Ah, January. The month when the nation’s gyms are full of red-faced newbies looking confused on the cross-trainer or baffled by the battle ropes.
According to new research by American Express, the most popular New Year’s resolution for 2017 is to achieve a healthier lifestyle, with a third (33 per cent) of Britons planning to exercise more and a further 30 per cent hoping to eat healthier.
This commitment to physical wellbeing ranks ahead of saving money which 28 per cent of respondents cited as their New Year resolution. The two rarely go hand in hand – if you splash out on membership of a big fancy gym, losing lbs generally equates to spending the other type of pounds.
At this point I was planning to tell you how much David Lloyd club membership costs each month then compare it to the cost of something cheaper.
But the cost to join a David Lloyd club is a closely guarded secret. Using my best investigative journalist skills, I have scoured its website for membership prices but come up with nothing, zilch, nada. There’s some vague descriptions of what various membership options offer but no mention of how much cold hard cash you have to hand over. Instead you’re invited to a club for a sales pitch. Sorry, I mean a free tour.
Virgin Active is a bit more upfront about its prices: memberships start at £110 a month plus a £50 joining fee at central London clubs.
Whereas I’m sure these facilities are great, at well over a grand a year they’re pretty pricey so it’s not a commitment to be entered lightly.
If you sign up for a gym membership, it’s worth scouring the contract small print to check what would happen if want to cancel your membership. For example, you might you get injured and not able to train, or lose your job and not be able to afford gym membership anymore. Or maybe you’ll realise you’re just really lazy and throwing money away by abandoning your new fitness regime the first time someone suggests you go to the pub instead.
Unfortunately, leaving your gym can be as tricky as a muscle-up on Olympic rings if you’ve signed a contract. In many cases, you’ll have to pay for the rest of the contract whether you use the facilities or not.
The good news is that the Competition and Markets Authority and its predecessor the Office of Fair Trading have clamped down on gyms offering unfair contracts. This includes facilities selling multi-year contracts that can’t be cancelled and those who won’t let members cancel if they can’t exercise due to injury or illness, or if lose their job.
For those who don’t want to take the risk of being trapped in a hard-to-exit gym membership, there are plenty of other exercise options.
If your fitness budget is zero pounds, then the ever-popular ParkRun offers free weekly timed 5k runs in parks around the country.
If you need some gentle encouragement to get moving and like to train in a group setting, British Military Fitness costs £51 a month for unlimited boot camp style classes with a six-month minimum term, or £65 a month on a rolling monthly contract. These are the London prices – it’s cheaper elsewhere in the country with unlimited classes costing just £35 a month in Leeds.
Meanwhile, rival Swift Fitness, which operates in London and Hampshire, costs £49 a month for unlimited classes on a 30-day contract.
If you prefer working out inside, then budget gyms offer basic facilities and monthly contracts. But don’t expect swimming pools or fancy spas. Pure Gym has more than 160 gyms across the UK. Memberships start from £12.99 a month plus a £15 month joining fee with prices rising to £34.99 a month with a £20 joining fee in Central London. Another option is The Gym with memberships starting from £10.99 a month with prices varying on location – the Holborn branch costs £19.99 a month, for example.
If you don’t want to commit to a contract or just want to try out some different facilities, PayAsUGym sells pay-as-you-go passes for more than 2,000 gyms across the UK and promises to be at least 10 per cent cheaper than buying a day pass direct from the facility.
Emma Lunn is a freelance personal finance journalist