How to Go Up Against Gym Salespeople and Come Out Victorious

Ever wonder if that sales rep at the gym came straight from a job at a used car dealership?

That’s what I was thinking last time I gave a new gym in my neighborhood a spin.

How to Get a Deal on Your Gym Club Membership…

Picture this:

Me: Fifty bucks a month is a little steep, even after you waive the initiation fee (whatever that is).

Salesperson: Well, the special ends today. I can’t guarantee the price will ever be this low again.

Me: You know, I’m gonna take my chances. I’m not ready to sign up today.

Salesperson: Most people don’t have the willpower to come back, so you’d be smart to sign up now. Besides, if you don’t, that tells me you’re not committed to your fitness goals.

Me: I am committed to my goals—just not your gym. Hence the free one-week trial membership I signed up for.

Salesperson: What free trial membership?

It’s pretty amazing how quickly a 15-minute no-strings gym tour can turn into something resembling a battle scene from the movie “300” (only without the cool chroma keying).

People say picking a gym is like car shopping? I say it’s worse. Not only are you likely to battle a hungry salesforce, but you’ve got a two-year contract and auto-withdrawals from your bank account to worry about. Not to mention, the fate of your future hot body is in their hands.

If anything, you should be even more Spartan about choosing a gym than a car dealer.

Here Are Seven Tips to Get a Discount on Your Gym Club Membership:

  1. Know your must-haves and deal-breakers. Salespeople have an uncanny way of making irrelevant features sound like stuff you need. Examples: childcare (even though you don’t bring your kids to the gym); free guest passes (but your friends would eat glass before setting foot in a gym); spa services (because the first thing you’ll want to do after Crossfit is get an oil massage and a haircut). Knowing your must-haves and deal-breakers will keep you from getting seduced by a Benz when you’re shopping for a Subaru—or the other way around.
  2. Demand a trial membership. Changing gyms is about as easy as returning underwear after you’ve worn it—even if the gym has a “no-strings” setup. So, while few places will make it easy for you to test the waters without some hustling, it’s worth standing your ground to get the one-week or even one-month trial pass.
  3. Test the crowd. Are people friendly, or do they hover and glare ‘til you surrender “their” treadmill? Does reception greet you with a smile or seem clique-y (he’s wearing that shirt with those trainers)? Can you get help from a class instructor or trainer if you need it? The trial gives you a chance to check out the people, as well as ask other members how they like the gym (and how much they’re paying).
  4. Be honest about your comfort level. Sure money’s tight, but do you think you’re really going to hit up a dirty, stuffy B.O. chamber every day? Consider the lighting, ventilation, and whether there’s enough breathing room. Ladies, do they have separate saunas for each sex, and machines specifically designed for women? Comfort is one thing I’ve tried to overlook in the past and I seriously regretted it.
  5. Read the contract. Yes, you actually have to read that. And don’t be afraid to walk away if you see something funky in the fine print. In fact, do what you’d do at the car dealership: take the contract home with you, or at least ask for some privacy so you can take your time looking over it. A few things to zero in on: the stipulations for a pay-as-you-go or month-to-month plan, whether the term is auto-renewing, and whether they can increase rates and pluck more from your checking account without notifying you.
  6. Polish your brass knuckles. (Metaphorically, of course.) If you’re on the fence about joining, be prepared for some cutthroat closing room tactics, especially at pricier gym chains (at least in my experience). To avoid getting stuck in a room with a “closer,” ask your questions out on the floor, or take the tour and bolt. As for haggling? Some gyms have flexible pricing, others don’t, but it can’t hurt to try. Many will waive the setup fee.
  7. Know your price. And it needn’t be the lowest. If you sign up for a $20/month gym that doesn’t meet your needs, that’s clearly a bigger financial foul than paying twice that for one that does. Remember: the membership alone won’t guilt you into going. The rock wall, basketball court, heated pool and convenient parking, on the other hand—those could easily have you sprinting in like a kid to cake. That’s why it pays to know how much you can afford and then max out your gym budget, instead of beelining it to the bargain-basement facility.

