Consider your needs

Think about what you need from a gym before signing up to ensure you get the best value.

The cost will depend on the services provided, such as a swimming pool or lessons, but also on the quality of the facilities – for example, changing rooms.

Many budget gym chains have popped up across the UK, often with much lower membership prices. The Gym Group was offering subscriptions this week from around £13.99 per month, although in some places there were introductory offers from £9.99 per month. Meanwhile, PureGym offered a wide range of prices – for example, in some places like Glasgow, Bury and East Kilbride you could pay around £10 a month for off-peak access.

Many offer monthly contracts, meaning you’re not tied to an agreement and can cancel whenever you want.

Are you looking for facilities with a swimming pool? Photograph: Skim New Media Limited/Alamy

Service will often be basic – there may be no pool, for example – and you’ll usually need to bring your own towels, shower gel and padlock.

Local gyms can sometimes offer better value for money than large health resort chains.

If you know you’re only interested in one specific item — say, fitness equipment, swimming, or classes — you might be able to get a subscription for just one thing.

Steven Scales, director of membership and sector development at industry body ukactive, says: “It’s worth considering, besides the health benefits, what you want to achieve by attending an establishment or doing general exercise – whether alone with your headphones or your social connection through a group exercise class with the motivation of a group of peers and an instructor.

Read the contract

Gym membership contracts are notorious for being difficult to obtain, so make sure you understand everything before signing up.

Look at the price and think about how often you would need to use the gym to get your money’s worth.

If applicable, check how long you will be locked up and how much you will have to pay if you need to end your subscription early.

There are certain scenarios in which you should be able to terminate the contract for free – for example, if you have to resign due to illness, injury or a change in financial situation such as a dismissal, although you must provide a proof, according to Citizens Advice.

Running on the treadmill in a busy gym
Would you use the gym enough to get your money’s worth? Photograph: Paula Solloway/Alamy

Wait for special offers

If you can wait for your favorite gym to hold a sale, you could qualify for a discounted rate, a free month, or avoid paying membership fees. The latter is one of the most common offers.

In January, many gyms offer special offers to attract health enthusiasts after Christmas.

Summer can also be a good time for deals. At the time of writing, The Gym Group was running a special offer where you can “save up to 50%” using code SUMMERSAVE.

He is national fitness day on September 21, and many gyms will be offering free trials and activities to mark the occasion.

You’ll be able to search for participating gyms and fitness centers starting in late August, but until then you can sign up for the online mailing list.

“Also be sure to check for special offers throughout the year,” Scales says. “Visiting gyms, clubs and leisure centers and experiencing the services first hand is also a great way to find the right offer for your needs.”

Fitness instructor during class in the gym
National Fitness Day is September 21. Photography: Sergio Azenha/Alamy

Use free trials

Before committing to a membership, if possible, be sure to try out the gym you’re interested in by doing a free trial.

You will be able to use the gym for free and will have time to think about your decision before committing to a contract.

It’s worth checking to see if you can also get a free session with a personal trainer as part of the trial.

If there isn’t a free trial advertised, ask the gym if they can arrange one so you can try before you buy.

You can also ask your gym-going friends if they have any referrals or free passes you can use.

There is no obligation to purchase a membership after a trial at a gym.

A group of women train on exercise bikes in a gym.
Ask the gym for a free trial. Photograph: Kateryna Kukota/Alamy

If you only do one activity, such as boxing, spinning, or yoga, look for specialty studios in your area that may have special introductory deals.

Some gym chains offer shorter memberships so you can get a taste before signing up for a longer term contract.

Scales says, “Many carriers offer options to help spread the cost, offer trial sessions or new beginner incentives to help you find your fit.”

Pay as you go

Many gyms will allow you to pay as you go for use of the gym, pool, or sports courts.

It’s a more expensive way to pay if you plan to go regularly, but if you think you’ll only be using the facilities once in a while, it might be a good option.

You can use the Hussle website to get cash on day passes so you can pay as you go at a variety of different fitness centers.

Check discounts

Check the benefits offered by your employer, as it may include a discounted gym membership.

If you are a student, you will also usually be able to pay a lower rate. For example, Nuffield Health is offering students a 20% discount, Better Health is offering a discounted membership, students can get a 12 month membership from £159 from The Gym Group and PureGym is offering them up to 30% off discount on fixed-term subscriptions.

Reduced rates and free classes are often available for seniors and low-income households.

You may be able to get a cheaper deal if you choose a single gym over a multisite membership.

Many fitness centers also offer off-peak memberships, so if you can get there at less busy times, it could be a budget option.

Consider alternatives

If your goal is to get in shape, you don’t need to join a gym, and there are cheaper or completely free alternatives.

Home workouts have exploded during lockdown, and many fitness centers and trainers are still offering digital classes at a lower price.

You can join a local running club – you can find a list on the England Athletics website. Most will have membership fees, but it might just be a lot cheaper than a gym.

Fitness apps and plans such as Couch at 5K are also ways to access a structured exercise regimen without having to join a gym.