Joining a health club can be a major enabler to maintaining a healthier lifestyle. It can also be a huge waste of money if you don't use it enough or if you overspend. If you are in a major metro area, you probably have many choices in health clubs or fitness centers - everything ranging from a deluxe, full service club which could cost of a family $200 a month, to a no-frills community center which may be as little as $100 per year. How do you make sure you get value from your health club membership? Here are a few ideas.
Use it. The best way to know your getting your money's worth is to use the club. Say John and Tom both spend $100 a month on the same club. John uses the club 15 times a month, while Tom only manages to exercise there 4 times per month. John's cost-per-use is $7.50, while Tom's is a whopping $25. Tom would be better off paying by the visit, which is often anywhere from $5 - $15 for most clubs. Many people join health clubs around the holidays when they make new year's resolutions or when the clubs are offering deep discounts. By April or May, usage has tailed off. Don't be one of hte people who doesn't use your club -- buy the membership and become a regular.
One of the best ways to use a club regularly is to create a habit. Maybe you promise yourself a hot cup of coffee from the Starbucks next door to the club each morning after your workout, so you have something built in to your routines that gets you to the club. Other people find that if they lay out their cycling shorts and bike shoes next to their bed, they are more likely to make it to that spin class in the morning. Others find that they need to workout on their drive home, because if they hit their front door there is little chance of them making it back out.
Look for affiliations. Some of the most economical fitness clubs out there are not the big LA or Lifetime Fitness chains, but rather places that you are able to go to because of where you or a family member works, lives, or goes to school. The advent of full-service community centers, complete with fitness facilities, gives some families the ability to workout for $100 per year or less, if they are residents of the community. For students and professors, most universities and colleges have full service gyms which rival the nicest private ones in the area. Some high schools have invested in training centers for their athletes which are open to the public on a pay-per-use basis. In rare cases, hospitals offer full-service fitness centers to their patients and members of the community for a low fee.
I once was looking for a health club on a low budget. My main goals were to use a treadmill and weights. Health clubs in the high end neighborhood cost $80 to $120 per month -- way above what I could do. I then found the community "Tennis Club" which happened to have treadmills and weights -- all for $12 a month if you were a resident. I saved up to $1,000 a year by going this route.
Employer or Insurance Discounts. In many cases, your employer has a prenegotiated rate with larger area health clubs which could give you a substantial discount. This is especially true of very large companies. If you are unable to access a corporate rate, check to see if your HR department will reimburse you for any gym dues as a "work/life expense" policy. Many insurance companies are also realizing that if their customers use health clubs, they will be sick less often. In particular, Blue Cross in many states offers incentives for people to join and use a health club.
Check out the discount chains. A trend in the past five years has been the surge of small, no-frills fitness chains such as Snap Fitness, Anytime Fitness, 24/7, and Fitness 19. By not offering a swimming pool, locker rooms, basketball or racketball courts, or showers, they can operate with amazingly low prices. Dues at such clubs are often $20 per month or less with little or no initiation fee. They are typically clean, have newer equipment, and are hardly ever crowded. These can often be the best choices for people who simply want to get-in and get-out of their workout, and not have the amenities you might find in a full-service club.