Negotiate Your Gym Membership: Ex-Employees Share the Secrets

Negotiate your gym membership

Getting a gym membership is one of the best decisions you can possibly make for your health and fitness.

But it can also wreak havoc on your finances with costly membership fees, annual charges, and more.

That is, of course, if you don’t know how to negotiate the best deal.

After speaking with former gym employees, reading firsthand accounts, and drawing from my own experience as a regular gym-goer, here’s my complete guide to negotiating your gym membership.

If you’re in a hurry, here are the basics:

  1. Set your budget. You can pay as anywhere from $10-100 per month for a gym membership depending on where you go. Sometimes the best way to get the price you want is to know where to look.
  2. Time it right. Gym salespeople very often have monthly quotes. Toward the end of the month, they’ll be more likely to strike a deal to meet their goal.
  3. Be ready to walk away. Walking away and letting them stew is often a great way to get their real best price. And if you can’t get the price you want, you shouldn’t sign the papers.

But there is a heck of a lot more that goes into how to save money on your gym membership and getting the best gym membership deals.

Here is almost everything you need to know, from the most basic strategies to advanced tactics.

The Basics – Set Your Budget

How much does a gym membership cost anyway?

(Hit that link for a complete breakdown.)

This is really important information to know as you go about setting your budget and deciding how much you’re really willing to pay every month.

The short answer is that you can join a budget/convenience gym for as little as $10 per month. You can also pay over $100 per month for access to a premier health club.

More than likely, you should expect to pay somewhere around $30-40 per month to join a well-equipped big box gym.

It all depends on the equipment and amenities you need for your workout style.

Planet Fitness will run you as low as $10 per month for a basic membership, but you won’t have much luck doing heavy weightlifting here and they almost never have a pool, basketball courts, and other amenities like that.

LA Fitness is a great mid-level gym. They have pretty much all the equipment you’ll need plus a few nice amenities, and you’ll probably pay $30-40 per month.

The YMCA is surprisingly pricey for a single person at about $50 per month, but the access and amenities are usually quite nice — the YMCA has a great pick-up basketball scene and often has great pools and other community programs. It’s also a great deal to join with the whole family and they have awesome childcare.

A top level club like Life Time Fitness will probably cost at least $60 per month and likely closer to $100 depending on your membership level. But then, Life Time has the best pools around, amazing snack bars and cafes, insane equipment selection, and the most robust class schedule around.

What you’ll want to do is set a price range for yourself and pick a couple of gyms in that range you want to consider.

If you’re looking to keep things as cheap as possible, try checking out a Planet Fitness, a YouFit, and a Crunch, at least to start.

For some mid-range options in the $20-50 per month range, check out LA Fitness, Anytime Fitness, Gold’s Gym, and 24 Hour Fitness.

For higher-levels of amenities, you’ll want to visit Life Time Fitness, Equinox (if you have one nearby), or maybe even your local YMCA.

(And check out my Gym Comparison Guide, where I do one-on-one comparisons of almost all of the big chains.)

The Basics – Timing & When to Join a Gym

Knowing when to join a gym in order to get the best deal is an art form.

Let’s start with the most obvious piece:

Start doing your initial scouting in the beginning or middle of the month, so you’re ready to join the last week of the month.

The salespeople that work at gyms, like almost every other breed of salespeople, very often have monthly quotas.

Depending on the time of year, they MUST sell a certain number of memberships to hit their goal.

If you engage them toward the end of the month, they’ll usually be scrambling to hit their number and will be a lot more likely to offer you their best deal.

If possible, join during the offseason (May through August).

Any guess when gym memberships spike?

If you guessed January, congratulations! You nailed it.

Though a lot of people do like to workout in the summer to get toned, there are fewer new people signing up when the weather is nice.

Fit, active people generally like being outdoors when it’s warm! They only get driven inside in the colder fall and winter months.

So, if at all possible, you may be able to get a great deal by joining a gym in the middle of the summer when membership volume is lower.

It’ll be harder for salespeople to hit their quotas in the slower months and they’ll be more flexible in working with you.

Visit the gym toward the end of the day, near closing time if possible

Matt Huey, PT, MPT, Dip MDT (and a former gym employee) told me that commercial gyms stack peak hours with their top salespeople.

Later in the night? The front desk will usually be manned by the “B squad.”

This team isn’t nearly as skilled at sales and negotiation. And if you want to play hardball with someone, this is who you want to be dealing with.

(You might also run into the B squad in the early afternoon on weekdays when the gym is relatively quiet.)

The Basics – Knowing When to Walk Away

This is negotiation 101, and definitely something you’ll want in your arsenal if you want to get the best deal and save money on your gym membership.

Matt Huey told me, “The managers told us that many people come in on the impulse to get in shape and if you let them leave without buying then they would most likely change their mind.”

So gym salespeople will usually be VERY hesitant to let you leave without signing up.

If you firmly tell them that you want to think about it, visit some other gyms, or talk things over with your significant other before making a decision, it’ll often prompt them to make a concession and offer a better deal.

You’ll usually want to pull this technique out after you’ve negotiated with a salesman for a while and possibly even after you’ve escalated to the manager.

Advanced tactics for getting the best gym membership deal

OK, we’ve covered the very basic aspects of this process.

Pick a couple of gyms you like, visit them during off-peak hour and off-peak season, ask for their best price, and be ready to walk away if you don’t like.

That’s probably 90% of what you need to do in order to get a solid deal.

But if you want to have some extra tactics in your back pocket to really drive things home, check out some of these more advanced strategies:

Haggle the contract length

Former employees all say that they’re trained to start negotiating from the longest possible contract first.

