Why you shouldn't join the gym this January

Want to get fit for less this year? Well, unless you're 100% sure you'll go at least a couple of times a week, don't sign up to an expensive gym contract.

Chances are you'll either get stuck with a year-long agreement that you'll have to buy your way out of if you find yourself not going regularly, or you'll simply pay through the nose for a 'flexi' deal that allows you to cancel at short notice.

Of course, the obvious solution to getting fit for less is simply to make the most of the exercise you can do for free – walking, jogging, cycling (OK, you'll have to buy trainers, a bike, a helmet but you get the idea). However, if you really do want, or need, gym facilities, there are ways of bringing down the cost.

Pay as you go

Exploring pay-as-you-go options is a good way to start. Some gyms, including those run by local authorities, still run pay-as-you-go membership, where you still have to join but can then simply pay each time you visit. Balham Leisure Centre in south-west London is one such gym.

The facilities are run by Kinetika Gyms (which run gyms for local authorities across the UK) and pay-as-you-go members pay £9.20 a time, after paying a one-off joining fee of £27.90, which includes an induction and gym programme.

Say you were to go to the gym seven times – once a week for the first month, then once a fortnight in month two and then only once in month three – you'd pay £92.30 in total for your three months of visits, or just under £13.20 a time. Compared to the monthly contract charges for the nearby Balham branch of national gym chain Fitness First, that's a pretty healthy saving of £117.70 on the total cost, or £16.80 per time.

Fitness First doesn't run a pay-as-you-go membership option. Instead, the Balham branch, which is one of Fitness First's 'fifth-tier' (read fifth- cheapest) gyms, charges £60 a month for members only wanting to tie themselves into a short-term contract. It also requires them to pay £30 for a 'Body First' joining and personal training session. So the three-month cost is £210 and a member visiting seven times would have paid £30 a visit, compared to just £13.20 for the pay-as-you-go option at Balham Leisure Centre.

Of course, the Fitness First monthly cost is fixed no matter how many times you visit – meaning the more you go, the cheaper each session gets. That said, you'd have to go more than twice as often as the example given for the price per visit to fall in line with the Balham Leisure Centre deal (16 times compared to just seven).

However, there is another way to pay as you go at the big chains that don't strictly speaking offer such membership plans. The payasugym.com website specialises in day passes and no-contract memberships for more than 2,200 gyms and 16,000 fitness classes across the UK. There's no fee to use the site; you simply buy individual passes, or bundle deals, and then the site zaps you a code to your mobile which grants you access to your choice of gym or fitness class (bypassing the need to pay a joining fee).

According to its price data, the North East region is home to the cheapest day passes, at just £4.69 on average. Wales is just behind at £4.77, and Yorkshire & Humberside at £4.88. At the other end of the price scale, Greater London is home to the most expensive passes at £6.78.

As well as being a good option for less-than-regular gym goers, PayasUgym also makes sense for people who need access to a range of locations.

Mike Essex, 40, is a happy PayasUgym-er. He works full-time for PwC as a cultural and behavioural change specialist, helping companies improve their office culture.

"My work is project based with a variety of clients, so PayasUgym is perfect as I have the flexibility of finding a gym near to my temporary work location," he explains.

Fitness is a massive part of Mike's life and he's recently been selected for the Great Britain triathlon team for the World Championships in Canada – thanks to the dedication he puts into his training during his spare time.

Check for discounts

There are other ways to save money on gym visits. For example, one insurer 'bribes' customers to get healthy. The healthier you are, the less likely you are to drop dead early and that keeps life insurance payouts down. So to get you to stay healthier for longer, PruProtect offers discounted gym membership and the healthier you can prove to be, the cheaper your premiums get. Its VitalityLife and VitalityHealth life insurance customers can get 50% off gym membership with Virgin Active (as well as up to 50% off at Evans Cycles and half price trainers at Sweatshop).

