Considering Joining a Gym? Read This First.

If you've been thinking about joining a gym, but you're experiencing a little anxiety about it, here are 10 things about gyms and gym memberships that should help alleviate your fears.

November 1, 2016
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Gym shopping can be more frightening than the scariest Halloween movie.

The fear of the unknown can terrify the living daylights out of some people. Whether they are afraid of high-pressure sales tactics or worried they won’t know what to do (and thus look foolish), this fear often deters people from ever venturing out and exploring their gym options.

Gym shopping isn’t nearly as intimidating if you know what to expect. As a gym owner, I’d like to share a few gym-shopping basics so you can walk into any gym with confidence.

1. Gyms are created for people just like you.

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With over 20 years experience working in a gym, I’ve met every type of gym member there is. I have to say, the average gym member is not your gym-rat bodybuilder guy walking around with bulging muscles and a gallon of water in hand. No, on the contrary, that guy is the minority.

Nevertheless, it seems everyone is under the impression gyms are packed with a bunch of hotties with perfect bodies and sculpted muscles who know exactly what they are doing in the gym. This mindset discourages many people from ever stepping foot in a gym.

So many people are afraid of being the only one who’s out of shape and completely lost a gym full of fit people. If they only knew the majority of gym members are regular imperfect people working to improve their fitness and figure. They aren’t professional athletes or competitive bodybuilders.

While most gyms can accommodate the stereotypical bodybuilder guy, gyms are designed to meet the needs of the average person. The average gym member is the person who simply wants to lose weight, tone up, and get healthy.

Many members still have a lot of weight to lose. They may be trying to lose their post-pregnancy weight. They could be rehabilitating an injury or just trying to stay out of the doctor’s office by improving their cardiovascular health.

Whatever the case, when they aren’t sweating in the gym, they are likely dressed in business suits or a work uniform. They are someone’s mom, grandfather, neighbor, banker, schoolteacher and co-worker.

Does that sound familiar? Does that give you a little relief? It should. This means gyms build classes and services specifically for you; people who need guidance and encouragement.

It is rare we get a new member who knows exactly what to do. That is why certified personal trainers and group exercise instructors are so valuable. Most people need direction, and that is exactly why I’m in the gym business. I love helping people.

When you walk into a gym for the first time, remember the gym is there to help you. That is their sole purpose. They want to help you succeed.

2. Try before you buy.

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I hate pressure sales. I refuse to push a gym membership on people. While fitness is definitely a great investment, I believe everyone should have the opportunity to try before they buy. That’s why we offer a free week trial at our gym.

Even though most gyms will have everything you need, every gym is slightly unique in personality and services. A free pass can help you find the gym with the environment and services that best suit you.

If you are not sure you want to join right away, simply ask for a chance to try before you buy.

If the gym doesn’t offer a pass, and you are unsure about joining, purchase a short-term membership before you commit to a long-term contract. This will not only give you an opportunity to put the gym to the test, but it will also give you peace of mind if you choose to join.

While you are in the trial process, make the most of your temporary membership. Try as many group exercise classes as you can. Hire a trainer for at least one session so you learn how to use the equipment correctly and get comfortable on the machines.

Use your trial to meet the members and staff. The more people you know, the more comfortable you will become. Engage with your new friends to learn more about the gym, member perks, club activities and local fitness events.

Also, connect with the gym online. Follow them on social media and explore their websites and blogs. Stalk their regular members on facebook and get to know their online community. You would be amazed of how many gym members become friends online before they ever workout together. Friendships and accountability can give you the edge you need to succeed.

Finally, if you are enjoying your trial membership, ask the staff if there are any benefits to joining before the trial expires. Oftentimes, gyms will offer a discounted enrollment fee or a special if you join during your trial.

When in doubt, it never hurts to ask. Ask for free stuff, ask for specials and ask for help. You never know, until you ask.

3. Save on your first day.

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Some gyms offer fantastic incentives for joining the gym on your very first visit.

Gym owners realize how important it is to get you started when you are most motivated to make a healthy change. If you know you want to join the gym, you might save more money if you don’t procrastinate.

Unfortunately, many members never know all their options because they simply do not communicate their needs. Gym shoppers often just collect membership information and go home to think it over privately. However, you have a much greater chance of getting the exactly what you need if you tell the gym’s staff exactly what you are looking for, including when you want to join and how much you want to pay.

You can also ask the gym’s representative if they have any coupons or have any specials.

There are several ways you may be able to save money when joining a gym. Savings can include discounts on the enrollment fee, lower monthly dues, a free t-shirt, free (or discounted) personal training or even a complimentary month.

