How to get a cheap gym membership
08 September 2021
You want a gym to make you sweat, but not because it’s going to cost you an arm and a leg to sign up and attend! With the best will in the world, expensive memberships will put you right off going to the gym, but there are loads of tricks and tips to make your wallet work as hard as you’ll be on that treadmill.
How much does the average gym membership cost?
It’s not going to surprise you when we say that gym memberships can wildly differ in cost, depending on a load of different factors. They vary massively, from posh ones with spas in expensive areas, to local council gyms that are cheap and cheerful.
On average, a membership fee is about £40 a month. You can cut the cost by shopping around to check the prices of non-for-profit gyms and non-gym exercise classes, and seeing what pay as you go contract-free options are available.
It’s also worth checking with your employer what employee benefits you might be entitled to around health and fitness.
How do you get free gym membership?
Joining the gym when you’re on benefits or unemployed
Although it’s not impossible to get a gym membership on the NHS, lots of local areas will have not-for-profit leisure centres that offer discounted gym classes and facilities. These gyms offer a concessionary membership for people on certain benefits, for example, Universal Credit, housing benefit or income support. At some places concessionary membership will be free, at some they’ll offer freebies like health assessments and classes.
Check out not-for-profit gyms like YMCA, Nuffield and GLL to see what’s available near you.
Free outdoor gyms
Lots of parks have gym ‘machines’ that you can use for free. Have a look for your nearest free outdoor gym on your local council website.
Check out the NHS free fitness guide for more ideas.
January is a great time to find an offer on gym membership. Just before summer there’s also another spike in deals. Look online on voucher sites too.
Another good time to negotiate a cheap gym membership is at the end of the month. Typically, gym sales staff have targets to hit and if they want to make their bonus, they need to get people signed up ASAP. Here’s where you will have all the power. Negotiate a cheap price and a short contract (three/six months, rather than 12 or more). Make sure you ask about other hidden costs like cancellation fees.
If you don’t feel comfortable negotiating face-to-face or over the phone, do it by email. Don’t respond to high-pressure sales talk – see what your local gyms have to offer, go away and think about what’s best for you.
Make the most of free gym passes and free trials
Big chain gyms are unlikely to let you in free, but often if you tell them you are interested in joining, they will give you a free pass or two, so you can try out the facilities.
If you have friend who is already a member of a gym, they may also be entitled to invite friends along every month for free workouts – so let them know you’re keen.
Avoid commitment with pay as you go and no-contract gyms
Good intentions are lovely and all, but signing up to a gym contract for a year or longer if you’re likely to stop attending is seriously a waste of cash. These contracts are very hard to get out of too – so don’t think you can just change your mind about going after six weeks – you’re stuck paying for the full year.
That said, more and more you can get access to gyms without contracts, which are a really good option for someone who wants to join a gym but doesn’t want long-term commitment. You can buy a block of sessions, or a one-off session, and then move on to another gym or change your pattern of exercising to match your circumstances.
How much is a personal trainer?
Having someone MAKE you move and get fit (and do it in the correct way!), feels like the dream, but it comes with a heavy price tag!
The cost of having someone to motivate you and make your personalised training programme will depend on the location of your gym. If you’re in a city centre, it’ll likely cost you more. The cost can start from around £25 per hour when you bulk buy a series of sessions up front. For a one-off, it’ll be around £35 plus.
When you sign up to a gym, you’re often given a free personal training session or two, so you get used to the facilities. The trainer is also going to try and get you to commit to more paid sessions with them. Make the most of the free sessions and get as much information out of them as possible!
If you really do want a trainer but want to keep costs down, you can also ask to share sessions with your partner or with a friend, so you can split the cost and get motivated together.
Ask your trainer about the exercises you’ve done and the weights you’ve used and then practice them by yourself in between sessions to make them last longer.
How to cancel a gym membership
A lot of us are guilty of watching a monthly Direct Debit go out to gym we stopped going to months ago. Seeing that cash wasted hurts nearly as much as those squats did!
It’s not easy to get out of a gym membership. They know people are likely to want to stop going, which is why they lock you in for as long as they can.
Look at the terms and conditions of your membership, because they’ll describe how you cancel.
Do it in the first month
There’s sometimes a ‘cooling off’ period in the T&Cs of about 30 days where you can cancel your contract with no fee.
Cancelling when circumstances change
If your income has changed since you signed up, you can talk to your gym to help you get a fee-free cancellation. You might need some paperwork as proof, like a benefit entitlement letter or a P45 form from your employer.
Also talk to your gym if you need to cancel because you’re not well or because of an injury. Get a note from your doctor to help you avoid a fee.
Citizens Advice offers templates on how to write to your gym to cancel your membership if you’re too ill to use it, or your circumstances have changed.
Consider alternatives to the gym like standalone dance classes, or volunteer on nature conservation workdays in the green spaces near you. A lot of people swear by the NHS’s free Couch to 5k app which gets people who can’t run for 30 seconds running five kilometres in a matter of weeks.
Exercising at home
There are lots of free videos online to help you get started exercising at home. Just go onto YouTube, stick in ‘workout’ and you’ll find thousands of free workouts, from martial arts to musical theatre dance. There is something for every taste, and you can always vary it so you don’t get bored.
For options that cost nothing at all, look for body weight exercises, which don’t require you to buy any equipment. For relief from aches and pains, yoga or Pilates videos might suit you, and you can get involved for the cost of a floor mat - less than a tenner.
Prefer to be outside? Check out local groups that exercise together in parks, go walking or running together. Parkruns are incredibly popular and are set up with volunteers who time your 5k run (though you don’t have to run!). They are meant for absolutely everyone, and you’ll never come last, because volunteers will always hang back so no-one feels embarrassed. Find your local one on the Parkrun website.
Have a look at your local council’s website, local Facebook groups and places like your nearest YMCA or village hall to see what’s on to help you get fit in your area for a few quid or even free.
If you can, cycle to work – this way you’ll save on petrol or tickets and still get super fit. Lots of employers will have a cycle to work scheme where they’ll help you save on the cost of your bike and cycling gear.