Tricks of the Trade: Fitness Clubs


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Many fitness clubs use sneaky tactics to pump up their profits while giving your wallet a workout. Here are seven money traps to avoid when you hit the gym.

According to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, more than 50 million Americans pay an average of over $40 a month to belong to a fitness club: That’s about 15 percent of people over 16.

A fitness club is a great place to get in shape, build muscle, or get an endorphin rush. But you shouldn’t have to empty your wallet to work out.

Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson reveals gyms’ tricks of the trade – tactics they use to pump up profits and make us spend more. Check out the video, then read on for more specifics.

Now, here’s a recap of those tricks of the gym trade, along with a few more you should look for before joining a fitness club:

1. Initiation fees

This is an expense you should always attempt to negotiate away. You’re already agreeing to pay monthly, so try to get initiations fee reduced or waived.

The fitness business is highly competitive. Find a gym that doesn’t charge an up-front fee, then either join it, or use that club as leverage to get the fee waived at a club you do want to join.

2. Personal trainers

Think car salespeople are high pressure? Wait until you’re approached by personal trainers. While they can provide a valuable service, it doesn’t come cheap: typical sessions can run $30 or more: Do that a few times a week and the training cost will soon eclipse the monthly gym fee.

And being muscular doesn’t make them qualified. There aren’t standardized certifications for personal trainers, and some credentials require little more than an online course or fee. Ask the gym’s management about the certifications of their trainers, and look for training from a recognized institution, like the American Council on Exercise (ACE), American College of Sports Medicine or the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). A background in sports medicine or physical education is also a plus.

And remember, as with any service provider from doctors to plumbers, everything’s negotiable.

If you’re looking to bypass the expense of a personal trainer, don’t be shy about asking a gym employee for help with a simple routine or using the equipment. They should help you free. If it’s motivation you need, enlist a workout buddy.

3. Contracts that automatically renew

Clubs that continue to extract money after cancelling a contract is one of the biggest sources of consumer complaints. Before you join, check complaint sites and the Better Business Bureau where the club is headquartered to see if there have been past issues.

One of the sources of the membership that won’t die is contracts that automatically renew. To avoid this trap, either strike the auto-renew clause from the contract when you sign up, or set a reminder so you’ll know when the cancellation window is approaching.  Be sure to read the fine print in advance and scan a copy of the contract  so you’ll know what’s required to get out of it.  And if there’s a dispute, be aware that a club can leave bad marks on your credit history – when the dust settles, go to annualcreditreport.com and take a look.

4. Auto-pay

Many gyms offer discounts for enrolling in auto-pay, which allows them to tap your checking account for their monthly fee. While convenient, there have been many cases of gyms continuing to extract money when the contract was cancelled.

The only sure way to avoid this potential problem is to avoid auto-pay, but if that’s impossible, see the advice above: look for warnings on complaint sites, and understand what’s required to turn off auto-pay.

5. Limited time offers

These so-called promotions increase the pressure to sign up. Ignore the hard sell, take your time and understand what you’re getting into.

And don’t be in a hurry to start paying. Most gyms offer free or low-cost trial memberships that last a week or two. Use this period to evaluate the gym, as well as your ability to stick with it.

6. Gym store and juice bar markups

Whether you’re purchasing a smoothie or a pair of flip-flops for the locker room, you’re likely paying more than you would elsewhere. Convenience is a factor, but planning ahead will make for a healthier deal. Head to Target or Walmart for gear, and bring your own snacks and refillable water bottle.

7. The illusion of being clean

Cleanliness is an important factor when it comes to fitness clubs – and some believe it’s important enough to merit a higher membership price. But don’t be fooled by some of the tricks that can make a gym seem cleaner than it really is, like sanitizing wipes near every treadmill or “wet floor” signs. Take a close look and determine if the gym’s best practices are really being put to use. Are gym members wiping down the equipment, and when they forget, is anyone else picking up the slack? If you have doubts, ask gym management about their sanitation polices and cleaning schedule.

Stacy Johnson

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