How To Avoid Gym Membership Rip-Offs

Running at the fitness clubGyms are always eager to sign you up to long-term contracts, but often don't go out of their way to explain the terms and conditions or how you can end the deal. Here's how to avoid getting ripped off.

The fitness industry has a reputation for the hard sell, built in large part on its insistence on a contract model rather than a pay-as-you-go approach. This clip from an episode of Friends sums up the problem: signing up is easy, but getting out of a long-term contract is hard:

Australian gyms might not always use such extreme persuasive tactics, but a recent study by Choice suggests that they aren't going out of their way to properly inform consumers either. Many gyms insist on a personal visit to cancel a contract, even though often there's no legislative basis for that; it should be possible to cancel your membership over the phone or in writing once the original contract finishes.

In an anonymous "shadow shop" of nine Sydney gyms, Choice encountered high-pressure sales tactics at several chains, but found the most pushy sales techniques at Fitness First. A big problem at all the gyms was a lack of firm information on costs:

Some had printed prices, others handwritten only, but ultimately all seemed to have flexibility in the discounts and incentives they offered. Costs such as joining and administration fees were magically waived or halved as an incentive for our shadow shoppers to sign up.

Getting a good deal from a gym is no different to most other buying experiences: find out what's on offer, compare prices, and think carefully. Don't succumb to on-the-spot buying tactics. In the current market, the odds that you won't be able to "secure a spot" are non-existent. Make sure you know what arrangements are in place to cancel or suspend membership.

Choice also notes that once a contract period is over, you can cancel any direct debit arrangements without having to inform the gym. However, this tactic shouldn't be used while a membership is still active, as it could be deemed as a breach of contract.

Got your own tactics for not getting conned by the local exercise emporium? Share your wisdom in the comments.

Unfair gym contracts [CHOICE]

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    Fitness First = Women's' only????

    Re. "found the most pushy sales techniques at female-only chain Fitness First" - it's not female-only. But definitely pushy.

    tell them you don't like their prices and tell them what you're willing to pay. saved me $149

    I go to a fitness first gym and its not female only - They wouldnt have let me join otherwise!

      D'oh! I guess I'll blame jetlag for that one. Fixed now.

    I've been a member at my gym for 10 years, and they only call me when my membership is due. They never call to say "hey, we haven't seen you here in a while." or to encourage me to use the gym.

    (I know it's my fault. I should cancel my membership)

    As someone that works in the fitness industry (I'm a personal trainer myself), here's a little bit of advice I hope you find useful? Avoid the big chains unless you really really can't use anyone else - yeah you might be able to join up and yeah you might be able to get a deal of sorts, but once you're hooked and you find you can't use the gym equipment 'cause there's a billion other people waiting for the same equipment...that deal doesn't look so sweet after all! Again, if you need to join the chains, go when it's super busy (6.30am - 7.30am and 5.00 - 6.30pm) to guage how much of a nightmare this might be for you? Smaller independant gyms work better for people usually - and they're much more willing to be flexible with their rates. Just make sure you ask for what you want, else you're not going to get! Joining fees are a wank - it's just cream for the commission, but everyone's entitled to a fair commission if they answer your questions fairly and honestly (think of the joining fee as a tip - and don't be toooo generous either!). Make sure you don't hand over more than 3 month's dough at any one time though - too many gyms have gone tits up without any notice to their clients! Anyhoo, I'm about to watch Lie To Me so I'll end it here. And if you REALLY want to get results - just get a PT and be done with it! In EVERY SINGLE CASE of someone starting to train with with me (can't talk for every other PT out there!), but they ALL got better results quicker than when they spunked their money up the wall with basic gym membership. Just a thought ;) cheers all! Nathan

      Great reply. It's so true that most people see better results and a more $ effective path by seeking a personal trainer, but finding a good one is the issue. The training schools out there teach some great things, but they don't teach good time management, and many don't turn up half the time, despite the money spent.

    My own similar experiences led me to start up the Gym Alliance and to offer Gym Passport. We don’t lock people into a contract and there are no pushy sales or hidden fees. We offer a network of over 70 quality independently owned clubs in 4 cities around Australia. I think I can safely say that gym goers now have an alternative to the big chains.

    Once your initial 12 months is up with Fitness First they will begin to increase your monthly fees by $5 (they do this once or twice a year)

    To make it worse, if you want to cancel your membership you aren't allowed to resign with fitness first for another 3 months

    I started paying $60 per month with FF, I am now 12-18 months out of the initial 12 month period and paying $75 per month

    Whatever you do, DON'T JOIN BODYWIZE, or atleast don't sign a contract with them. They have withdrawn a large sum of money out of my account without my authorisation and now won't return my phone calls.

