Rage Against the Gym

by Kim on February 12, 2013

Last fall, I got it into my head that I wanted to get rid of my gym membership.

Once I had a baby, the logistics of getting to the gym regularly became more complicated (I know, familiar sob story), and I just found it a lot more convenient to run outside or on our treadmill at home (SO lucky to have our own mill) or to do workout DVDs/Pinterest workouts. Losing the membership meant giving up BodyPump classes, which I’d been a huge fan of pre-baby, but I hadn’t really gotten back into the Pump very much post-baby, and anyway, that’s available on DVD now too.

body pumpSo you can pump from the comfort of your own…deck.

So, I advertised a membership transfer on Craigslist (it was something the gym had heartily sold me on during my initial sign-up process, so I knew it was possible). I didn’t hear a peep for months and months, until January 1 rolled around. Surprise! During the first week of the new year, I suddenly got several bites.

I called my gym to see what the transfer process entailed. And that’s when I found out that the person who took over my membership would need to sign a whole new contract for the same amount of time I’d originally contracted for. I had a 2-year membership, so the new person would need to start a new 2-year membership.


Given that, it didn’t benefit anyone to take over my membership, and I wasn’t really able to offer just the remainder of my contract to people. (The New Year’s crowd was, understandably, very interested in my ad’s promise that I only had 6 months left on my contract.) I contacted all the interested Craigslist people to apologize for the confusion and took down the ad.

When I told Brent this story, he was not moved in the least by it, and acted like I should have known better. Well, maybe I should have. But it still felt kind of scammy to me.

sheepish Best childhood movie of all time?

It would have been nice to get out of my membership (especially now that I’ve also learned that my gym charges extra for childcare—sighhh), but the bigger reason this whole ordeal got to me was this:

We have a huge weight problem in this country, and yet, gyms are SO unfriendly to anyone new to fitness. 

They bully us into signing up for long contracts. If you’re new to fitness, why on earth would you want to commit to a multi-year contract? That’s intimidating even to the most seasoned gym rat. And those 1-week trial passes are not enough—anyone can rock a health kick for a week.

They make getting out of contracts nearly impossible. If it’s not working out (no pun intended), you’re going to pay, both literally and mentally, for the remainder of your contract. And I’m a firm believer that guilt doesn’t actually lead to motivation. (Plus, you probably won’t be eager to sign a new membership anytime soon ever again.)

They charge extra fees that make us feel like we’re getting scammed, whether that’s true or not. (Can’t they “buy new equipment” with my membership fees? And why the astronomical joining fees? Does it really cost gyms that much to allow one new person to enter its doors?)

gym2 I’m not sure which was a better choice: my massive hoop earrings or this killer scrunchie. The guy three bikes down can’t keep his eyes off me!

I understand that gyms are businesses, and they want to make money. (Although, in all fairness, is that really a problem?) I also understand that they have to maintain certain numbers and protocol. They can’t just give everyone week-to-week memberships, and then sit back and hope the fire codes aren’t violated when the gym is randomly packed to the brim one week (and deserted the next).

But I would really love to see more flexibility with contracts, for the sake of our country’s health.

Think about all the people who would use gyms if they could do so more on their own terms.

 Young Adults Lifting Weights at the Gym We’ve repeatedly asked that dude to kindly move out of the shot, but he keeps “forgetting.”

Here are some of the ideas I like to fantasize about…

Rent to own. The person would start with a super short contract, say 3 months. (It would be much more expensive, obviously.) They would be given the option to renew after the short period at a slightly reduced rate (which, if they hadn’t been going regularly, might reignite their motivation), or drop out with no hard feelings (and maybe a coupon to start over at that reduced rate within a year, or something). If they made it to a year with these short contracts, they’d be asked to sign up for a full 1 year contract the following year.

Simpler facilities, no contracts. This is the concept behind The Gym Group, which (sadly) only exists in the UK. You pay a low monthly fee, but you’re able to bail at any time. To keep costs down, the equipment is basic—no saunas, no pools, no childcare.

Shorter contracts. Monthly, 3 month, 6 month, etc. (at a higher rate, of course). I know these exist, but I wish they were more universal.

