Health clubs across Britain eagerly await the New Year for its annual influx of new members, with gyms and fitness companies globally getting at least 12% of their new members in January. But according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, new fitness goals often lose out to old habits, resulting in 47.6% of new gym members leaving in less than 12 months.
If joining a gym is one of your aims for 2024, becoming a fitness success story comes down to finding a membership that fits your life and your budget. We’ve put together a short guide to help you work out what’s important to you and how to get more for your money.
Weigh up what you can afford
Given the ongoing financial challenges that British consumers are facing, it’s not surprising that they are stepping away from gym memberships.
Research carried out in September 2022 by YouGov found that of those forced to make cutbacks since the cost of living crisis, the actions taken included:
- completely stopping spending money on the gym
- moving to a cheaper gym
- switching to a pay-as-you-go option, instead of a contract
According to data from an October 2023 Xplor Gym report that surveyed 714,674 gym, health club and leisure members paying by direct debit in the UK and Ireland, gym members aged from 25 to 34 were the most likely age group to quit (31% of cancellations). They were followed by 35- to 44- year-olds (23%) and 16- to 24-year-olds (19%), suggesting the cost of living crisis is having a greater impact on younger generations.
To work out whether or not you can afford a gym membership, start by creating a monthly budget. Once you’ve allocated cash for all your essential outgoings and can see what’s left for non-essentials, then think about what you need a gym to offer to justify the cost.
Decide what matters most
For some people, convenience will be the most important factor in choosing a gym. For others, keeping costs to a minimum will be the top priority.
NerdWallet spoke to 33-year old Esther Redhouse White, from Newcastle, who recently joined The Gym Group. While cost was a factor for Redhouse White, the location and plenty of equipment were also important. “I had a quick look around at other chains to compare prices,” she said. “But it was one of the cheapest … [and] it’s relatively easy for me to get to.” Also there were a lot of machines, so she wouldn’t have to wait for equipment to become available if it was a busy time.
For Redhouse White, getting value from her membership means going to the gym twice a week, but not necessarily all year round. She told NerdWallet: “A big factor for me in signing up was that I usually run. And because it’s winter, it’s dark out and my route isn’t lit, I didn’t feel safe. … So if it comes to spring when the weather’s nice, I’ll think about whether to keep going at the gym or just go back to running outside.” Redhouse White pays £18.99 per month and likes the fact that with her no-contract membership she can cancel anytime.
Talk to the team
Whether you choose an off-peak “no frills” gym chain, or an independent boutique gym, talk to the staff about how to get the most value from your time in the gym and, therefore, from your monthly payment.
Dave Clarke, founder of Hybrid Fit in Leicester, believes personal training is the answer. He told NerdWallet: “A lot of [people] will join a gym, not knowing exactly what to do [or] how to do it.” Commercial gyms just aren’t set up for somebody who has never been to the gym before, “the New Year’s resolution type of person,” he explained.
“What we tend to find,” Clarke said, “is that people use price point as their barrier for not coming, but it all matters on what people value rather than whether they can afford it or not.” Clarke sees getting a personal trainer as a relatively short-term investment, between three months and two years depending on individual goals. “You’re not going to have a personal trainer forever,” he said.
6 tips for gaining maximum value from your gym
- Take advantage of free trials first. Call the gyms in your local area. You may be able to negotiate a day or even a week of free access to see how much you enjoy exercising there and how it fits into your life.
- Ask for a discount. Membership salespeople work on commission: They want you to sign up and may be able to reduce the price of your membership or throw in some extras, but you won’t know unless you ask. Some gyms offer discounted rates to customers in receipt of certain benefits. If this applies to you, providing evidence of your eligibility could get you a concessionary membership.
- Keep it flexible. If joining a gym represents a significant change to your monthly expenditure, committing to an annual contract may not be wise, even if it seems like better value. A rolling membership plan or pay-as-you-go gym that you can stop quickly if your priorities change could save you money and stress.
- Make the most of freebies. Clarke’s advice is to utilise any free personal training programmes included for new members, as you’ll be more likely to achieve your goals with a training programme designed for you by a pro. Most commercial gyms will offer a free programme that can be updated every six to eight weeks, he said. “So if you can’t afford a personal trainer but [your gym] offers fitness instruction, get some guidance.”
- Wait on the shopping spree. Don’t splash out on designer gym kit and swanky trainers until you’re sure you’re going to stick with it.
- Share the love. If you get guest passes, get your friends involved in your fitness journey to help motivate, encourage and keep you working toward your goals.
Image source: Getty Images
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