It seems like a win-win for everyone. These long agreements usually give you the best monthly price and the gym locks you in for longer, therefore making more money off of you.

A long contract isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you like the gym and like the price, but just be aware that this is how they profit off of you the most.

You can also get yourself into a really crappy situation if you’re locked into a 3-year deal at your gym and you have to move, or get injured and can’t work out, etc.

This should definitely be a point of negotiation. There’s no reason you should have to be locked into an insanely long contract just to get a reasonable price.

Aim to get the 3-year price on a 1-year deal, if possible.

Zero in on the sign-up fees, registration fees, and other annual charges

Simply put, you should almost never pay a sign-up fee or registration fee to join a new gym.

These can be anywhere from $50-200, and they are ALWAYS up for negotiation.

In fact, this is the primary area where gym salespeople and managers have wiggle room.

Matt, the former employee I spoke with for this article, told me “[The fee] was usually $50 but we could cut it in half first but if they did not want to sign up we could wave it. They usually did sales anyway where it was $0 to sign up so they never really cared about that fee”

If you can’t get them to budge on monthly price, DEFINITELY get them to wave any of these initial fees.

For the most part, those sign-up costs are straight profit for the gym and serve no real purpose other than giving them a negotiation point.

Go to a less-popular location

Here’s a fun tip.

Remember how we talked about desperate salespeople meeting their quotas?

The ones in really popular locations (in busy urban centers, for example) will have a lot easier time meeting their goals, though they’ll be higher.

Quieter locations out in the suburbs, for example, will do much lower volume overall and will be a lot more thirsty for a new sale.

If you live next to an LA Fitness (for example) that’s crazy packed, consider venturing out to one that’s a little bit farther away just to do your negotiating and possibly join.

You can still go to the one that’s convenient for you if you become a member (assuming you get a multi-location membership.)

Tell them you’re interested in personal training (even if you’re not)

Here’s an advanced tactic straight from a former gym sales manager:

Mention to the salesperson that you’re interested in personal training.

This suddenly makes you A LOT more profitable to the gym, and they’ll be that much more keen to sign you on.

They may be willing to cut a special deal on the membership price if they think they’ll profit more from you later on.

Just remember, don’t actually sign-on on for any personal training sessions here if you’re not actually interested.

If you ARE interested in personal training, you should definitely use it as a negotiating point to get a great price.

Take up a lot of the salespersons time

I know you’re probably busy and don’t want this to take forever, but so are the sales people.

Get a tour of the gym. Ask a lot of questions.

Make them work for that sale.

If you talk to them for a while and take up a bunch of their valuable time, they’ll become concerned with the sunk cost.

They won’t want to lose the sale, and they might be more willing to make some concessions.

Search around on discussion forums like Reddit

If you do a quick search on Google or Reddit, you’ll find tons of discussion threads where people openly discuss exactly how much they paid to join any given gym and how they got their best deal.

It’s kind of like those websites that tell you how much you should actually pay for a car before you go in to the dealership.

If you know that a few people online are only paying $25 per month with no registration fee for 24 Hour Fitness (this is a made up example, by the way), you should feel confident going in and trying to get that same price.

Tell them why you can’t afford their usual price

It can be a sob story (“I got laid off and am between jobs”), or it can just be a fact of life (“I’m a broke college student”), but if you tell them how much you love their facility and why the price they’ve quoted doesn’t work for you, they might help you out.

(Just, you know, don’t outright lie. That’s not cool.)

A lot of commercial gyms have student rates, corporate rates, military discounts, etc.

If they like you and you can get them on your side, you may be able to get them to apply one of these special rates to your membership.

Pay the whole contract upfront (if you can afford it)

If you have the cash to pay for a whole year at a time, this can be an awesome way to get monthly pricing you wouldn’t otherwise get.

It’s a lot to lay out upfront, obviously, but a terrific savings technique over time.

Step by Step Guide to Negotiating Your Gym Membership Fee

Let’s put it all together.

If I were joining a gym for the first time, knowing what I know now, here’s how I would negotiate my gym price:

  1. Set my price point (for example, less than $40 per month)
  2. Pick at least 3 nearby gyms in that range
  3. Tour each of them and possibly do a guest workout to see which one I like the best
  4. Don’t sign up on the spot, even though they’ll want you to. I’m still shopping and not ready to negotiate.
  5. After my tours, decide which one I like best. The salesperson may have followed up with me already offering a great deal. If not…
  6. Visit a quiet location of that gym during non-peak hours and seek out the B-squad salespeople. Casually mention I might be interested in personal training down the line.
  7. Enter negotiations. I want their best price on a short contract and I don’t want to pay any fees to sign up.
  8. If I get stuck with the employee, escalate to a manager.
  9. If I still can’t get what I want, tell them I need to think it over and get ready to leave.
  10. If they don’t offer me a reasonable deal on the spot or in a follow-up call, I’ll either choose another location to try or choose a different gym entirely.
  11. Never sign up for a membership I can’t afford!

Wrapping Up

So there you have it, all of the tools and techniques I can find to help you negotiate your gym membership.

I didn’t even get into legitimate ways to get discounts like joining with a friend, referring new members, doing part-time memberships, etc.

But as far as negotiations on a standard membership go, this is a pretty thorough arsenal to work from.

Remember, it’s more of an art than a science! Each individual gym chain and salesperson will be different, so I wanted to simply give you a lot of different strategies to pick and choose from.

What did I miss? What are your best tips for getting a good deal on your gym membership?

Let me know in the comments!

And I hope this helps, everyone!

(P.S. Before you go, check out my guide to what to do if you can’t afford your gym membership anymore and the best free workout plans you can start right now without a gym membership!)