Bitterwallet Guide to Cheaper Gyms (Part 1): The Basics recession may be taking its toll on us, and the first thing most of us think of cutting are the  non-essentials. Except alcohol. The gym membership that you never use is usually one of the first to go, if you manage to convince the manager that it's not your signature on dotted line of the one year contract.

Bitterwallet reader Joff asked us to look into gym memberships and cheap deals, so we've gone one further; here are five questions to ask along with tips, techniques and tools, so that you can keep up with your fitness levels for less cash and minimal paperwork:

1. Do You Need a gym?

The first and most important thing is to evaluate whether you really need a gym. Why do you want to go to the gym?  What do you plan to do there?  How often can you go? Do you even like the gym?

We sometimes join a gym because we like to know that we have done something about our health. But when you realise 6 months later that you've only made one visit to that yoga class for an hour, the £50 you pay per month amounting to over £300 may not be that great value for money anymore, especially when you can get a Fitball for £1 at home (thanks, Angus11!).

And if all you plan to do at the gym is run on a treadmill, why not just do it outdoors? And if you like to climb the stairmaster, why not save £500 a year and run up the stairs to work or at home?

There's also free social fitness training programs, like Crossfit, used by the crew of 300 behind the scenes.  If you don't know anything about it, check it out. Combine that with one of many free online web apps, like Gyminee and Traineo, and track your fitness goals and transformation to Brad Pitt in Fight Club.

2. What other options are there?

If you've decided you can a gym is a must, consider local options beyond the private chains. Go to your local universities and council fitness centres where opting to use the swimming pool could cost you under £20 / month.

When I was in Edinburgh a few years ago, I joined the University gym for £95 for the year. That's less than two months of what people pay at a gym like David Lloyds, but with no contract and the latest equipment at 'no frills' prices.

There is also the London Fitness Network in London, where a single fee entitles you access to over 80 leisure centres in London. Check this space, because a UK-wide scheme is rumoured to be coming in the near future. The final option would be to build a gym at home, which I will help you do for as cheap as possible in part two of this guide. For now, you can find some pretty hot deals for equipment on HUKD.

3. Can You Try Before You Buy?

You've decided that you really do need a gym, and evaluated your options. You're still stuck with the private chains. What do you do now?

A great way to try out your gym is to ask for a 1-3 day trial membership, usually free of charge with major chains. It's a great way to test run the place, and a chance to speak with existing members. LA Fitness, Fitness First, Esporta, LivingWell, and Thistles gyms amongst many others offer one day free trials. If one day is too short, consider two week passes from places like Fitness First for around £27, along with Harpers Fitness and Spirit Health Clubs.

4. What is The Best Deal?

Once you've tested out the gym, it's now to negotiate for the best price.

To start with, look on private health insurance websites Bupa and Pruhealth. Both often include discounts on gym memberships, as part of a win-win strategy to improve your health and thus minimize any claims. You simply fill out a form, and a quote will be given. On average, this works out much cheaper for gyms that are part of the scheme.

Oh, and don't forget Quidco; PruHealth is doing £35 cashback for online sales.

Your gym of choice not part of any PMIs? Now is when you should call around, because new offers come along every day, and are not always advertised online. LA Fitness for example is doing 75% off their membership, simply by collecting Tesco Clubcard vouchers. Here are the details: each £2.50 in vouchers is worth 4x more in Token deals, translating to £10, which you can use towards your annual membership payment, potentially cutting it from around £1000 down to £250 (e.g. LA Fitness Manchester).

5. What Are The Best Terms?

Still no offer? No worries. Here's where knowing that (1) nationwide gyms are ran by regional and local teams and (2) there's always a better offer.

Chains have targets to hit. In fact, they are usually competing with each other. What that means is that if numbers are low at the end of the month, which is very possible in the current recessional climate, you may be in for a steal. This is best speaking to a manager about.

The same applies for haggling for a shorter contract; don't bind yourself to contracts lasting forever if you avoid it. They don't openly advertise them as it's bad for business, so you have to ask for them. That way you can try out a membership for a few months before making a longer term commitment.

If you have other tips, tricks or thoughts on getting cheaper gym memberships, please share them in the comments below.


  • Joff
    Result! Although maybe getting you to do my gym research suggests I'm probably too lazy to go to the gym anyway...
  • Will
    I signed up to my local gym at the discounted cost of £50 a month for 3 months! £150. I went 5 times, decided I couldn't stand the stuck up dick heads that also attended the gym in their 60k Range Rovers and what not, and then realised what a waste of money it was. Since then I've bought myself a treadmill. In 3 months I've used it twice. There really is no teaching some people!
  • Col
    My trick was I signed up to a 2 week taster course at my college, which was free. Took my enroment form down to Total Fitness who charged me £299 for Annual membership, would have otherwise been £440. That reminds me I never actually got around to attending the course in the end, oh well.
  • I l.
    You could always go down to one of their 'free' introductory sessions, 'hurt' yourself on one of their machines, blame it on poor servicing and tell them you're taking them to court. When they offer to give you free lifetime membership for avoiding a court case, hey presto!! Free lifetime membership to your local gym........ Remember kids - where there's blame there's always a claim.
  • Mart
    I thought most gyms offer lower priced subscriptions for those needing to lose weight as certified by their GP. I think Total Fitness may offer this so fatman subscription could save you a bit - its probably around the same as a student contract around £25 a month compared to £44
  • Recession B.
    [...] I just warned you about how being flabby and skint is worse than the sum of its parts, but there are alternatives to expensive gym memberships. Some cities have council-run facilities that are very reasonably priced to use. And what about the [...]
  • How B.
    [...] terms. You can also check out our previous guides (as pointed out by BW reader Acecatcher) to cheaper gym memberships and home gyms. We cover some of these gyms in part 2 of the guide and the deals they [...]
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  • resolution h.
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