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The frugal guide to gyms

Emma Lunn
by Lovemoney Staff Emma Lunn on 29 December 2012  |  Comments 22 comments

How to make sure you lose pounds at the gym - but not from your pocket!

The frugal guide to gyms

If you're still feeling a bit disgusting and fat after stuffing your face with goodies at Christmas dinner, then you're not alone.

Statistically January is the most popular month in the year to join a gym. Everyone's keen to lose those few extra calories they consumed - but make sure it doesn't burn a hole in your pocket too.

I've been a member of a few gyms in my time and it always follows the same pattern: I sign up enthusiastically convinced I'll be pounding the treadmill at least three times a week. And for a few weeks I keep it up, then it goes down to twice a week, then once a week, then... gym? What gym? And before I know it the monthly direct debit it still leaving my account but I'm barely leaving my sofa.

If one of your New Year's Resolutions is to get fit, then you might be tempted to hot foot it down to your nearest David Lloyd, LA Fitness or Virgin Active gym. There you'll be greeted by a target-driven salesperson keen to persuade you to part with your cash. But there are a few questions you should ask before you do so.

Joining fees

Joining or admin fees are the one-off fee you pay when you join. However in many cases salespeople have the power to waive or reduce this so it's worth asking whether this is negotiable. Some gyms also offer a reduced fee if you sign up with a partner or friend.

Monthly fees

With most gyms you pay a monthly fee and then you can go as many times as you like. This can work out to be good value if you manage to go regularly. For example if you pay £50 a month and go three times a week it works out roughly at £3.33 a session - not bad. But if the initial enthusiasm wears off and you just pop in twice a month that's £25 a go which is ridiculously expensive.

Before you commit to anything find out what the monthly fee includes. Is it just the gym or the pool and exercise classes too? Do you get a free towel on each visit or will you have to pay extra?

When and where

Do you want a gym close to home or work, or a chain that has branches near both? If you're joining a chain then there are normally membership options for just one branch or all the gyms in the chain. Joining just for one gym is cheaper, but joining the whole chain means you have access to more facilities.

Also think about when you will use the gym. Most fitness facilities have off-peak memberships which are cheaper, but limit your attendance to weekday daytimes and after a certain time at the weekend. If this fits in with your schedule then it's a good way to save money.

Read the small print

Read your agreement carefully before signing on the dotted line. Some gyms will try to tie you in for a year and chase you for the money if you try and cancel within that time. Only sign up for a year if you're sure you're going to stick at it otherwise you'll be wasting your money. If you like the gym but not the contract, ask if there's any way they can waive the commitment required - but be prepared to walk away if they say no.

Local authority gyms

Local councils are obliged to provide fitness facilities such as pools and gyms and they're normally a lot cheaper than private gyms. Although there might be a small joining fee for the sports centre you can normally go to the gym or swimming on a pay-as-you-go basis.


The website Payasugym allows you to book individual sessions at a range of gyms across the country. It's a great way to get fit without having to shell out on a membership if you're only going to go occasionally, or to test the gym out properly before signing up for a full membership.


There are plenty of cheaper alternatives to the gym - and some of them are much more fun too.


My article here explains how getting on your bike can save you money as well as get you fit. If you start cycling to work you can save money on train fares or petrol and get fit at the same time.


If you've got a Nintendo Wii games console then you might want to invest in the Wii-Fit game which comes with a Wii balance board. It will introduce you to a weird and wonderful virtual world of fitness where you can do anything from yoga to boxing or hula hooping without leaving your front room.


Running is one of the best ways to get fit and the beauty of it is you can do it anywhere and it's free. To avoid injury invest in a good pair of running shoes and to stop you getting bored drag a friend along or download some motivating music to your ipod.

British Military Fitness

This is my personal favourite. If you have trouble getting motivated then attending military-style boot camp classes in your local park could be for you. If you join British Military Fitness you'll be put through your paces by military training instructors in the great outdoors. There are classes in parks all around the country and although it's hard work, it's fun too. Prices depend on where you live, but it should work out cheaper than a gym.

Good luck!

This is a Lovemoney classic article which has been updated.

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Comments (22)

  • gardener
    Love rating 25
    gardener said

    I got myself a pedometer for £12 from Amazon. Shocking how inactive an average wroking day actually is! Also worked out that by two walks a day I easily managed the minimum required 10000 steps a day. Next to increase it. The complete free way is of course to walk to work (My limit is one hour's walk each way) and friends. Working in my garden is good too, not to mention lugging bales of hay and straw around for my horses. If you are on a low income you may get subsidised classes through adult education (my pilates class is £1 a week!).

    Report on 27 December 2009  |  Love thisLove  1 love
  • gardener
    Love rating 25
    gardener said

    working day even!

