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How to Save Money When Buying a Fitness Program

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Cardio machines. Boxing lessons. Yoga sessions. Indoor underwater bike ride (that’s really a thing). There are as many ways to train as there are excuses not to.

There are many options, and plenty of scientific data tells us that getting enough physical activity leads to a healthier, longer, and happier life.

Of those who need a boost, many decide that the commitment to join a gym or fitness studio will get them moving. If you’re considering joining a club, know up front that the fitness industry thrives on good intentions.

Most people who join gyms stop using them after just a few months. Since many clubs charge a non-refundable entry fee, you can lose a lot of money if you quit.

If you don’t exercise regularly or want to increase your fitness routine, formulate a plan first. Your plan should include realistic fitness goals, a list of exercises to achieve those goals, a timeline, and a list of reasons to keep you motivated.

Consider alternatives to gyms. Most people can save money and meet all of their fitness and recreational needs without joining private fitness clubs. You can do many types of exercises at home for free. The pandemic has forced much of the fitness industry online, where you can find live and recorded classes and workouts. Most fitness apps cost between $13 and $30 per month; if you’re fine with less structure, there are thousands of free online workout videos available.

Walking, running and biking are free or inexpensive. A regular game of football or basketball at a nearby park is more fun than dragging weights around. For a one-time investment of a few hundred dollars, you can purchase different types of home exercise equipment.

Local governments and YMCAs provide both facilities and programs. If you still want to work out at a private gym or take classes, be prepared to make decisions. There are many local clubs, each likely to offer several membership options.

Of the gyms that are conveniently located and get high ratings from their customers, be sure to shop around for price – membership in many clubs doesn’t come cheap. While amenities and services vary from establishment to establishment, you will find that there are large price differences between clubs with roughly the same basic features.

Some tips to consider before signing up for a gym membership:

  • Compare the prices. Our price study revealed that some clubs charge twice as much as others for roughly the same facilities and amenities. Since many gyms offer multiple pricing plans and discount options, make sure the sales staff offers you the best rates available. When discussing costs, mention other clubs you are considering.
  • Check if you are entitled to a reduction based on an agreement between the establishment and your employer or your health insurance scheme. For example, Medicare Advantage policyholders have access to programs that offer free or very low-cost memberships at participating fitness centers.
  • Many clubs have agreements with employers for “corporate” rates usually 10% to 20% lower than normal rates.
  • Beware of discount without discount. Many clubs print membership fee schedules with inflated prices so they can lower the price during the sales pitch. The same no-discount strategy appears in advertising. While many advertised promotions truly offer lower prices, others are confusing or misleading.
  • Ask if a membership you are considering includes a time commitment. If you’ve never joined a fitness club, test both your resolve to exercise and the club by taking a short-term or monthly option.
  • Ask for a guest pass to try out any club you’re considering. On site, check the cleanliness and condition of the equipment. Use your pass at a time when you are most likely to exercise regularly to see how crowded it is and judge the helpfulness of the staff.
  • Ask sales staff to put their promises in writing. If a seller has told you that you can cancel your membership at any time, make sure they state this in the contract.
  • Because the financial commitment of a club membership can be substantial, Minnesota law provides a three-day cooling-off period after signing a contract to cancel and obtain a refund. You must cancel in writing by certified or registered mail. If you can persuade the club to give you a longer cooling-off or trial period, do so.

Twin Cities Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and Checkbook.org is a non-profit organization whose mission is to help consumers get the best service and the lowest prices. Check out local fitness center reviews for free through February 5 at Checkbook.org/StarTribune/Gyms.

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