gym of choice will allow you to give it a test run to see if this is something to which you want to commit your time and money. If possible, go three separate occasions and at different times to see what it is truly like. Once you’ve got an idea, try two more facilities.

Don’t get pressured into making a rash decision, either. You might hear a lot of empty promises in attempting to get you to take the plunge. Stay strong. The perfect fitness facility is out there for you.


parking in front of a gymWhile you are exerting yourself, your mode of transportation is not. And it needs a place to do so. In a more urban setting, you might find parking to be an issue. And something that might cost you more.

It may seem like a trivial detail, but if the only time you can work out is during peak hours, it is good to scout out how much parking is available, what the overflow situation looks like and if you have to pay for it.

Emergency Services

Does your gym have them? And is there always a staff member that is trained in how to use them or the protocols should your superset of inclined presses take a turn for the worse?


This is something that you will need to be well aware of (and something we covered in our Clean And Jerk: How To Keep It Clean In A Fitness Facility article) before you sign on the dotted line.

With the prevalence of easily-transmitted skin diseases, a clean gym is an essential. All gyms will be exposed to a variety of germs. It is unavoidable. However, improper cleaning can be avoided.Just remember—your gym needs you more than you need it. Make sure that wherever you choose works for you. And on all levels: Cost, services, amenities, vibe, clientele. There is no need to settle. There are plenty other gyms in the sea. Well not really in the sea.

Is It Worth It?

Before you think getting a gym membership is worth it (both physically and fiscally), here are some interesting statistics regarding gym memberships.

2—The average number of days per week that exercisers use their gym.

67%— The number of people that do have gym memberships never use them.

39—The average number of dollars wasted per month on gym membership (based on $58 monthly fee).

80—The percentage of exercisers that quit going to the gym after five months.

696—The average number of dollars spent on an annual gym membership.

You might be better served spending that money on something you will use more frequently in the pursuit of healthy living.

Just remember—your gym needs you more than you need it. Make sure that wherever you choose works for you. And on all levels: Cost, services, amenities, vibe, clientele. There is no need to settle. There are plenty other gyms in the sea. Well not really in the sea.

One Response to Exercising Judgment: 12 Things to Know Before Joining a Gym

  1. protein gym February 4, 2018 at 7:01 pm #

    I have a free gym membership but the gym is not worth it, there isn’t even a squat rack there, lemme know about your thoughts on that…
    I believe every gym should at least have a squat rack

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