Be confident when navigating gym membership contracts. (Photo: Shutterstock)

How to Avoid a Contractual “Entanglement” with your Gym

Many states have eased up on their draconian pandemic-restrictions. With that said, quite a few of us have been itching to get out, and back into our routine lives. For many that includes our previous active lifestyles.

Perhaps you have been working out outdoors in limited capacity for the last few months and want to try something different. Your local gym can be a great place to get started after a long hiatus from a health routine.  However, entering into a contractual gym membership can be quite tricky. And can often leave you trapped in a deal of which the terms are not fully clear.

Here are some tips on avoiding a contractual entanglement that will be hard on your wallet (and credit) in the future!

Getting the Best out of Your Gym

The Push to Commit

The whole reason that gyms have contracts, is that back in the 80’s when the fitness craze took off, gyms across the nation strategized ways that they could lure customers in. This included presenting potential patrons with long-term contracts that included alluring all-access use of state-of-art gym facilities.

It was a time when maintaining top health was all the rage. Movies such as “Rocky,” ”Flash Dance,” and “Pumping Iron” contributed to a collective cultural aesthetic of health and the ideal body image. And who could forget the numerous gym gurus on television such as Kathy Smith, Gilad Janklowicz, and Denise Austin, pushing the message home, that to be beautiful, was to be fit!


Soon enough, hundreds of thousands of people headed straight to their nearest gym to get the best body that their membership could offer!

Overtime however, it became apparent that life happens, and people are not always able to remain committed to their fitness goals. However, with the contractual obligations of gym memberships, gym corporations could still make money, despite their members coming to work out or not!

So, What Does That Mean for You?

Because of the long-held tradition of gym chains contractual membership options, very few gyms have moved away from this outdated model. Today, you the consumer, must take things into your own hands.

Ask for Cash

When you step foot into your local gym, you need to have strong boundaries and know what you want and need out of the gym. Remember that it is about what you need as a customer, and not their bottom line. Don’t give in to the typical sales pitches. Know that the staff at your local gym have been hired to get the most bodies into the gym and their job is to get the sale—you must remember this.

Unfortunately, few are aware that a few gyms do in fact, have a pre-paid cash-only membership option. As mentioned, these businesses are in it to keep a steady flow of new members coming in, so you will rarely find this kind of membership advertised as one of the primary options.

After your gym tour, hold firm and ask for the cash-only gym option. Be prepared that your salesperson may pry and will likely inquire as to why you prefer a shorter-term commitment. In this scenario you can state something along the lines of: “I appreciate the options, but this is the best choice for me, and my lifestyle and I would like to move forward with it.” Again, they will probably push and ask if you are planning to move, or why not the contract. Just take it for what it is, as the sales spiel that they are obligated to share.

You should never be forced into a contract. In fact, you can always write up your own contract for any sales retailer, e.g., a gym, phone company, car dealership and send it in certified to the head of corporate and provide your own contractual stipulations. However, most people won’t take the time to do so, or believe that it won’t get anywhere. Written letters and asking for what you want is still a highly effective and clear way of laying out what you want as a customer from a business.

Companies truly do not prefer negative press or reviews, and you will be surprised at the flexibility offered from such solicitations.  Keep in mind, that these gyms are corporate entities, and they have the ability to enter into contracts with any single person, vendor, or other business as they see fit. So, it never hurts!

Credit Card Only

As stated above, there are many gyms that intentionally do not offer cash-only options so that you remain financially obligated to them long-term. If you have no other options in your city for an active club, and find that you must engage in a contract, there are a few things to consider.

For one, while you are in the meeting room with your salesperson, you should bring up any negative online reviews concerning customers who have had difficulty with cancelling their gym memberships and ask for the reasons behind it. What the salesperson has to say about the matter will truly give you insight into whether the specific gym in question, is one that you can trust to give your financial information to and enter into a long-term contract.

If the salesperson blows off the reviews as just a disgruntled or difficult customer, you may want to think twice before signing on the dotted line. How they deal with others ending their agreements will likely be similar to how they deal with you, should you ever need to cancel.

Ask about the policy regarding cancellations, and the specific guidelines for such. For instance, there may be a limited time period that you can cancel and still get a portion of your money back. There might be other cancellation fees included that you may need to pay in the form of an early-termination fee. Some businesses assess this fee as a penalty to customers for leaving and essentially causing the company to lose money on your contract—not fair, but that is the reason behind hit.

If you decide that you will sign a contract and provide your gym with your credit card information, please read the contract and document everything that was discussed in the initial signing. Also, be sure to keep receipts.

If you later elect to cancel, keep a record of when you initially requested to do so, the circumstances, the steps you took to stay within the obligations of your contract, and the documents that you provided to your gym to meet those obligations. This will protect you in the event that you need to contact your bank or credit card company, (or even the credit bureaus!) to dispute erroneous charges.

In Summary

You should never feel awkward for asking about cash only-options. You as a consumer, are not obligated to sign up for a contract with a business that you are not fully comfortable with. With many other companies such as cell-phone service providers, internet solutions, and other similar companies opting for the more consumer friendly “no contract” cash-only service options, hopefully gym corporations and franchises will realize that consumers desire flexibility and freedom in their memberships.

Don’t forget, if a business cannot provide you with the service and treatment you are looking for, then you do not have to stay and settle for less. You can walk away with grace and find a business that is a better fit that will meet your needs and provide the customer service that you deserve!

Stay strong!

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