January is the fitness industry’s favorite time of year. While the rest of us are coming off those post-holiday warm fuzzies, battling the winter blues, and begrudgingly getting back into our work and fitness routines, gyms are eagerly accepting our credit cards and throwing membership forms around like confetti. Pressured by the New Year’s resolution culture and forced indoors by the atrocious weather, sometimes a gym membership is unavoidable in January. We bear with the lengthy sales pitches and struggle amongst the crowds all for the sake of moving more. However, improving your fitness does not have to be such a hassle. Take it from a former personal trainer and boot camp instructor. With over five years of training at multiple gyms, from corporate to small business, I know the tips and tricks to make the most out of your membership. Here’s how to get the best deal, avoid the crowds, and most importantly, actually improve your fitness and reach those New Year’s goals.
1. Never Pay for a First Class
Boutique and chain fitness studios are on a marathon growth trajectory. From the basic spin studio the latest bar/pilates/ariel yoga concept, new specialized gyms are a “thing.” Classes add variety to workouts, push you harder than you would on your own, add extra motivation, and build a sense of community. However, all of these perks come at a cost – anywhere from $15-$30 per class. If you are trying out a class for the first time, ask for a complimentary class. The vast majority of studios offer these trials, and some even offer a free week. Keep in mind, the the free week is consecutive, so make sure you sign up when you know you can commit to multiple days. Also, to ensure your trial is completely free, bring your own yoga mat if you are trying a yoga or pilates concept – most studios charge for mat rental.
If you fall in love with the class and decide to commit to a membership package, take advantage of the new student specials – but be sure you are willing to pay full price in the future. You will fall into a routine, liberally taking classes with your new student, six-week-unlimited membership. However, when that period is over, it can be a sticker shock when you have to pay regular dues. If you truly enjoy the classes and you are seeing results, act like you’re at Costco and buy in bulk – you’ll get a better deal. If your attitude is lukewarm, purchase a limited class package and attend when you need a little extra spice to your regular workout routine.
When signing up for a gym membership, it helps to do a bit of haggling. Customer service representatives are trained to aim high, but there is a tier of pricing they are allowed to offer in order to convince you to join. Your goal is to chisel down that pricing tier until the salesperson has truly hit bottom. Never pay an enrollment fee, especially in January – this is the first layer of the pricing tier. Ask if they have any student or young professional specials – some gyms have discounts for those up to thirty years old. Ask about multiple location memberships and complimentary guest passes. The more questions you ask and the longer you can stall a commitment, the better. The rep will fear losing you as a customer and find some way to offer you an “exclusive” deal. Shrewd? A bit, but your wallet will thank you in the long run.
3. Don’t Get a Personal Trainer
As much as I like to promote my business, I cannot advise in good conscious personal training sessions for most people. Personal trainers are only effective for those who truly commit – five sessions per week, one hour per session (which translates to $300-$600 per week). Most clients purchase training sessions for one to three times per week, from half an hour to one hour sessions. This is not enough to induce physical change. Your trainer will give you a plan for what you should be doing on non-session days, but rarely do people adhere to this plan. Also, few make a change in their diet, which determines your physique far more than exercise does.
You are better off doing cardio and weight circuits on your own. You don’t need a trainer to stand next to you while you run for forty-five minutes on a treadmill, and the internet is a goldmine for free basic weight-training circuits. The one caveat is those who have a very specific and challenging fitness goal in mind (like entering a bodybuilding competition) or those who know they will not go to the gym unless they have a financial incentive driving them. Again, these two types of people need to commit to their trainers, otherwise little improvement will be made.
4. Beware the Sales Pitch
When you sign up for a gym membership, the sales representative will likely offer you a free personal training session or one-on-one fitness consultation. Don’t take it. They are going to pitch personal training sessions to you, and they are going to make a very convincing argument. They work on commission; they are masters of the hustle. Avoid temptation by saying no thank you and haggle that membership fee like a slick used-car salesman.
5. Avoid the Crowds
If you join a corporate gym, it is going to be packed during the first three weeks of January. On weekdays, peak hours tend to be from 6:30am – 8:30am and 5pm – 7:30pm. If your schedule allows, get your workout in during off hours. Personally, I would advise becoming a morning person and working out around 4:30am – 6am. You won’t have to wait to use the equipment, the showers will be fresh and clean, you won’t have to wipe down the mats glossed with other people’s sweat, and you’ll likely develop a friendly rapport with the other early-risers. As an added bonus, you’ll have your workout over with before most people start their day; its quite the sense of accomplishment.
If you cannot rouse yourself before sunrise and find yourself shuffling to the gym along with the masses, choose your gym carefully. Some large-scale gyms have a reputation for being “meat head” spaces. These gyms often have “women’s” areas. While slightly demeaning, these areas are rarely packed, even when the rest of the floor is crammed. Breeze by those burly men scantily clad in ripped tank-tops, grunting in between sips from their whey-protein filled shaker bottles, and mark your territory in the “women’s section,” your new semi-private gym!
6. Invest For Motivation, Not For Rationalization
Sometimes we need to make a little financial investment to get ourselves out the door and into the gym. When we pay up front for a gym or class membership, we think, “Well, if I’m paying for it, I might as well use it.” However, this investment can lead to unjustified rationalization (aka excuses). We pat ourselves on the back for investing in a gym membership or personal trainer, and then fail to take advantage of the services. That little membership keychain reminds us that we made an effort toward fitness, even if we don’t put in the work. Yes, it’s obvious, but memberships only work if you actually go. There’s some tough love from your trainer!
7. Watch YouTube
You do not need a gym to get in a decent workout. If the weather calls for indoor quarantine, browse YouTube. There are thousands of free workout videos to work every part of your body, no equipment needed. As a trainer, I rely on YouTube when I need someone else to kick my butt for me; certain channels have become part of my weekly workout routine. Two of my favorites are POPSUGAR Fitness and Blogilates. Both have countless workouts that cater to any fitness level, time, and style. From five minute abs to sixty minute kickboxing, these channels are a terrific, absolutely free, resource.
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