Most gyms also offer corporate discounts for local businesses and professions (like emergency services, the school district or hospital employees). Check with your business to see if they are affiliated with any local gyms before you start gym shopping or ask the gym about corporate discounts and affiliations.

Lastly, many gyms offer discounts if you pay in full or buy packages. Sometimes it is more cost effective to put a one-year membership on a credit card than it is to finance the membership through the gym. Again, weigh your all your options and let their staff guide you. That is what they are there for.

Don’t be afraid to ask if there are any specials for joining on your first visit. The worst thing they can say is “no.”

4. Expect an enrollment fee.

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Nearly all fitness centers have some kind of enrollment fee due upon joining.

The enrollment fee, also commonly called a “joiner fee”, typically covers the initial investment the gym makes to put you into their computer system and get you comfortable in the gym. The joiner fee may cover a free session with a trainer, fitness assessment, body composition or membership key card. Some gyms may use the initial cost to cover the expense of their welcome gift if they offer a gym bag, towel or any marketing tools when you join.

Some health clubs only require a joiner fee, while others may require a joiner fee plus your first month’s dues. If you are not required to pay for your first month up front, the joiner fee will help cover your membership until your monthly dues start to kick in.

Another benefit the enrollment fee offers is it protects members from undesirable riffraff. If a gym requires a healthy enrollment fee, you can feel confident you are working out in a safe environment with people who are taking fitness seriously and respecting the facility’s equipment.

Moderate to high membership fees can also help the gym provide better member services. Every gym has the option to have higher membership fees with fewer members or lower membership fees with more members.

While low membership fees may seem attractive at first glance to the consumer, it might be more difficult to get good personal service due to over-crowdedness. The more members a gym has, the harder it is to service them with a lower budget. High traffic also means more wear and tear on equipment. So, it may be worth a few extra bucks to join a place that will remember your name and fix equipment promptly.

While lower fees may attract the masses, higher membership fees may also give consumers more exclusivity, privacy or convenience. This may mean less wait times for your favorite machine or getting your favorite spot in a group exercise class.

Most gyms do run enrollment specials at times to reduce the initial payment, but you should expect to pay somewhere between $75 to $150 upon joining. Corporate gyms are normally less flexible, while “mom and pop” gyms or more likely to work with you, like allowing you to break up your initial payment or even allow you to post-date a check.

All in all, every single gym is different. But, nine times out of ten, they all will require some type of initiation fee on the day you join.

5. Know your options.

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So many gyms offer a wide variety of membership options.

Some gyms offer short-term memberships as well as long-term memberships. The longer you join for, typically, the lower your membership cost will be.

For instance, our gym’s one-year membership is $45 a month, but our 2 year membership is only $35 a month. On the other hand, short-term memberships and month-to-month memberships are normally the most expensive memberships. However, sometimes gyms offer special short-term “trial” packages only good for new members who have never tried the gym before.

Other membership options may vary due to different membership levels, especially if they offer a wide variety of services. A basic membership may not include extra perks like towel service or access to the racquetball courts, but it may be more affordable. A fitness center may offer a discounted membership for the slow times while other places may charge more for classes or services in high demand.

For instance, you may be able to add someone on to your account for a discounted rate. Spouses, teenagers, veterans, and seniors often get a special discount. Most places give group rates or corporate discounts to businesses interested in setting up wellness benefits.

Do you have a family? Be sure to ask about family discounts or packages. Before you decide to join a gym, it would be a great idea to see if a gym membership is something your entire family would enjoy. You never know! It might become a family affair.

Once again, each health club structures memberships differently. That’s why it’s always best to ask for all your options.

6. Joining a gym is a commitment.

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Joining a gym often requires a membership agreement, also referred to as a contract.

If you were to join without a contract, your membership dues would likely be much higher. However, most gyms will discount your membership when you commit to being a member for one or two years. This plan is to your benefit, unless you decide to break your agreement.

Every gym knows people will not use the gym regularly every single day of the year. Life happens. By lowering the cost and getting people to do a longer-term affordable membership, they can reduce the overall cost for everyone. More long term members means more money coming in to maintain your gym and give you the service you desire.

Long-term memberships also offer members more security.

Not only is the gym asking you to commit to them, long-term memberships ensures your gym will commit to you. There is less chance of a gym surprising you and suddenly closing their doors, only to keep your hard-earned money.

In addition, most states require gyms to be bonded so you are protected in the event they do close. However, if you are paying monthly dues, you are less likely to lose much money in the event of an unexpected closure.