[box type=”note”]Not all gyms are out to rip you off or get you in a chokehold the second you walk in the door. But some are. So be firm about what you want, sign up at the best gym, and everybody wins. (Or at least you and the best gym do. Who cares about the others?)[/box]

Chelsea Bush

Chelsea Bush writes for Ask Fitness Coach, a blog with down-to-earth advice on the best way to shed fat and gain muscle.

12 thoughts on “How to Go Up Against Gym Salespeople and Come Out Victorious

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  • January 13, 2011 at 11:23 am

    Great article Chelsea !
    if I could only get that info out to more people sooner. I used to be a trainer in a gym franchise whose primary mission was to hire high pressure sales reps called them “Fitness Consultants”… what ever! None of them worked out & most were overweight. I felt it went against my moral fiber and had no sense of integrity in what they represented.

    • January 13, 2011 at 5:26 pm

      It’s great to hear your experience from the inside! I bet a lot of trainers are bugged by the hard-hitting salespeople, who are scaring away great clients from great gyms. Everybody loses? The high pressure tactics don’t seem necessary at all.

  • January 11, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    I still remember one of the earlier gyms that I joined when I was 18–yeah that was awhile back, lol. I found out a few days after joining that I had paid more per month than nearly everyone working out beside me. It’s certainly a frustrating feeling.

    The fine print is very important too. When I was living in the US, I moved at one point and tried to cancel a membership at Lifetime Fitness. I don’t remember the specific, but because I didn’t notify them by the 5th of my last month or something, I ended up getting billed for 2 additional months after that. Of course, the fine print usually is ten pages of microfiche, but well worth taking the time to read regardless.

    • January 11, 2011 at 2:19 pm

      Ha ha, wasn’t gonna say it, but since Jarret did – my experience above was at Lifetime Fitness too.

      I can’t believe you got slapped with 2 extra months for not cancelling by a certain day. Oh, wait, yes I can. :)

      • January 12, 2011 at 9:12 am

        Goodlife Fitness ejected a member and cancelled his membership because he was discussing another gym while at Goodlife. Staff told him that he couldn’t talk about other gyms while in Goodlife and apparently he lost it….”You can’t tell me…civil rights…I used to work at CBC…blah, blah, blah

        And then he started dropping F-Bombs

        And then they kicked him out and cancelled his membership

        But not the rest of his family. If they want to leave with him, they will have to cancel and pay a penalty

        This kind of flys in the face of the “we’re in this all together” and “we’re going to get you fit” kind of attitude that their commercials espouse.

        Somedays, I am embarrassed to be part of the fitness industry

        Article about this story –

  • January 11, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    Very informative post – I just moved about 10 miles away from where I used to live – in the complete opposite direction to my gym. I am sad to not be able to go there anymore. It was an awesome new YMCA that didn’t require contracts and had everything I need.

    Now I live in a town where there are 6 corporate gyms all requiring contracts who aren’t worth their weight in salt. Nice to know I can negotiate with the sales person to get what I want!

    • January 11, 2011 at 2:16 pm

      Thanks Susan! It seems like YMCA is where it’s at. I’ve heard nothing but good stuff from people who’ve used them and it’s cheaper, too, isn’t it?

      The corporate contracts are a huge turn-off (and rip-off).

    • March 1, 2011 at 10:52 am

      I too love the YMCA. And yes, it is much cheaper… the next cheapest thing, reasonably close to where I live is over twice what I pay for the Y, so it is a great deal – I get not only the gym, but the swimming pools, the classes, and many seminars free. Totally worth it. Oh, and the people there are really nice too :)

  • January 11, 2011 at 10:28 am

    I would also add that you never, ever, never ever give them your banking or credit card info.


    • January 11, 2011 at 10:36 am

      I thought that was standard/required at 90% of gyms. Don’t I feel like a sucker!


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