Why I Don't Have A Gym Membership

While I was at the Velocity conference in San Jose, I spent daily time in the very well equipped gym at the Fairmont Hotel (at the urging of the ultra fit Mike Brunt). In a few short days of daily regular exercise, I could feel the difference. Returning back to Raleigh-Durham, I thought I'd go get a Gym membership and make regular workouts part of my daily life.

I decided one reason I was a faithful attender of the hotel gym was its proximity to my room. I could be in the gym in 2 minutes, so I figured whatever gym I chose back home should have reasonable proximity to my house. Luckily, there were two well equipped gyms within a 3 mile radius. I set out to visit each.

Between the two gyms, there was no real difference. One was 1 mile from the house, but older. The other was 3 miles from the house but newer. In the end, I could have cared less which. Both would work.

The sticking point came to the contract. A Gym contract is a lot like a cell phone contract or like buying a used car. For some reason a gym really really wants you to sign a year long contract, with checking account auto-draft and littered with all sorts of strange clauses compounding the difficulty in fulfilling the terms of the contract. For example, auto-draft. I'd rather not pass over my checking account information to a gym so they can take money out whenever they want. I use credit cards because there is liability protection. A checking account is real money! Secondly, there was a proximity clause stating I could cancel the contract if I moved 30 miles from the gym. The proximity clause was the deal-breaker.

Proximity Clause, you ask?

In the contract is clause stating you can get out of your contract if you move 30 miles from the gym. Frankly, Shannon and I have been actively looking for houses since February and there is a fair percentage we'll actually find something we like and want to live in. This process could take a few more months, or might not happen at all (I hear the economy sucks). I've not wanted to use the 'we are house shopping' as Yet Another Reason To Avoid Going To The Gym, but the fact of the matter is, moving is on the table and our target area is about 20 miles away.

Should we end up moving, we'd be expected to still attend the gym (or at least, keep paying for it). Frankly, I'm very uninterested in driving 20 miles in the wrong direction through traffic for a gym. So what do I do? They did offer me a 'month to month' membership for 3 times the cost, but my health really isn't worth 90$ monthly, now is it? So I'm stuck. Is this a normal gym membership experience? Do I have options?

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7/8/09 7:27 PM # Posted By Aaron Lynch

Sounds like it's time for a home gym. I would love to ditch my membership and build a pimpin' home gym.

7/8/09 7:27 PM # Posted By Critter

*cough* P90X *cough*

7/8/09 7:52 PM # Posted By JulesLt

I'd agree on the point that it needs to be close, or ideally in, your home, and to be honest I had far better results from a bike, a set of adjustable weights and an exercise ball at home, than I ever had from 3-4 years of gym membership.

What is hugely interesting is that they all focus of selling membership over pay-as-you-go usage - it tells you a lot about the business model of gyms (i.e. please sign up and don't come back).

7/8/09 7:57 PM # Posted By Matt Williams

I go back and forth on this myself. You don't really need a gym or any equipment to stay fit. For general fitness there are plenty of things you can do at home (push-ups, ab workouts, etc.) and/or around your neighborhood (walk, run, bike, etc.).

If you're looking to build major muscle mass, then either a home gym or membership is needed. The one advantage I see to having a gym membership is that if I'm paying a monthly fee I am more motivated to workout regularly.

7/8/09 8:13 PM # Posted By Joe Rinehart

I definitely get more exercise on bikes than anywhere else, but I do need to weight train as well, but couldn't bring myself to go to the HOA's gym that's about 2 minutes away. Last fall I picked up a used Soloflex on Craigslist for like $100 and love it. It's in my garage, which makes it convenient enough that I actually use it...I basically just get up 30 minutes early three days a week. Ray (Camden)'s gone a similar route (working out at home), but he got a shiny new Bowflex.


7/8/09 8:18 PM # Posted By Phil Duba

Dan, that's pretty much all my experiences with gyms. There's also in the fine print in some that you have to give 90 days notice to cancel your membership, even if you are doing month-to-month or have a "no-term" contract, that got me.

7/8/09 8:31 PM # Posted By David

Hi Dan - the barriers you cite are the ones that stop most people from joining a gym. As someone who bounces from regularly active to lethargy many times a year, I'd like to share some thoughts: (disclaimer, I work in the health/fitness industry)

1) If you need to sign a contract, make sure it's for a lower cost gym (example, planet fitness: http://www.planetfitness.com/loc.asp?s=NC )
Yeah, contracts, EFT's suck, but it's a part of the industry.

