To run or not to run: are gym memberships worth the hassle?

Nathalie Bonney's picture

Once upon a time in a suburban land far, far away was a place called Northwood Hills and in it was a squash club. It had more courts than I have fingers on my hands, a friendly atmosphere and an annual membership that cost something in the region of £150–200. 

Admittedly it was a little scrappy around the edges but, like a well–loved cuddly toy, it didn’t matter.

Roll on a few years though and it finally succumbed to the inevitable and became part of a chain, in this case LA Fitness. At first the differences weren’t that noticeable but gradually the place lost its health club sheen.

At least I was on a good deal; because my mum was a member of the club for so long LA Fitness offered her a free membership for a member of her family. That meant we could just share the one £70 membership cost between the two of us.

However, at the start of this year my mum looked at her bank statement and noticed that LA Fitness had debited £121.75 for the last two months. Neither of us had received any details saying that our 2–4–1 offer had expired. Nor had we seen anything at the gym that suggested there had been price increases.

On asking at reception we learnt that apparently a letter had been posted out in September informing all members that there would be membership fee increases to cover the £500,000 refurbishment and “major operating costs”.

The letter also stated that if we didn’t get in touch then LA Fitness would simply assume that we were happy with the increases. That’s pretty hard to do when you don’t receive anything – though a smart move on itd part, requiring minimum follow–up and admin costs.

There were two main things that bothered me about this: firstly when we went through the payment options the tariffs that we were offered didn’t match up with the £121.75 that had been deducted for the last two months. The first of the “loyalty options” was a 24–month contract with a £46.75 monthly fee, adding up to £93.50 for two people.

The one–year contract would cost us £49.50 each or £99 in total a month, and the final option was to stick with the rolling contract but pay £52.25 each a month, adding up to £104.50.

So where did the £121.75 figure come from? Given the ‘computer says no’ attitude of the staff, I’d guess thin air, as they failed to come up with any explanation.

The second thing is (although I appreciate it’s standard practice) it’s frustrating that in order to get a good deal you have to opt for such a long contract. And how is it that gyms can just up monthly fees seemingly as soon as they paint a wall or fix a broken locker? Even the cheap £70 rate for the two of us has crept up to £76.95.

So much for us being regarded as “loyal and valued” members. The club has at least promised to reimburse my mum but only the difference between the new membership prices and what was taken out of the account. Surely the fact that we didn’t receive a letter means we shouldn’t be charged the new fees, as had we received notification back in October we would have cancelled our memberships.

I now have to work out if I can get by without a gym membership and still eat my desired amount of chocolate and cakes or if I’m going to have to take up running (shudder) instead. The only time I run is for the bus or train – certainly not out of choice but if it saves me at least £627 a year, perhaps I’ll finally get over my jogging aversion.

In the meantime here are some of the tactics I’ll be employing over the next couple of months:

Haggle: it seems like everyone pays a different tariff. My teacher friend gets a discount because of her job but you can also whittle down costs if you’re joining with a friend or perhaps simply because you’re not prepared to pay as much as the gym is asking.

No joining fee: does anyone pay these anymore? If your prospective club demands one, just tell them the club round the corner is willing to waive theirs and see what happens.

Gym–surf: I’ve just finished a free five–day trial at Fitness First. You can get one–day passes at its website but just pop in to your nearest Fitness First and see if you can get something for a bit longer. You can also get one day passes for Virgin Active gyms and LA Fitness at their websites ( and or a three–day pass for the latter from gym–

Clubcard points: Tesco clubcard holders can use their points towards the cost of their LA Fitness gym membership. Converted into reward vouchers, the points quadruple in value; however, current members can only use the vouchers towards gym costs once their existing contractual period has ended.

