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Ask The Readers: Evaluating a Gym Membership

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A few years back, I had a gym membership. I always wanted a place where I can go and lift some weights do a little treadmiling... you know the stuff that I don't nearly write often enough over at Lazy Man and Health. When my wife and I moved into my current apartment complex I noticed that they had a free gym. It's not great, but it has 3 cardio machines and a couple of weight stations.

I always considered that gym I currently have a great value until this past weekend when my wife coerced me to go to her gym. She wanted me to try her Body Pump class (read my Body Pump review). It was probably the best workout I've had in months. (My body isn't shy about reminding me of that with every move I make).

The experience got me thinking, "What are the advantages and disadvantages of paying for a gym over the free one I have?" I made up these two lists. Maybe you can tell me if I missed something.

Pros of a Gym Membership

  • Forced Workouts - If I'm paying for a gym, I'm going to want to get my money's worth
  • Superior Equipment - I like elliptical trainers (low impact), but that's not an option at my free gym. Everything is upgraded.
  • Free of Distractions - When go to my close gym, I sometimes have a idea that I get too excited about. Sure I can bring a pen and paper and write it down, but the excitement of the idea is often greater than the excitement of the workout. If I'm at the paid membership, I'm far enough away to not to be tempted to come back.
  • Classes - I really think the Body Pump class could put me in good shape. As my wife says, it's a lot like a personal trainer. Once you are there, you are going to do the workout.
  • Motivation - There are always a few people in tremendous shape at the gym. That reminder to see what I'm working towards is a bonus.

Cons of a Gym Membership

  • Cost - I don't need to explain this one...
  • Potential Commitment - I don't know if the gym is going to work out for me, but memberships often make you commit for a long term before you've had a month or two see if you are going to stick to it.
  • Inconvenience - This is the tang to the "free of distractions" above... I can get to my gym in about 3 minutes. I could do so circuit training and get a decent exercise in around 20 minutes. I would mention that going to the gym in the winter would be a hassle, but with mild winters in Northern California, it really isn't that bad. It's not like it was in Boston where there are days you just don't leave the house if you don't have to.

In the end, I think this is going to be a tough personal choice to make. It's hard to say what the right move is - it depends on pricing. If the gym is $100/mo., I don't think it's going to be worth it to me. If it's $10/mo., it's a no-brainer. My wife pays $29/mo., but I'm not sure they'd extend the same rate to me as she's been there for two years. On the other hand, perhaps I benefit from a family plan and get a good deal. I'll have to look in to details and see if the devil is in there.

Posted on November 17, 2008.

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17 Responses to “Ask The Readers: Evaluating a Gym Membership”

  1. Craig says:

    Your wife is getting a great deal on the gym and I can almost guarantee they would match the membership price for her. They want to add a new customer and once signed up are almost a guarantee to continue over time. With that price I don’t think there are any cons to belonging to a gym. The price is right, if location is fine then stick with it. there are so many benefits you gain from belonging to a gym

    The location actually can work as a con for the free gym. Since it’s only 3 minutes to get there, that means it’s only 3 minutes to get back. Mentally it could have a negative affect and force you to become lazy and stop a workout short just to get back to your apt.

    Craig
    http://www.budgetpulse.com

  2. guinness416 says:

    I’d add to superior equipment, range of equipment. It’s hard to get bored when there’s so many free weights, types of benches, machines and cardio options. And hell, even people around you giving you ideas for bodyweight exercises. A big plus for my husband is use of the steam room (and as he showers at the gym every day, we save on water too). Not running into your neighbours in the condo gym would probably be a pro in your case too.

    And I’d add salespeople to the cons – it can be exhausting fending off offers of training, “fitness tests”, upgraded memberships, etc all the time.

    Negotiate hard! Gym membership people are scumbags, but they do want to sign you up. I got my current place down from $36/mo to $299 cash (ie no providing them with credit card details) for the year.

  3. Lazy Man says:

    Craig, I agree with the leaving the gym too early. That’s what I was getting at with the free from distractions in the Pros.

    Guinness416, you are right about the range of equipment. I meant that as well when I said that my free gym doesn’t have elliptical trainers. I probably should have worded it better or used the phrase superior selection and quality of equipment.

    I don’t mind running into my condo neighbors. Since I work from home, I haven’t run into that problem yet.

  4. CJ says:

    Does your wife’s gym have a guest policy? If they allow you to bring the same person over and over as a guest then there’s no point in you having a separate membership, unless you guys work out at different times. I’d also look into a family membership.

  5. Lazy Man says:

    I got to use the gym membership as a guest on Saturday, but I think we only get a couple of guest passes.

  6. Miss M says:

    I went through the same sort of pro/con analysis a few months ago and decided to go for it. I knew keeping healthy and fit was important to me, but I wasn’t doing anything about it. I wasn’t thrilled about spending money on a membership but didn’t have a lot of free alternatives. My gym is $30/month and doesn’t have contracts, you can quit at any time. Here is what I wrote Money and Values Series ““ Joining a Gym. Let us know what you decide Lazy Man.

