The Dreaded Gym Contract

Don't let a silver-tongued gym rep sucker you into a bogus contract you can't get out of. Consider these cost-saving points before signing anything!

May 16, 2013

By Frank Hoffmann

We all know someone who’s been there and perhaps we’ve been there ourselves: trapped within the web of a gym contract. Countless news stories, articles, blogs and forums have sprung up addressing the issue of gyms ripping off their members. I too was a victim back in 1998 when one of Canada’s largest fitness franchises robbed me of nearly $200. Since that time, I refuse to sign a contract with any gym.

Most people don’t have the luxury of having an independent hardcore gym in their neighborhood that is in the business of getting people jacked, not ripping them off. The majority of us are forced to join one of those franchise health clubs where capitalism rules over fitness. Once they lock you into a contract and have your banking or credit card information, they make it extremely difficult to cancel and that’s when the money starts to mysteriously disappear from your account. The best way to avoid your own gym horror story is to go month-to-month or pay for your gym membership upfront in cash. This is easier said than done.

I’ve never seen a gym advertise an all cash membership rate. Typically, a 12-month membership will cost anywhere from $360-$600+ a year with no payment options other than automatic withdrawal. New members are usually so gung-ho about the idea of getting into shape that they will gladly hand over a credit card or void check without really thinking about the consequences or even thoroughly read through the contract terms and conditions. Gyms pray on this motivation, especially when January rolls around. The truth of the matter is that 50% of all new members quit within the first six months of joining and a large percentage of those quitters fail to cancel their memberships once automatic renewal time comes around. Health clubs aren’t concerned whether or not you actually workout, they just want you to pay as long as possible. You will undoubtedly encounter some resistance when demanding to pay for a year’s membership upfront in cash or go month-to-month, but stay strong. I’ve been paying cash for my gym memberships for over 12 years now, but it didn’t come easy. I’ve included some advice to avoid the dreaded gym contract:

1) Be aggressive and don’t be afraid to negotiate price and length of your membership. If they don’t accept your offer, walk away and bring your business elsewhere.

2) There is strength in numbers so try and join with a friend, spouse or colleague. You’ll strengthen your negotiating power and you can demand a group discount.

3) Newer gyms will give you the least resistance and let you pay cash or go month-to-month as long as you keep it hush-hush. Also, make nice with private gym owners and they’ll let you customize your membership.

Contracts aren’t necessarily a bad thing as long as you’re cautious. If you’re thinking of joining a gym and paying in cash is not an option, here are some tips to help protect yourself:

  • Always read the terms and conditions of the contract.

  • There is usually a 7-10 day cooling off period when it comes to gym contracts. Keep this in mind during your first week.

  • If you choose to cancel your gym membership, do so in writing, get a cancellation receipt from the gym and inform your bank or credit card company.

  • Get in the habit of checking your monthly credit card and banking statements for any discrepancies.

Gyms have gotten a bad rap and deservingly so, but with some due diligence and a pocket full of cash, you can easily avoid becoming another statistic in the ever growing pool of ripped off gym members.

Frank Hoffmann is a former NCAA and Professional CFL football player from Toronto, whose passion for health and fitness stems from his years as a personal trainer. Frank works as a freelance fitness and lifestyle writer while holding down a nine to five job and believes having a full-time job is no excuse to not be fit. Check out his fitness blog at and follow him on Twitter at @Nine2Fit.