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As obesity figures in America are skyrocketing (over 108 million Americans are obese or overweight), so is overwhelming medical research proving the importance of even moderate exercise a few times a week for helping to ward off diseases such as cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis as well as anxiety and depression. For many Americans wanting to enjoy the physical, psychological and often social benefits of exercise, signing up for a gym membership is an excellent place to start.
However, before you sign on the dotted line, you may want to do a little research into what your dollars are paying for and be sure they match your individual exercise needs and expectations.
There are several different styles of gyms to consider:
- General Purpose: These gyms typically offer free weights, weight machines, cardio equipment, and a variety of classes. They normally cost between $25 to $60 per month. Many include the use of child care and a pool as well.
- Gender specific: These gyms cater to either solely female (more commonly found) or male clientele and generally use a “circuit” style of training which lasts normally 30 minutes, appealing often to an above 40 crowd who want to improve their overall health in a more intimate atmosphere. These will cost between $25 to $35 per month.
- Spa/Country Club/Racquet Club Gyms : These gyms may have golf, tennis and racquetball privileges, or full service spas to go along with an exercise and weight training facility. Generally more expensive, these clubs cost $50 to $200 per month for as single individual or $100 to $250 per month for a family.
Meeting Your Needs
The only way to make your gym membership cost effective is to actually go! Before you sign up, have a look at what specific amenities the gym offers and how well they meet your particular needs. If you are choosing to pay more for a gym offering the extra services you desire (pool, classes, childcare, racquetball, tennis) make sure the hours that they are available align with your daily schedule. Most gyms offer a free day or week trial pass, although some have about a $10 a day fee, well worth the price to inspect the facilities in person. Understanding what is important to you in a gym is primary in being sure you’ll actually walk through those front doors a week after you’ve joined.
- Location! Location! Location! The closer the gym is to your work or home, the better. No matter how much you pay, you can’t move the gym closer to your house.
- Do they offer classes? Is there a fee to attend these classes? Many charge class or session fees averaging about $5-$10 per class.
- Pool, spa, racquetball, squash? Just because they are there doesn’t mean their fee is included in your membership fee. Some clubs charge up to $30 an hour for court usage.
- Childcare is available is some gyms. Often in more family oriented facilities childcare is free during certain scheduled hours, the cost being absorbed by the membership fees. Others places may charge around $5/child with discounts for additional children.
- Spa Use. If a spa is part of your membership find out what is included (sauna, hot tub, complimentary towel and robe use) and what you will pay for the extra services—aromatherapy, massages, etc.
The fine print on your membership payment form will cost you, so be sure to read it! Many gyms charge an initiation fee (or a wear and tear fee) averaging about $100 in addition to payments.
- “Specialty” Member: Restrictive gym use to only the activities you sign up for, you don’t pay for what you don’t use(Use of only courts, pool, or classes for example).
- Month-to-Month Payment: Offers you the flexibility to leave with no penalty normally withdrawn directly from your bank account. The breakdown is usually more expensive than longer term contracts.
- Short Term Membership: Some clubs and gyms offer 3 and 6 month memberships, which lie somewhere in savings between the monthly and yearly fees.
- Yearly Payment: Large up front non-refundable (with few exceptions) payment which generally allows for a lower price.
- Multiyear Contracts (3+ years): Generally cheaper from month to month due to the longer contract, but look carefully at the hidden fees, and be very sure you love that gym and will your money’s worth. Multiyear contracts at well know nationwide gyms are harder to get out of than multiyear cell phone contracts!
Tips for Getting the Best Deals
- January is a great time for new beginnings and the best savings, many gyms offer post New Year specials.
- In May on your way to go bathing suit shopping, stop by the gym and check out what specials they’re offering.
- Looking for the best time to find trainers eager to sell memberships at a better price? Visit the gym on a slow morning or mid afternoon during the weekend, and let them know you’re shopping around.
- Family membership rates tend to be lower, so sign up with a significant other or the whole clan!
- Be sure to check with your company’s Human Resources. Some employers will offer assistance toward your gym or health club membership via reimbursement or discount partnerships with local facilities.