Your Comments

Good luck Nathalie. This story is normal behaviour for LAF. The latest excuse for random unilateral fee increases is 'VAT rise', although they didn't reduce the rates when VAT went down.
LA are notoriously bad at Customer Service (in fact they don't have a Customer Service function), and have frequently come out bottom of the pile for employee relations in published surveys.
I worked for them for 7 years, never had a pay rise or salary review, and when I left no-one said thank you or gave me a leaving card or suggested a drink.
I recommend David Lloyd or Virgin Active to everyone. Most of my work colleagues left LA for Lloyd. Normal staff turnover is 2 or 3x per annum.
But I mustn't complain, I'm sure Guantanemo was slightly worse..........

Typical of gyms. If you go to review centre you will see all the major gyms have no idea what customer service is nowadays. I was paying around £100 per month for a luxury gym and whe I complained they didn't seem too bothered. I quit the next day.

Its worth paying for a monthy membership cause if there is a problem you can easily quit.

Wow, you're paying a lot Nathalie! 

I'm a member of the Basingstoke Leisure Club at the Barcelo Basingstoke Country Hotel where I get use of a fully equipped gym with trainers for £330 per year (or 13 months if paid in full in advance). The gym uses the TechnoGym System by the Wellness Company that stores my personal training program and results on a key, so it's all professionally set up and run. I also get the use of the swimming pool, hot tub and jaccuzi thrown in.

I hope this doesn't prompt a sudden rush because there's nothing worse than a crowded gym!

The price really depends where you are in the country - when I lived in Manchester, my very fancy, city-centre gym (sorry, Leisure Complex) cost me £20 a month.

My 'very basic' gym in London (based by Tower Bridge) sets me back £70 a month, and it's nothing to write home about.

Rebecca Atkinson is the editor of

I'd get a mountain bike, helmet and water bottle.  You can go out when you like, where you like and as often as you like.  Freedom, fitness and once you've bought the bike no real ongoing costs.

It is so shocking how many people pay for the gym each month and never go. They are so expensive also, you'd have to go a lot to get your moneys worth. Much better to go running I think.

I'm so sorry to hear that.
LA Fitness might be the worst of all,I guess.
As the LA Regent gym was just across my flat, I decided to be for the first time in my life a member of it. I was more than happy to get a 12 months membership for only £ 52,50 a month plus a £ 40 membership fee that 'ld be refund when the membership 'ld end up.
I don't want to make any comments for the club services but when I expressed them my dissapointment they happily proposed me one of the personal trainers of the club for just an extra... £ 500 fee for 2 months-paid in advance- to make me a new...Arny !!!!
Last September my membership expired so I stoped my DD order. As I had to move in Sloane Sq. area from mid-July my last visit to the gym was on the 07/07/2010.
To my surprise I received last October a letter to my previous address informing me for an outstanding amount of £52,50 and if I should not resolve the above situation within 14 days from the date of the letter they'ld apply a late payment charge of £40.
I immediately called the so-called Membres Service and to my shock I was informed that to stop my membership-though it was for JUST 12 months- I had
to send them a 1 month before notice or they 'ld go on charging me in a monthly basis due to the terms and conditions of the signed contract.
When I explained them that I was never provided by a contract since the Deputy club manager was in a rush to sign the contraact ensuring me that it's just a typical contract with the usual terms and conditions, they then advised me that I have to complain to the Members Relation Department about it.
Meanwhile, ARC an external collection company started sending me letters to my previous home address that i had to pay..£ 165 now...
It's more than obvious that THIS is the policy of the LA Fitness Club as I have just met 2 other people that they've simply faced exactly the same problem and a few more that they were very unhappy with the services leaving LA for other gym clubs.
So, pls BEWARE of the LA FItness Club - and their contracts in particular - by just NOT being a member of it. I was recently informed that they face huge financial problems as the most of the members they have run away.
I think they deserve to get a useful lesson.
Pls, do not hesitate to contact me.

Dear All
I can confirm that when I complained to La Fitness re broken gym equipment and a 2nd annual increase in 7 months, They reacted by sending in the heavie's (arc an external collection agency) I will end up paying. But it feels like theft. La fitness are BAD BAD BAD.

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