You can even use your Tesco Clubcard points to get free workouts. For £18.50's worth of Clubcard points, you can get yourself a one-month membership at one of 200 Nuffield Health gyms across the country. One happy Clubcard holder, who tried out the deal, said on the website: "I've been able to use it as a one-month taster to find out if I want to join my local Nuffield 'properly' so I really get a chance to find out what it's like at all different times of day and I can thoroughly try all the facilities.

"Even just being on a one month Tesco deal I was welcomed and treated just like a 'real' member, with time taken to show me the facility and do a training plan for me. I'd recommend this to anyone."

Go it alone

And don't forget, the gym is so last year! This year, it's all about push-ups, planks, lunges and squats. The American College of Sports Medicine has identified 'body weight training' as the major fitness trend for 2015, based on its annual survey of thousands of fitness professionals.

"It's no surprise to see body weight training claiming the top spot this year," said Walter R. Thompson, the lead author of the survey. "These kinds of exercises provide the benefit of requiring little or no equipment and are incorporated into many fitness programmes that are currently popular."

Gemma Fromage-Crawford, a personal trainer who runs Targeted Fitness in south-west London, says: "With this type of exercise, you can easily do an effective workout outside of the gym. All you need is your own body weight.

"Try burpees. Most people have a love/hate relationship with these – they hate doing them but love what they do to their body. They're a high- intensity work out that build muscle, burn calories and improve anaerobic condition."

She adds: "One of my favourites is the mountain climber – think push-up position and then running with your legs. It's great for your core and both upper and lower body strength training. It also has massive cardiovascular benefits."

Of course, the benefits of a personal trainer are obvious; getting your exercises right and having someone else to make you do them. However, sessions can easily cost £50 an hour and can seem unaffordable. However, Fromage-Crawford says there are ways to keep costs down.

"If you're short on cash, you can go and see a personal trainer for a short block to get you into a habit. You can then go it alone.

"Some people find they like sessions three times a week but, of course, this is expensive, so maybe try once a week, or just once a month for a general kick up the bum, technique check or new workout plan."

Cancelling your gym membership

You should always cancel your gym membership in writing and keep a copy of the letter. You should also send the letter recorded delivery so you have proof of when you sent it and can find out whether the gym has received it or not. And don't forget
to cancel your direct debit but remember you are legally obliged to pay for remaining months on your contract.

The Office of Fair Trading has clamped down on gyms using unfair contracts to make it hard for members to cancel them. If the terms you signed are unfair, you may be able to force the gym to let you cancel without penalty.
According to Citizens Advice, your contract could be unfair if:

  • it automatically renews your contract without your permission
  • it says your cancellation is not valid until you receive a confirmation letter from your gym
  • it sets a minimum contract term that is more that one year
  • the terms are unclear or not in plain English , it says that gyms will not be liable for death or personal injury, or for loss or damage to property.

The £5 gym

There is one new gym on the block offering such a competitive deal it could even work out for infrequent gym-goers.

Knock-down price sports retailer Sports Direct is aiming to shake up the gym industry. Led by Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley, the company is launching a chain of 200 budget gyms across the UK costing from £5 a month.

Customers pay a £10 joining fee and adding fitness classes to the membership ups the monthly fee to £8 – still significantly cheaper than prices at the big gym chains.

The flagship 20,000 square foot site opened in Aintree, Merseyside, in December, with another due to open in Keyleigh, West Yorkshire this month.

A spokesman for Sports Direct said: "Our gym memberships will offer fantastic value for money in the same way that our customers have come to expect from our retail outlets and our website. This will be affordable fitness on an unprecedented scale."

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I am not sure what Gyms that others use but for £26 per month I have use of a gym and facilities for swimming as many times as I like. The Gym opens at 07.30 and the Pool at 8.00 an ideal way to start the day. This is at the local Tempus Leisure run 'Ships And Castles' in Falmouth, Cornwall. Another benefit to living in a beautiful part of the country.