The Secrets Gyms Don’t Want You to Know

When I first started working as a trainer at one of the major clubs in New York City, my goal was to learn as much about the fitness club world as possible, not simply the personal training and group fitness side but every aspect of the operations of a fitness club. One day, when I was a very wet-behind-the-ears personal trainer, I stopped to talk with the general manager, who was standing at the front desk running reports.

Quick question: how do you know when to stop taking memberships? She continued to type on the computer without looking up. What do you mean? You know, is there a formula for the size of the gym and how many members it can have? Like, ten thousand square feet means two thousand members or something like that?” She looked up at me and laughed. You mean when do we ‘cap’ memberships? What is our cutoff number? There isn’t one. It doesn’t exist. We just sell, sell, sell.” She laughed again and resumed typing.

Gyms Hope You Sign Up but Never Show Up

It’s absolutely true. Most gyms are actually selling you a membership, asking you to come and join the club, welcoming you with open arms and big smiles, you to come and join the club, welcoming you with open arms and big smiles, yet they really don’t ever want to ever see you again. You would be shocked to find out how many total members there are in your gym. There are hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people at every fitness club who literally join, go a handful of times, then never step through the doors again. Ever. A huge percentage continue to have their credit cards billed month after month, often year after year.

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Listen to the Pitch, Then Walk Away

Remember that most salespeople, no matter what they say as they schmooze you around the facility, couldn’t care less about whether you lose weight, bulk up, slim down, whatever. All they really care about is closing the deal. They have monthly goals to hit. They are also on commission. You represent dollar signs, not much else. Such is life.

So during your initial visit to the gym, sign nothing, no matter how great the deal seems to be. They’ll throw in free personal training, massages or free months, offer to wash your car, anything to get you to join right away. Don’t. The fact remains that when you walk out the door that offers will still be good, regardless of what the salesperson says. More importantly, the offer will quite often be made even better after you leave. That person knows you are interested. He or she wants your money. The first pitch is just the starting point

Do Not Sign the Contract in the Gym

Take the contract home with you and read it carefully, word for word. There’s lots of small print. Trust me.

Once You Do Sign Up, It’s Really Hard to Break Up

Ever try to get out of your gym membership? It can be much worse than trying to end a bad relationship. Many gyms require things like a doctor’s note or proof that you have moved hundreds of miles away before they will even consider terminating your membership. And when you do end your contract, you often have to pay for a few months more before you are truly free. Have the salesperson explain what the exact terms of ending the contract are.

The initiation fee is negotiable.

Most gyms have a one-time initiation fee. It can range from a few to hundreds of dollars. This initiation fee is in addition to your monthly gym payments. Be aware that, at almost every gym, this fee is completely negotiable. Ever notice how around New Year’s or just before summer, gyms start to advertise “$0 initiation fee”? Take advantage of this when joining a gym. Start by refusing to pay any initiation fee at all. None.

It’s pretty much up to you and your negotiation skills. If you can’t get the salesperson to knock it out completely, try cutting it in half. If you don’t get what you want, walk away. Most likely the salesperson will have taken down your contact information. If you walk away, chances are very good that you will receive a phone call from the salesperson, reducing the initiation fee or wiping it out completely.

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