  7. Karen says:

    @guiness416

    Honey do not let your man shower at the gym! He is going to pick up plantar warts, fungi, and other bacteria and viruses on his feet and you’ll get them too if you share the same bed! Gross!!!

  8. DollarDream$ says:

    $30 per month with no contract ! You guys are lucky!

    This post is just in time for my dilemma about gym membership. Between me and my wife, we pay $145 / month for the gym! (Welcome to Connecticut). We are also stuck in one year contract.I know the charges are ridiculous; however I see some advantages – 1) It is one minute drive from my apartment. I already drive 42 miles one way to work every day and the last thing I want to do is drive 10 mins to go to the gym after I come home in the evening. 2) The equipments are brand new, state of the art, they also have nice flat screen TVs. 3) They have lots of classes like pilates, yoga, aqua exercises, group cycling etc included in the membership fees. 4) We wanted to some people since we recently moved to the area, my wife ended up meeting 2 good friends.

    Since both of us are trying to lose few pounds, for a while I am willing to pay this high price. But next year, I am planning to jog outside and quit the gym for at least 6 months. Being a single income family (no kids – YET), we can’t afford to pay $145 per month for the gym all the time.

  9. Lazy Man says:

    I lived in Boston where I paid $45/mo for membership. There were gyms that charged $145/month for a couple of people (actually where the Celtics practiced it was around $145 for one person), but I simply chose not to give them my business – I don’t need the state of the art.

    I don’t know if I’ll get the $30 rate and my wife surely didn’t get that when she first signed up (closer to $50 and two-year contract).

  10. guinness416 says:

    Heh, thanks for the concern Karen. Fear not! He’s more squeamish than I and his delicate wee feet never directly touch any floor surfaces. A decade of fungus-free gym going so far! But yes, add flip-flops to your gym budget lazy man.

  11. I have a gym in my condo, but what I really found useful is my Yoga class at a local community college, the Miami-Dade Community College, for those who are in Miami.

    I swear, people who teach Yoga at the MDCC, Miami, FL at about $10 per class, give me a value at least the same as $1000-per-workshop Yoga retreat. The motivation, the inspiration, the workout..

    I just feel so uplifted and I am not even a believer. Ask me, it is boring, I can’t do it on my own at home, if someone doesn’t lead me.. but with a teacher each week, I am motivated to do my very best…

  12. I have a gym on the top floor of my building, it’s free, and I STILL don’t use it regularly. I guess I just haven’t gotten to that point where I’m committing to going every other day or something.

  13. Neko says:

    In the end, paying for a gym membership probably provides you with better value since the free gym is most likely very small and cramped, stocked full of older un-maintained equiptment, and lacks knowledgable staff to help you.

    Personally, I dish out $30 a month to use my local 24 Hour Fitness and even if I just go once a week I feel as if I get my moneys worth since they have trained staff, new equiptment, hot tub and sauna, and free towel service!

    – Neko

  14. You don’t need a gym membership.

    I think people need to do whatever fits their lifestyle goals. I have a membership at 24 hour fitness but rarely go. Instead I like to workout at home with a pull up bar and some dumbbells.

    It’s just much more convenient for me.

    :)

  15. Brandon says:

    I have a free gym at my work, but instead I pay $40/month (cdn) for a real gym membership for exactly the same reasons you wrote about.

    As for the cost … it’s a small price to pay for a longer, healthier life

  16. Lin says:

    The timing for this post couldn’t be better, as I’m also trying to decide if a gym membership is worthwhile.

    Since I really don’t need to spend another dollar to work out (I do own new running shoes, all the clothes, an MP3 player and running is free), I wonder if “getting fit” isn’t just a matter of straight laziness. I COULD get up a tiny little bit earlier every morning and run before work.

    OR, I could go to the local community gym: half-decent machines and only 4 blocks away. However, I had the chance to try a beautiful downtown gym two weeks ago, and it was great to be able to break up the work day with a run. It was downright enjoyable, in fact. However, the price tag is ridiculous: it’s close to $100/month if I signed up for a month-to-month membership for 6 months. The salesperson was reluctant to give me absolute dollar terms, and now that I know what they’re asking, I can see why. They really push for the annual membership. This comes in at $1001 for 12 months. I’m told I SAVE if I sign up for 24 months. But wait, that’s not all – it’s not enough to sign me up for a grand, it also seemed important to sign me up for personal training on top of it.

    A prudent consumer would set the alarm clock for 30 mins earlier and run around the neighborhood. Me? I think I’ll go for the community centre: $5/visit.

  17. Gypsie says:

    First, I work part time at a gym as a Group Exercise Instructor so my and my family’s memberships are free as well as i get paid for my work there.
    But for me the big draw to a gym is the group exercise classes. I cannot seem to motivate myself to work hard enough when i am by myself. Put me in a group environment and I will work out harder and longer. I will always be willing to pay for a gym that offers a lot of group exercise classes!

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