Consider your needs
Consider what you need from a gym before signing up to make sure you get the best value for money.
The cost will depend on what services are provided, such as a swimming pool or classes, and also things such as the quality of the facilities – for example, the changing rooms.
Plenty of budget gym chains have popped up across the UK, often with much lower membership prices. The Gym Group was this week offering memberships starting from about £13.99 a month, although in some locations there were introductory deals from £9.99 a month. Meanwhile, PureGym was offering a wide range of prices – for example, in some locations such as Glasgow, Bury and East Kilbride, you could pay about £10 a month for off-peak access.
Many offer monthly rolling contracts, meaning you are not locked into an agreement and can cancel whenever you like.
The service will often be basic – there may be no swimming pool, for example – and you will usually have to bring your own towels, shower gel and padlock.
Local gyms can sometimes offer better value for money than big health centre chains, too.
If you know you are only interested in one specific element – for example, fitness machines, swimming or classes – you might be able to get a membership for just that one thing.
Steven Scales, the director of membership and sector development at the industry body ukactive, says: “It is worth considering, aside from the health benefits, what you want to achieve by attending a facility or exercise in general – whether that’s working out alone with your earphones in or social connection through a group exercise class with the motivation of a peer group and an instructor.”
Read the contract
Gym membership contracts are notorious for being difficult to get out of, so make sure you understand everything fully before you sign up.
Look at the price and consider how often you would need to use the gym to get value for money.
If applicable, check how long you will be locked in for and how much you will have to pay if you need to end your membership early.
There are some scenarios where you should be able to exit the contract for free – for example, if you need to quit because of illness, injury or a change in financial circumstances such as redundancy, although you will need to provide proof, according to Citizens Advice.
Wait for special offers
If you can wait until your preferred gym is holding a sale, you might get a reduced rate, a free month or avoid paying a joining fee. The latter is one of the most common offers.
In January many gyms offer special deals to attract the post-Christmas health kick crowd.
The summer can also be a good time for offers. At the time of writing, the Gym Group was running a special offer where you can “save up to 50%” using the code SUMMERSAVE.
It is National Fitness Day on 21 September, and many gyms will offer free trials and activities to mark the occasion.
You will be able to search for gyms and fitness centres taking part from the end of August but in the meantime you can sign up for the mailing list online.
“Be sure to check for special offers throughout the year, too,” Scales says. “Visiting gyms, clubs and leisure centres and experiencing first-hand the services is also a great way to find the right offering for your needs.”
Use free trials
Before you commit to a membership, if at all possible, make sure you try out the gym you are interested in by doing a free trial.
You will get free use of the gym and have time to consider your decision before you commit to a contract.
It’s worth checking if you can get a free session with a personal trainer as part of the trial, too.
If there is no free trial advertised, ask the gym whether they can arrange one so you can try before you buy.
You could also ask your gym-loving friends if they have any referrals or free passes you can use.
There’s no obligation to sign up for a membership after a trial at a gym.
If you just do one activity, such as boxing, spinning or yoga, check for specialist studios in your area that may offer special introductory offers.
Some gym chains offer shorter memberships so you can get a taster before signing up for a longer-term contract.
Scales says: “Many operators offer options to help spread the cost, offer taster sessions or new starter incentives to allow you to find your fit.”
Pay as you go
Many gyms will allow you to pay as you go for use of the gym, pool or sports courts.
This is a more expensive way to pay if you are planning to go regularly but if you think you will only use the facilities once in a while, it could be a good option.
You can use the website Hussle to get money off day passes so that you can pay as you go at a variety of different fitness centres.
Check for discounts
Check what benefits package your employer offers, as it may include a discounted gym membership.
If you are a student, you will also usually be able to pay a lower rate. For example, Nuffield Health offers students 20% off, Better Health offers a discounted membership, students can get a 12-month membership from £159 from the Gym Group, and PureGym gives them up to 30% off fixed-term memberships.
Concessionary rates and free classes are often available for older people and households on a low income.
You may be able to get a cheaper deal if you choose only one gym rather than a multisite membership.
Many fitness centres also offer off-peak memberships, so if you are able to go at less popular times, this could be a money-saving option.
If getting fit is your goal, you don’t have to sign up for a gym, and there are cheaper or completely free alternatives out there.
At-home workouts boomed during lockdown, and many fitness centres and trainers are still offering digital classes for a lower price.
You could join a local running club – you can find a list on the England Athletics website. Most will have a membership fee but it may well be much cheaper than a gym.
Fitness apps and plans such as Couch to 5K are also ways to access a structured exercise regime without having to join a gym.