    Whatever you do be careful when joining fitness first.

    I signed up to this gym last year, and the woman was ever so lovely and helpful when I first joined...

    They stated that FF was like being part of a big family and that if anything was to ever go wrong they were here as my backup system.

    She pretty much hinted to them paying my membership if ever in financial hardship.

    After I joined the gym, I saw that woman around and she didn't even say Hello to me anymore.

    They are in the business to make money... not to help people.

    The worst thing though, was when I eventually had to move away from the area in which there was a FF...

    I rang them and told them that I had to relocate and that I was not going to travel the 1.5 hours 4 times a week to go the gym... as I didn't have the money, time or petrol funds.

    The woman then got iffy and told me that I had to pay $300 to leave the gym (this is after I had been told at the beginning of the year that it was free to leave if I wasn't within suitable range of a FF club.)

    There are so many underlying things with this company.

    Do not join!!!

    New chain called Jetts Fitness popping up everywhere, no contracts, 24/7 and memberships are $35 per month.

    We now have a solution to the big chain rip merchants people!

      Looking at this jetts fitness site it states - $21.95 per fortnight plus $1.50 per transaction plus $99 joining fee plus a card fee of $29. That totals $738 a year = 61.47 per month. NOT much different to many other clubs for a 12 months contract or deal.

    Genesis are the same. They wont let me cancel at all. I have had 3 visits, and for each time the manager is not in the office!! I hope there is some kind of review into this kind of practise

      GENESIS ARE SCUM. I have had trouble at two genesis fitness now. They took more money from me when my account was on freeze then they should have, i have had endless amount of phone calls and emails conveniently disappeared or never return my phone calls. Even the owner of the gym told me he would get back to me and didnt. Came to the point if i didnt pay then there would be debt collectors after me because they wouldnt own up to their mistakes or even be willing to compromise

      Only other gym i have been a member at was fitness first and my experience with them was exceptional. I have also just used them as a one off guest pass a number of times when travelling and when in between contracts and they have never been pushy, actually most of them haven't even followed up which is terrible sales for them

      I have a gym with work now but i think if i was to sign up with any gym now it would be anytime fitness, at least if you move a lot like i do you have no problem moving to a new club.

        GENESIS - RINGWOOD is the worst FITNESS CENTER I have ever joined.
        I do not recommend at all anyone to join with GENESIS - RINGWOOD.
        GENESIS is merely after MONEY. they charge you UNETHICALLY.
        I recommend FITNESS FIRST...

    Fitness First - pushy and sneaky. As the Choice quote says, they have pretend fees that magically disappear "as a special just for you at this time". A ridiculous $150 membership fee to join is "waived", leaving you to pay the other nonsense admin fee of ONLY $70. Gee aren't I lucky and special. An outrageous $220 has been reduced down to just 70. Then pay 29 bucks a week on top. Even if you decide after a couple of weeks this is not for you, you are still up for $240 bucks (70 + 2 weeks, PLUS one month because you have to give a months notice on their oh so flexible monthly plan) That is one place I won't join. I wanna be fit, but I am already not stupid thanks. I don't want to trade muscles for brains.

      My son joined My Gym last September. He has bad gout in his feet and some weird rash and wanted to cancel his membership. No point in suspending it, as the gout comes and goes. Gout is a very painful thing. So,eti,ex it is so bad he can't even let a bed sheet be on his foot, never mind a shoe. And exercise makes it worse. We got a doctor's medical certificate to prove he has gout, but the gym still won't accept canceling his membership. This is ridiculous. They will be taking. Knew our of his account for another 6 months, unless he wants to pay the full amount they would get from him for a year. It's all abou money these days. The human race makes me sick. Is there anything we can do? Do we have a case for cancellation?

    Dear Stuart Grover,
    Can you give me more details about Gym Alliance? This sounds quite good. I was a former proprietor of two gyms in Sydney. Now back into PT & have had some disappointing situations regarding rent policies & DON'T want to get trapped again. I have clients that were willing to follow me but we need a good setup without the costly rent fees of let say $350 + per week. I also had a mentor taking $40 out of my $90 then I had rent @ the last gym I was working out of. I was basically going broke . I would love to hear more about GA. ASAP lol
    Thx Angela

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