    Report on 27 December 2009  |  Love thisLove  1 love
  • dry_ice
    Love rating 0
    dry_ice said

    When my current yearly membership expires in February, i'm going to join The GymGroup (in Vauxhall). They only have a few branches, but for a bargain £14.99 offer a no-frills but well-equipped and clean gym. 

    For £30-a-month less than my current gym, i think i can manage to go without a sauna and spa...

    Report on 27 December 2009  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Vacationer
    Love rating 2
    Vacationer said

    3000 miles a year on the bike

    3-5 times a week in the gym


    Report on 27 December 2009  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Vacationer
    Love rating 2
    Vacationer said

    one more thing:

    watch what u eat !!!!!

    last food 6-7 PM

    Report on 27 December 2009  |  Love thisLove  1 love
  • finnol49
    Love rating 27
    finnol49 said

    Beware of cheap council-run gyms. They tend to have excessively loud music & surly staff. (Won't turn the music down.) If you want to lose weight, don't eat refined carbohydrates, & do interval training. If you want to gain muscle, do resistance training. You don't need a gym to do either.

    Report on 27 December 2009  |  Love thisLove  1 love
  • Vacationer
    Love rating 2
    Vacationer said

    nothing wrong with council gyms. of course there's not a posh place and sometimes problems with weights but on other side monthly fee just £25 (student) and walking distance.

    so u got LA Fitness for £780 - £720 a year + £60 joining fee (just a club) 12 month contract and 5 miles from home

    I got council gym sauna pool vapour Suite and 50 yards froms my home (+ 3 others in 3 miles and there is a Climbing Wall)

    just for £25 a month = £300 a year

    no joining fee no contract

    Report on 27 December 2009  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • sonofwan
    Love rating 3
    sonofwan said

    tiny mce error on the link to british military fitness link! Feel free to delete this comment when fixed.

    Report on 28 December 2009  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • rlx
    Love rating 1
    rlx said

    For effective fitness and weight loss try kettlebells. I bought four (8, 12, 16, and 20kg) six weeks ago and the effect is *amazing*. For a 20-25 min workout three times a week at home you will see strength and stamina increase and fat decrease. You don't need much space.

    Report on 28 December 2009  |  Love thisLove  1 love
  • missflea
    Love rating 7
    missflea said

    Can't agree more about kettlebells. It's easy to do and you don't feel like you're working out but it works you out big time! If you're a girlie, like me, you can get a 4k kettlebell to start off with (@ £14.99 from Tesco, of all people) as the larger sizes are a bit difficult to handle when you're just beginning. And there's loads of websites which show free videos of how to use it or get a cheap dvd off ebay. And you don't need any other gym gear as you can do this in your bare feet and even naked, if you fancy it! How frugal is that? 

    Report on 31 December 2009  |  Love thisLove  1 love
  • amandad
    Love rating 0
    amandad said

    Of course you missed one! The most frugal option of all....

    Haven't you seen the many online gyms that are popping up on the net from different parts of the world? They much better than the WiiFit, as they are delivered by real people, and you can take part in them anywhere - so you don't need to lug your console and board around.

    I've been a member with VirtualGym TV since early last year (2009), and have been with three now - they're defo the best. However, I've just seen through Emma's Diary, that they've now partnered with them, and you can get it a lot cheaper by going through their Emma's portal... just £4 / month. I'm about to cancel and re-register through the portal to save some cash. No joining fees / cancellation fees etc.

    Super-cheap microsite is here: - it goes to the same site, but you just get it for tons cheaper. A nice way to start the new year. The main site is here:


    Report on 02 January 2010  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • melanie1979
    Love rating 1
    melanie1979 said

    In relation to giving exercise advice only listen to qualififed fitness instructors - I have noticed on two occasions (on this lovemoney site) 1 member giving advice to weight loss/gain and gym exercises and to be frank it is incorrect. Also resistance can be used for weight gain and weight loss but to gain weight you have to also change the food intake 

    Report on 05 August 2010  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • jenny4
    Love rating 0
    jenny4 said

    Why not join my Tae Kwon Do club in Swansea and work every part of your body

    as well as your mind. Contact Jenny Treasure at the Ostreme Centre, Mumbles.

    Report on 29 December 2011  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • mjgfool
    Love rating 9
    mjgfool said

    Have you heard of Pure Gym? A monthly DD with no long term commitment at the rate of £16.99 a month. The gym is open 24/7 truly with all the equipment you could ever want to use. Personal trainers if you want but an abundance of help from induction to programme setting. A responsive company for whom nothing seems too difficult.

    I came out of a 12 month contract after 28 months, having gone to the gym less than 20 times. At £38.00 a month this was expensive.

    Before you state the obvious. No I do not work for Pure Gym, I am just a punter - like you!

    Report on 29 December 2011  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • sodit
    Love rating 135
    sodit said

    Walk to work, run to work, cycle to work. Walk to the shops, run to the shops, cycle to the shops. Save money while exercising. No need for a gym.