2) Start slow - Most people, to get moderately active need three 60 minute aerobic workouts a week. I'm sure there's a perfectly good road right outside your door. Invest in a pair of decent running shoes and you'll be on the right track.

3) Is your health worth $90 a month? Yeah, it probably is. Both in actual money terms and quality of life. However, you don't need to pay that amount. Here in CT there are any number of gyms (decent to good quality) that I can join for <$25/month, I'd be surprised if it wasn't the same where you are.

4) Check with your employer (if are not self employed) and insurance company to see if they have any subsidies for gym membership.

Best of luck


7/8/09 10:25 PM # Posted By count_schemula

Gyms are awful. I loved working out, I hated the gym. The contracts are the worst that I know of in any industry. I was able to sign up in 2 minutes, it took months to get out of that mess. Never again. If at all possible, buy a set of dumbbells in assorted weights, and a good adjustable bench. Even if you needed to buy an elliptical, it would still be worth it. Gym memberships are like voluntarily signing up for hell.

7/8/09 10:49 PM # Posted By Alex

Good points by @David. You pretty much have to decide for yourself whether you need and want to use a commercial gym. If you decide to go with that, you do have options; but you're smart to be careful. I've been wary of gym contracts after seeing friends go through hell with them. Even some HOAs will try to get you into lock-in contracts with supplemental gym fees. In recent years, several places around here have had run-ins with the friendly local TV investigative reporting team and the state attorney general.

I had a good experience at Planet Fitness. It's bare-bones. No pool, no aerobics classes, no massages. If you're not going to use those, why pay for them? The lowest level membership was $10/month and a $10 annual fee and no lock-in contract.

I've since switched to the YMCA. It's full-service and the cost is more like a regular gym; but they're a non-profit and they don't play gotcha with contracts. I was a little apprehensive because of their religious mission, but I haven't had anyone proselytize me yet.

7/12/09 8:07 PM # Posted By fuzie

We got stung by the proximity clause once. We moved X miles away, but they said it wasn't "per the drive" it was "as the crow flies". They then proceeded to send a lawyer after me. Needless to say, I had a "no gym" policy from that point onward. Until.. more and more gyms around here started offering contracts with no set periods of time. You pay first and last month up front, and you give 30-day written notice prior to cancellation. Of course, you pay a tad higher of a monthly fee than those who sign themselves into 6 months, 1 yr, 2 yrs... but to me it's worth it. The extra money I'd pay over the course of a year doesn't come close to what I'd pay for a broken contract or what I'd pi$$ away if it no longer became convenient to use the gym. I'm currently a member of L.A. Fitness and LOVE it.

7/12/09 8:10 PM # Posted By fuzie

(And I don't pay $90 a month. Yikes. Would never for any gym. I do pay that to be a dojo member when I'm active in karate, tho. But that's a whole diff ball of wax, imo.)

7/12/09 9:39 PM # Posted By Jose Galdamez

A few months ago I decided to avoid dealing with gym club contracts and ended up buying a membership at the local community center instead. For $125 a year, I can use their gym any day Monday through Saturday. The hours are a bit restrictive (have to be out by 8:30pm and they close early on Saturdays), but I'm willing to live with that as there is no fine print to deal with.

7/14/09 6:44 PM # Posted By David Henry

Best exercise program: trees, chainsaw, axe, and a house w/ wood stove.

If you lack any of those, you can come visit my house 3x/week. No contracts to sign and I have several axes, no waiting ;)

Remember kids, wood heat is carbon neutral!

7/16/09 7:19 AM # Posted By Derrick Grigg

Running shoes, 5 mile run 3x a week. Burpees on the off days. Doesn't matter where you are or what's close by, it always works and it's free.

7/30/09 6:23 PM # Posted By wan

I find that exercise helps all body parts for those who can exert little

8/6/09 6:13 AM # Posted By Zach

Go ahead and sign up. When you are ready to cancel just find another Dan Wilson > 30 miles away(I hear they are common) and get their electric bill to send to the company.

8/9/09 4:19 PM # Posted By Nathania

The city of Raleigh has fitness areas at many of their community centers. It's only $10-$15 a month, no contracts. Plus, many of them have walking trails, tennis courts, basketball courts, atheletic fields, etc. at little to no cost.

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