#1 Never ever ever ever sign a gym contract
Gyms are like cell phone companies, you should never ever under any circumstances sign a contract with one. Gym contracts have a reputation of being terribly anti-consumer and a quick internet search will show you more horror stories of people who wished they hadn’t signed a contract than you could possibly read.
The fundamental problem with gym contracts is that they create all the wrong incentives for a gym. Think about it this way. Who is the absolutely perfect customer for a gym that forces it’s customers to sign contracts?
The perfect customer is somebody who signs a contract, then never shows up. That way the gym gets paid for a couple of years, but never has to mess around with the expense and hassle of messing around with people using their facilities.
So a contract gym’s primary concern is getting people to sign contracts, and their employees are high pressure salespeople to make that happen.
A non-contract gym on the other hand has completely different incentives. This gym makes money by providing a great place to work out that makes people want to keep coming back to and keep paying month after month. So instead of wanting employees who are high pressure sales people, the non contract gym will want employees who provide great service to their customers.
#2 Consider your local university’s student gym
If you live in a college town, the student gym often sells memberships to alumni or locals for very decent prices. I used to work out at my local universities rec center, and it had great equipment at very reasonable prices. The only downside is I found having to overhear the conversations that teenage girls have to be an aggravating experience. Pack a set of headphones and enjoy the savings.
#3 Check with your local hospital/rehab center
Many hospitals or rehab centers have gyms for their patients to rehab in. A lot of times these gyms are open to the public and provide great equipment for reasonable prices.
#4 Make your own home gym with used equipment from Craigslist
There will always be commercials for brand new miracle home gym equipment, and there will always be people buying that stuff. Then, there will always be people who give up on that expensive equipment after a couple of uses and end up selling it for a fraction of the original price.
That is why with a little bit of searching you can almost always find exercise equipment in good condition on Craigslist. When buying, make sure to find out the exact model that is for sell so that you can search online for reviews.
The one time of year when you can’t find good deals on used equipment? January, when everybody is busy with New Year’s resolutions and the demand for this stuff exceeds the supply. During January you might have to try something else for a few weeks, but be patient and know that the supply will exceed the demand soon enough and good deals on used equipment will be return
#5 Go outside and run, walk, or bike
The absolute cheapest way to get exercise is to forget the gym entirely and just go outside and walk, run, or bike.
Unlike other equipment January is one of the best times to buy a used bicycle. Not many people go biking in the winter, but why not? As long as there is no ice or snow it is just as much fun to bicycle in the winter as any other time of the year. Just bundle up.
If walking, running, or biking doesn’t sound interesting, there are lots of ways to make it more fun. Many people wear a Fitbit or similar devices to make goals for themselves and then track their progress. You don’t even have to buy a Fitbit though, because there are lots of free smart phone apps that do the exact same thing for no charge.
If you still need more structure do a search and see if there are any walking/running/biking clubs in your area. There are often classes for beginners to train for 5k runs. No classes in your area? You can find online programs you can follow to do the same thing.
#6 What if you need accountability?
Get a personal trainer or find a workout partner.
Once again a big thank you to Andy Prescott with the Art of Being Cheap for doing the research.