Another perk to lengthy contracts is that contracts secure your spot in your favorite gym, as well as your payment. The longer commitment you make, the longer you lock in your payment and can avoid (or prolong) any membership increases.

Most gyms require a cancelation fee if you decide to cancel the contract. Cancelation fees may range from $50 to $150, depending on the gym and state laws. However, some health clubs (like ours) may offer the opportunity to cancel free of charge if you move out of the area or if you have a medical emergency that prevents you from being able to work out. It’s always good to know your gym’s cancelation policy, but sometimes committing to a long-term membership is exactly what you need to hold you accountable.

Every month, your monthly dues give you a monthly reminder to get back in the gym and make good use out of your membership.

7. Bring your bankcard.

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As with most businesses, membership dues are normally run through an automated system.

Your dues will be automatically drafted monthly from your bank account, so you will need to bring a debit card, credit card, or voided check when you join. Some gyms accept cash or check, but there could be a processing fee associated with traditional old-school billing and cash payments.

If the gym accepts a voided check for banking information, a check can give you the least amount of hassle in the event you get a new debit card down the road. While all bankcards expire and can change often, your checking account number normally remains the same. This makes using a check number instead of a bankcard number a more reliable method of payment.

Automated billing is also more convenient and cost effective. With less office staff required to handle billing, the gym can normally keep membership costs down. Not only does the gym save money, you will never risk late fees and getting those annoying late notices or phone calls. However, if the gym has to manually handle billing, it could result in more inconvenience and money out of your pocket.

Are you worried about credit card fraud? Don’t be! Since so many companies have moved to automated payment methods, there are many great software companies that assist businesses by providing safe and efficient billing systems.

For instance, our gym’s computer software has many built-in security features that protect the member’s privacy. Some of our software’s safety features include limiting employee access to member files and credit card information, payment caps for automatic billing to prevent large charges, and a feature that deletes credit card information when the contracts expire.

Another example of security is how the credit card is used by the member once it’s in the system. Even though our members provide credit card information for automatic billing, there are limits to how that card can be used outside of their gym membership monthly dues. For instance, our staff at our gym cannot accept a charge for over $40. This ensures there are no big surprises come billing time.

Since we sell protein shakes, members often will put a shake to their account. However, our staff can’t access that card or charge anything to the card without the member’s written approval. And, even then, the employee can’t access the card or see payment information.

Just like charging something to your hotel room, our staff can only put an item on the member’s account with the member’s signature. The final step to finalizing payment is the billing manager must approve the final charge. All charges are tracked and documented in the event a member needs to verify charges.

Billing companies want their customers to feel safe so they can keep their customers. It is to the gym’s best interest to have your best interest in mind. Now that everything is automated, there are more and more safety measures being taken every single day.

While mistakes still do happen occasionally, manual billing is a thing of the past. If you don’t want to pay monthly, your only other option may be to pay for your membership in full.

8. Ask about freeze privileges.

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Freeze privileges are not offered at all gyms, but they are a great option if they are available.

The biggest concern for prospective members is the fear they will waste the membership. So many people pay for a gym membership they are not using. What if you had a second chance to use the membership? What if you didn’t have to risk throwing away your money if you aren’t able to use the gym? This is why freeze privileges are a wonderful member benefit. It can set people at ease and give people more flexibility.

As a gym owner, I know life can be unpredictable and things don’t always go as planned. This is why we let our members put their membership on hold if they are unable to use the gym. The member still pays for their membership during the freeze time, but they get that time added back to the end of their membership for a second chance to use their time.

It’s like an insurance policy for gym members. They may not use it, but it’s great to know it is available in the event they become sick, tired, busy or just plain lazy.

This comes in very handy for people who travel a lot or are seasonal residents. For example, many retired northerners come down south to Florida every year to enjoy the warm weather during the cold winter months. Floridians call these people snowbirds. Since we have quite a bit of these seasonal members where we live, freeze privileges are a really nice incentive.

9. Use your gym membership to the fullest.

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One thing I hate to see is a gym member not using (or at least trying) all of their facility’s services.

One of the most valuable services gyms offer is group exercise. Sadly, the fear of the unknown can keep people from even trying classes. However, exercise classes offer a ton of instruction for no additional cost. It’s like having a free personal trainer for an hour. Sure, you have to share your trainer with 20 other people, but it’s free.

Group exercise is valuable for many reasons. One reason it is so valuable is because it’s educational. A body toning class can greatly expand your exercise library and teach you proper form.

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