    Report on 01 January 2012  |  Love thisLove  1 love
  • Marcia9
    Love rating 5
    Marcia9 said

    I have been a member of LA Fitness for over 5 years - only because it is the closest gym and I began using the yoga and pilates class options almost daily which made it worthwhile. I intensely dislike the Head Office management for LA Fitness; over the years they have removed such niceties as tissues, soap, cream, jacuzzi etc and always the fees go up. We left for 6 months and decided to rejoin, at their request on about £25 per month each now which is more than acceptable.

    Having been with BMF for 6 months (fair weather girl here ... left in October!) I also thoroughly recommend it for fun, fitness and self-discipline. Lately however I have discovered Kundalini yoga in a local church hall and I absolutely love it. The elderly teacher knows their stuff; there is what I guess you would call a spiritual dimension for those of that inclination, in that it understands the working of the human body and its systems, aura and chakras. But what a workout. Resistance training at its best and l you are simply using your own body - no props. 75 minutes early on Saturday morning (yes, I would prefer a lie in) and each time I am so glad I got up to go.

    I persuaded my husband to come along over the Xmas period as LA fitness was not open very much and although he is as stiff as a board he actually sees and feels the potential of yoga to stretch those tight hamsstrings and help with self awareness in posture.

    However I cannot recommend some form of exercise enough as the ability to use your body and keep flexibility and strength is a proper tribute to having good health and wanting to maintain it but I feel I am speaking to the converted anyway who know this already. Happy and flexible New Year to you all.

    Report on 01 January 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Mike10613
    Love rating 626
    Mike10613 said

    I'll stick to walking and taking photographs. There are lots of free places. I went to farms that are open to the public, lakes, nature reserves and rarely went more than a few miles. It's amazing what you can find on your own doorstep and apart from the petrol I use to get there it's free.

    Report on 01 January 2012  |  Love thisLove  1 love
  • sula61
    Love rating 1
    sula61 said

    My frugal advice about Gyms is don't join one, they are a money guzzling waste of space a con trick. Stop watching the box, get out and walk, walk to work or the shops. Vigorous housework, ironing and gardening are a better workout than a gym.

    Report on 04 January 2012  |  Love thisLove  1 love
  • fenemore
    Love rating 251
    fenemore said

    I agree with others here - that Gyms are a con. The biggest con of all is the myth that you can "buy" health. The fact is that gymnasiums are businesses - and revenue is their only interest.

    The standard business model is completely dependent on "lapsed good intentions". That is people signing up for a year and only attending for the first couple of months. If they actually persisted and showed up, the gym just wouldn't be able to cope.

    I used to work for the parent company of national chain of gymnasiums, I have seen the business model - believe me, there was not a word in it about health outcomes.

    Report on 30 December 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • spidermev
    Love rating 25
    spidermev said

    So many people here insist that gyms are a waste of money. There are some really good gyms out there that can help with all sorts of problems, not just weight issues; back problems, breathing, nutrition. How many of you actually know anything about your fitness and health levels, really?

    Walking the bare minimum 10000 steps and all that walking to work etc is great if you want to be just average ;)

    For those that want to go further and REALLY take care of themselves a gym is the way forward, or at the very least you need your own equipment and a workout buddy (for Health and Safety reasons)

    Report on 30 December 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • fenemore
    Love rating 251
    fenemore said

    Re @spidermev

    So you REALLY think it it is necessary to "own your own equipment"? For generations people have been keeping fit without "equipment"!

    You clearly have bought the whole "health" scam hook line & sinker.

    I am alarmed by your reference to "average". I wonder in years to come, when you are prematurely suffering from worn-out joints, you will look back and wish that you too had just been "average"!

    Report on 31 December 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • jacquie1963
    Love rating 0
    jacquie1963 said

    I was a busy mum for years doing plenty of walking and housework but that isn't enough. When I changed doctors and went for a check up I was asked what exercise I did. Rushing around all day with kids and more than a full time job was my reply, surely I was fit. The doctor replied that this was stress and not exercise.

    It was only when I joined a gym that I found out just how unfit I was. I couldn't run for even 3 minutes and was developing an impressive set of bat wings! After 3 years of regular exercise at the gym, I am thinner, much fitter and far more toned everywhere which has greatly increased my confidence, I work out with plenty of 50 plus folk, all of whom are not at all worn out. Keeping all your muscles moving and working all of your body is healthy and great for your overall well being. I have built up a lot of gym buddies so we have a great laugh in plenty of our sessions The proffesional help from the great trainers we have at our gym, Lancing Leisure Centre, is also a big plus.

    My advice is don't knock it until you've tried it. You might just surprise yourself how much fitter you feel after some proper exercise and proffesional advice at a gym, maybe also surprise yourself just how unfit you actually are without it.

    Report on 31 December 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves

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