Tuesday Tips: Gym Memberships

Who wants to lose some weight, get a little firm and look decent in a bathing suit? Who doesn't? Joining a gym these days kinda goes against my family's goal of saving money this year since gym memberships can be pretty pricey. But I recently spoke with Robert Krughoff, editor of Washington Checkbook magazine, about the best way to get a good deal on joining a gym.

Tip #1: Think about free exercise. The best way to save money on a fitness club is not to join it. Ask yourself if there's any kind of fitness you will do without the financial commitment of a club. Several sports only require the cost of the equipment such as running, biking and organized sports teams.

Tip #2: If you think joining a fitness center is the way to go, look into government facilities. Many offer large weight rooms, as well as tennis courts, racquetball courts and swimming pools. And most of them also offer three- or six-month commitments rather than the whole year that is often required of private clubs.

Tip #3: Never join a club that doesn't let you try it out for a few days. And use the trial during the hours that you think you will probably go if you were a member. That way you'll be able to judge how big the crowds are at that time. "The trial period would be a way to decide whether you want a club at all," Krughoff adds. "It's also a way to decide if you like that club."

Tip #4: Shop around. Private fitness clubs such as Gold's Gym and Bally Total Fitness have wide-ranging membership fees. And Krughoff recommends shopping around by phone because then you're more of a remote prospect for the club.

Tip #5: Check the clubs' Web sites for deals. At this time of year many will waive their start-up fees or they'll offer one month free if you commit to a certain period.

Tip #6: Krughoff says it never hurts to tell the fitness clubs that you're considering that you're also looking at their competitors. You may want to tell them about a better deal that another club is offering. It could force the club to match their price.

Tip #7: Don't pay for what you're not going to use. Clubs with things like swimming pools and tennis courts will be more expensive. And if you don't plan to use those things, you may want to look for something smaller. "Consider gyms that have what you want and you're not spending money on things you won't use," Krughoff says.

Tip #8: Find out what the club's rules are when it comes to cancelling and if you can sell your membership or freeze it. Look for clubs that will let you cancel within at least 15 days. See if the club will let you freeze it over the spring months when you'd rather exercise outside.

Gym deals:

Gold's Gym is waiving its $99.99 enrollment fee. So you pay a $19.99 administrative fee and then $56.99 a month with a two-year commitment.

Washington Sports Club is also waiving its joining fee. Its cheapest membership is $64 a month with a one-year commitment.

Bally Total Fitness will let you buy a 30-day trial membership for $19. Then the club tailors its membership fees according to lifestyle and goals.

Sport & Health is also waiving its enrollment fee and then like Bally, each club tailors its membership fees to the customer.

Montgomery County sells memberships for use of its weight and exercise rooms. County residents pay $150 for a year or $90 for six months or $65 for three months. Non-residents pay $165 for a year, $110 for six months or $85 for three months.

Prince George's County has 12-month memberships for its Fairland Sports and Aquatics Complex in Laurel for $205, six-month memberships for $150 and three-month memberships for $90. The fitness center at the Prince George's Sports & Learning Complex in Landover ranges between $36 and $66 per month depending on where you live and whether you want access to the aquatic center or the fitness center or both.

Arlington County offers one-year memberships for its fitness centers for $170 for residents and $485 for non-residents.

Fairfax County is having a sale on its leisure fitness passes for its nine fitness centers. A 12-month membership is $502 until February 14.

Where do you work out? Have you found any good deals on gym memberships lately? Post a comment below.

By Tania Anderson |  January 20, 2009; 12:00 AM ET Tuesday Tips
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Definitely check out Fitness First. They have lots of locations in the Maryland and VA area, great aerobics and cycle classes, and the prices are very reasonable. The equipment is always updated and the managers, instructors and staff are excellent. No, I don't work for them but have been a member off and on for over 10 years. I've also tried other gyms but keep coming back to FF.

Posted by: caroleplato | January 20, 2009 7:47 AM

"Several sports only require the cost of the equipment such as running, biking and organized sports teams"

Good point, except a bicycle that you can actually ride will cost at least $600-700, so let's not go overboard.

Other than that, your tips are dead on the mark. One other thing to check out, Fitness First offers deals to employees of certain government agencies, so you'll end up paying less than $300 a year if you shop and bargain well. $300 is a good deal, considering that if you bought just one piece of equipment for home, it would take you years to pay back.

Finally, only join if you're actually going to go. No use paying even $10 for a gym if you never go. It's a waste of money.

Posted by: Ombudsman1 | January 20, 2009 8:50 AM

My daughter was able to get a membership at Gold's in Fairfax (Burke Centre) for $39.99 per month with the $19.99 administrative fee. I need to check whether it is because she is a student, but if that is available to anyone it is a pretty good deal, especially since it is about a 2 minute drive or 10 minute walk from my house.

Posted by: skipper7 | January 20, 2009 9:10 AM

Try not to buy an entire year at a time.

For me, if I pay for something up front I'm likely to use it for awhile then slack off.

If I pay every month I remember better that I'm paying for it and make more effort to get my monies worth out of it.

Posted by: RedBird27 | January 20, 2009 1:19 PM

I agree about Fitness First. It's not as fancy as some of the others, but it really does have everything the average person needs. And at $62 a month for two people, it's not a budget breaker.

Posted by: gburggal | January 20, 2009 2:28 PM

Commute by bike.

Posted by: HardyW | January 20, 2009 7:40 PM

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