Off-hours contracts. People new to fitness would prefer to work out when the gym is quieter, anyway. Gyms could identify their slowest windows of time and allow people to work out only during those times, in exchange for either a reduced rate or a shorter contract.

The every other. Say, two friends get a contract together, and each one gets to use the gym every other week. They split the membership fee down the middle. During their “off” weeks, their membership cards don’t work. They can decide to turn their shared contract into two, full-time individual ones at any time, or, if only one friend ends up going regularly, she can take over the contract full-time and let the other friend off the hook.


Time to Rage

It’s the middle of February…the shiny new gym memberships that the “January Joiners” bought are looking a lot less shiny. Cynicism says that gyms are counting on that, and would probably be in trouble if it went down any other way.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if all the JJs, across the country, just kept on hitting the gym, and hitting it hard, all year? Sure, it would annoy the gym rats currently being spoiled by rows and rows of empty machines, but they’d adjust.

I just want to see the gym moguls squirm a little.

Do you have a long-contract gym membership? Have you ever regretted it?


{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Erin February 15, 2013 at 5:40 pm

I’ve also done everything from cheap (Anytime Fitness) to the fancy (Lifetime). I think post kids, the amenities Lifetime offers have been instrumental in getting back into shape.


Julie February 12, 2013 at 1:29 pm

The new member fees at my gym are ridiculous, too! They tried to tell me that it was because it came with two personal training sessions, etc, etc, but when I said I’d waive those in order to lower the activation fee, the fee was suddenly to cover new equipment, staffing and other costs. I did eventually negotiate it down to about 50%, and am lucky to pay monthly membership fees, too!
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Kim February 12, 2013 at 1:31 pm

Nooooo! NOT ok.

Maybe it’s just me, but gyms seems pretty low-maintenance as far as ongoing expenses for business go…


Amy @ Writing While Running February 12, 2013 at 12:01 pm

Wow. I had no idea gyms are so scammy these days. I get a free membership to the university gym where I work. But I use it only when I have to (it feels weird to be there in the gym with college-aged kids) and it works.
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Kim February 12, 2013 at 1:20 pm

That’s an awesome arrangement!!


Lindsey February 12, 2013 at 11:56 am

I’ve actually ran into most of the things you’re talking about at different types of places. But obviously its a trade off, less perks, lower cost; etc. I’ve done both ends of the spectrum, but I think I’ve typically avoided contracts. I even worked out at a small place that offered a lower cost membership if you could only work out on odd/even days, or something like that. Lots of unique options out there. Gyms are kind of weird like cable companies, can’t they just offer a desirable enough service to charge a flat rate without having to psychologize everyone into weird contracts?


Kim February 12, 2013 at 1:20 pm

I haven’t seen anything like that near us…perks of living in a big city maybe? I guess my point is that they should be universal. :)


Giselle@myhealthyhappyhome February 12, 2013 at 11:46 am

I agree, gyms can be so frustrating! I belong to 24 hour fitness and usually we purchase a 2 year membership from Costco since it averages out to be about $15 a month. Can’t beat that! However, this year I decided not to because we plan to move this summer and not sure there will be a 24 hour close by. So I did a month to month membership but had to pay first and last as well as extra for child care. It works for me right now but I would love to join a smaller, more personal gym where it wasn’t as crowded.
However, these are the ones that are beyond ridiculous in price, at least in our area. I’d really like to join my husbands Cross fit gym but between the two of us and daycare, we’d be paying over $230 a month! Ha! Keep dreaming!
My dream would be to open my own gym that is focuses on families. Prenatal classes, postpartum classes, mommy and me classes, and classes directed towards children (mainly teenagers) who are looking to get healthy. Trainers would specialize in training women and children. Day care would be included and would be very strict about only allowing healthy kids (this is where the Love Nugget keeps getting sick!). If only I had millions to make this happen! Maybe someday :-)
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Kim February 12, 2013 at 11:50 am

Such a cool idea, Giselle!! I’d totally go there. :) We’ve been looking at baby gym classes, but they’re sooo expensive…

That’s nice that you have access to a gym that has monthly memberships!

$15 a month?? Insane!!


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