If you're shopping around for a gym right now, you've probably realized that memberships can be seriously expensive.
Before you sign a contract, listen to what fitness insiders have to say about scoring a sweet bargain and maxing out all the perks gyms offer, so you stretch your buck while stretching those hamstrings.
SCORE FREE TRIALS, COUPON DEALS OR CHEAP PASSES
Sites like Groupon and LivingSocial often offer coupons that give you a chance to test-drive a facility on the cheap and then lower the costs of membership and classes if you sign on. Most gyms are also fine with letting prospective members try out the place via a day- or week-long free trial. If they don't offer it, ask.
If workout classes are your thing and you're okay with not having a main gym as your fitness go-to spot, consider ClassPass. For a monthly fee, which varies depending on the plan you choose and where you live, you get access to classes at studios and boutiques in several major metro areas. There's also PassBook, from the American Health and Fitness Alliance. PassBook contains hundreds of passes to health and fitness clubs in New York, Houston, Chicago and Los Angeles that range from two free visits per club to a week-long pass — all for $95.
INVESTIGATE GROUP DISCOUNTS
Some gyms will cut you a better deal if you’re joining with a family member or friend, says Ryan Halvorson, senior editor for IDEA Health & Fitness Association and group training specialist at Bird Rock Fit gym in La Jolla, California. If your company doesn’t offer gym membership discounts as part of a wellness package, recruit coworkers to sign up together; many gyms will offer a steeper discount if a big group joins at once.
CHECK OUT STUDIOS
Machines, free weights, classes — traditional gyms offer a little of everything. But if you prefer a specific workout and don’t need all those options, you might get more bang for your buck at a boutique studio or specialized gym, says Pete McCall, exercise scientist and senior personal training expert for the American Council on Exercise. Love spinning or rock climbing? Membership to a studio or climbing gym are better investments.
NEGOTIATE IN PERSON
You negotiate your salary and benefits — so sit down with the club’s manager to work out a better rate or see if they'll waive the sign-up fee. You’re more likely to get a deal if you ask in person. “Gym management doesn’t want a potential prospect to walk out,” says Halvorson. “They’re going to work with you to find a price point that’s feasible.”
LOOK FOR A LOW-COMMITMENT CONTRACT
Some gyms allow you to pay by the month rather than lock you into a 12-month ironclad contract. Popular national chain Planet Fitness, for example, offers a "no commitment" membership, which costs $10 monthly. Not only is it a bargain, but you can drop out at any time and not be on the hook for several months' fees.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF WORK BENEFITS
If it's been a while since you checked out your company wellness plan, give it a look or ask HR, since many workplaces offer gym discounts, says Halvorson. Certain health insurance companies also offer membership reimbursements that help reduce the total cost. Even if it's just $20 a month, that's $240 a year — not bad.
MAX OUT MEMBERSHIP PERKS
You're going to shell out a not-insignificant amount of money to join a gym, so don't let any sweet benefits included in your membership go to waste. Take them up on free personal training sessions, group classes, guest passes and swag like T-shirts or discounts at local restaurants and juice bars. If you're not using these perks, it's like throwing money away, says McCall.
SEE IF THEY OFFER SEMI-PRIVATE TRAINING
Hiring a personal trainer is an effective way to get in shape, but it comes with a high price tag. Kelvin Gary, personal trainer, founder and owner of Body Space Fitness, recommends looking for a gym that offers semi-private training. “This kind of training allows for three to four clients to train with a personal trainer, while all working on their own customized training program,” Gary says. “This allows for a client to pay less, work with a team and work on their own goals.”