Tell Me How To… Join A Gym

Our own expertise is limited, but the knowledge and experience of the Consumerist community is unlimited. That’s why we’re turning to you, the Consumerist Hivemind, to provide guidance and help solve readers’ problems. Today’s question: how does the wise consumer choose and join a gym while getting the best deal and avoiding shady practices?

Reader Mark lifted his puny arms to his keyboard and wrote to us:

Searching consumer review sites, the available chains have TERRIBLE reviews, mainly concerning the difficulty of severing the business relationship. The only thing I can think of, will sign up with a prepaid debit card so they don’t have unlimited access to my bank account.

An easier alternative than reloading and paying fees on a prepaid debit card would be to use a regular old credit card if you have one…especially one with a limit that’s relatively low so the company can’t go yanking all of your money out with a typo. You’ll have one billing period to notice and fight back against any errors before you have to pay any interest.

What about finding the best gym and the best gym deals?

There’s no need to submit suggestions of “just walk around outside” or “hit a tire with a hammer in your backyard” – we’ll presume that if someone is asking about joining a gym, they want a change in scenery.

Members of our comments beta test panel can comment here on the post, and people who don’t have accounts yet, who don’t comment, or who want to keep their advice totally anonymous can send their tips to Put “HOWTO GYM” in the subject line. We’ll publish the responses in a future post.

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  1. Saber says:

    From someone who’s worked in the chargeback industry – the idea about paying via credit card is best. If they won’t take a credit card/only do direct withdrawals, stay away. We always had a ton of claims for gyms that forced through transactions/took accounts negative because they had routing information.

    Looking for reviews is good, looking at their BBB is best. If they’re not on BBB, check with the neighbors in the neighborhood – honestly, if they’re a decent enough gym, the locals will have no problems with them. If they’re a shady/bad practice gym, a few of them might remark on hearing screaming customers/angry people over there.

    I also can’t stress this enough- read the contract and how to cancel services -prior- to signing up. Make a copy, scan it, whatever you have to do in order to cancel if you feel it’s not a good fit for you. I say this because if you don’t follow through exactly on their terms, then it doesn’t matter how you paid – no credit card company or bank is going to be able to get your money back.

    • JasperBeardly says:

      I disagree about checking with the BBB. I’ve often found the BBB to be distressingly unreliable as a gauge of a whether a business is on the level. I don’t know much about how the BBB works, but it seems like a sort of pay-to-play operation. As a result, I’d counsel that any place with a *bad* BBB rating is to be avoided … but having a good rating doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good business.

  2. MrOldtimer says:

    Worked with one of the owners of a very large chain many years ago and he shared the business model for tne industry. Ninety six percent (96%) of all new members stop going to the gym within 6 months of joining. That is why they try to get you to join for 1-2 years because if they charged by the month the business would fail.

    • CommonC3nts says:

      Only a shady gym wont allow you to pay month to month at the normal rate.
      Any gym that forces contracts or charges more for month to month is a scam.

  3. SingleMaltGeek says:

    The most important thing is to remember that if it isn’t in the contract, it won’t happen. Don’t believe any of the salesperson’s promises unless they are willing to amend the contract to reflect the change they promise. This is one of their biggest tools for convincing wary customers, don’t let them get away with it!

  4. BrainDamage says:

    If you want to skip the potential headaches of a gym, see if a local YMCA or a nearby community center that has equipment/weights would be a good fit for you.

  5. craftman1 says:

    1) Visit the gym at different times of day – including when you plan on usually going – to get a feel for the crowd (meatheads, moms, etc.) and general level of activity. I can’t comment on whether you want a crowded gym or a deserted one. That’s a personal preference. Either extreme may signal bad things.

    2) When you’re taking a tour, pay attention to the level of cleanliness and investment in new equipment. Are there week-old stains in the locker room? Are all the carpets smelly and torn? Are the dumbbells worn smooth? Is equipment cobbled back together or is it professionally repaired (or best, just fully replaced)? Don’t expect everything to be perfect, but focus less on what the person giving the tour is pointing out and look at the nitty-gritty details.

    3) If you’re worried about a gym being difficult to quit, remember that gyms are run by PEOPLE. Get to know a couple trainers, front desk staff, class instructors, and even the manager. Make small talk, become a regular face. When you need to quit, they will be much more likely to treat you like a person than pulling their faceless salesman tactics. It is a small investment that will not only make your quitting experience better but your day-to-day gym-going experience better as well. Employees always let me know when items are on sale, or I swap weightlifting moves with trainers…win-win.

    4) As most people will probably tell you, take the contract home and read the important parts: cancellation, putting the membership on hold, and how they bill you.

    Credentials: Been a member of 3 different “large chain” gyms over the past 7 years, never had any issues with quitting, signing up, or facilities.

  6. CommonC3nts says:

    Never sign a contract. Always pay month to month.
    Dont let them charge you a higher rate just because you are month to month.
    Shop around until a shop gives you the normal rate, but with no contract.
    Never ever tie it to your checking or debit account. Always pay CC for protection, but paying once a month with a check or cash is alright if you have no contract.

  7. Seli says:

    And don’t be afraid to check out other “kinds” of gyms in the area too. You might find that a yoga studio, Crossfit box, boxing or MMA gym, etc. is a better fit for you, and those tend to be run by people who have a far more vested interest in keeping the customer happy and not screwing you over. These kinds of places often have a great community aspect and most likely have month-to-month or per-visit payment options, along with free trials, that can help you decide where you really want to invest your time.

  8. Mapache says:

    Paying with a Credit Card is the best if there is a problem you call the company and the charge can be disputed while you still have money in the bank.

    I’ll be carful of weird Personal trainning sessions and stuff like that they tell you is free and then charge you for it. It’s good too how much is required at first most gyms charge first and last month plus a signing fee it can hurt your wallet, most gyms let you negotiate the sign up fee.

    Also on has to check what are they going for, Planet fitness is great is 10 dollars a month no contract and a yearly fee of 30 bucks, but they dont offer any classes you are there just to pump Iron.
    LA fitness has more classes a better facilities but they tend to be more expensive about 40 a month with a 199 sing fee, no cotnract) but they have their pushy trainers and it’s a hassle to cancel (you have to write a letter and be super vigilant they won’t keep charging you)
    Be careful of smaller gyms that dub for MMA gyms or Cross fit gyms, they charge way more , they are smaller, and don’t offer much.
    I’ll defenitely follow the advice above of going at th time that one is supposed to work out, to get a feeling of the people and how crowded it can get