12 ways to save money on gyms

save money gym membership

#1 - Gym tip one - Don't fall for the sales chat

The first person you speak to when entering a gym (which will likely be the reception desk) will be trying to sell you a membership. No matter how charming (or hot) they are, their ultimate goal is to make you part with your money and then agree to part with more money every month for the rest of your life. They are sales people.

There is also a well-recognised phenomenon whereby a lot of people spend the Christmas period sat on their arse watching Jamie Oliver’s Oily Christmas. It makes people want to stuff their face with turkey leftovers and Quality Street, and come January, they collectively feel like what Katie Hopkins lovingly refers to as 'fatties'. This in turn gives rise to the influx of new gym memberships taken out in the New Year, many of which are almost never used thereafter.

The Daily Mail claimed that in 2011 neglected gym memberships and slimming classes cost the average adult £303 per year, meaning that as a country, in 2011 we paid £37m for absolutely nothing and it's likely to be worse now (the price of 'nothing' rises with inflation).

One way to avoid becoming a gym dropout is to try before you buy, just to make sure you can actually fit gymming into your weekly routine for example, or if you actually enjoy it. More on how to do this below.

#2 - Gym tip two - Do the math

Some offers sound good. Take the SMS fictional gym for example - we charge ten pounds a month, which sounds pretty attractive for gym membership. So that's £10, plus a small admin fee (£20), of course an initial joining fee (£30), a one-time personal training session to get you started (£20). Still a bargain right? All you need to do is get yourself a padlock for your locker (£2) and that handy towel hire service (£5 a month) and you're set!

The full cost of our make-believe gym membership is actually now £21 a month (oh, and classes are extra). Still wanna join? We've got Kool-Aid..

It's also worth thinking about your year plans. Perhaps you're going to be at home for two months, or travel, which means two months of not using the gym. Our fictional monthly membership is now £25.20.

As you can see, hidden charges are hiding round every corner in our pretend gym and we're starting to feel like we're in the wrong business.

#3 - Gym tip three - Haggling happens.. for real

Haggling may seem daunting and like something that only exists on The Apprentice but trust us, it's normal and totally legal. If you don't try it, you may well end up paying more than the next guy. Let's try a little role-play..

Stacked sales guy: "We can offer you a 12-month package for £30 per month"

Possible responses for you:

  • "I'm really looking to pay £20, so lets meet in the middle."
  • "I'm really into Pilates. I'd only pay £30 if that included all classes."
  • "My uni gym is a lot cheaper and I've noticed your competitors offer student discounts, but I really like this gym. If you could offer me something similar I'd sign right now."
  • "That sounds great but I'm only here during term time, so it wouldn't make sense to pay £30. Unless it was a three month contract."

[Pause until opponent responds] - This is crucial.

He may not budge at all but if you don't ask, you don't get.

If the whole thing still makes you feel hugely uncomfortable then just ask for an email address and haggle via email, using your PC as a shield.

#4 - Gym tip four - Go to the gym for free

Lots of gyms offer a free pass to entice you into signing up. You can use these to try out a variety of gyms before committing to one, or indeed any at all. Here's what's on offer at the moment:

  • Anytime Fitness - free three-day trial
    The duration of the free trial isn't stated, but in the T&Cs it states a maximum of three days, so don't settle for less! The days do have to be taken in a row though and must be 'during staffed hours' all at the same club. Just follow the link to select your local club and fill out your details.
  • Fitspace Gyms - free three-day pass
    FitSpace have just nine gyms but you can grab a free three-day pass for any of them - Belfast, Bournemouth, Bradford, Holloway Road, Lincoln, Mitcham, Nottingham, Sheffield or Woolwich.
  • Fitness First - free three-day pass
    Fitness First offer a free three-day trial pass - just follow the link and fill out your details. You'll have to call up your local club to activate the pass, and when you use it you will have to bring photo ID, your email voucher and a £5 deposit to cover your temporary membership card. The three days must be used consecutively. You can use up to four of these passes per year. Not valid at some London branches.
  • Q Hotels - free one-day pass for two people
    Fill in your details online and get sent a free one-day pass by email for your nearest Q Hotels Health Club for you and a friend worth £30. There are 24 Q Hotels gym clubs around the UK.
  • SoHo Gyms - free trial
    SoHo Gyms have ten gyms and they're spread out across London. They offer a free pass that will let you trial the gym or a class before joining, you just have to get in touch with them to get it. This means you can haggle by phone or email to try to get as long a trial as possible.
  • Nuffield Health - free one-day pass
    This is a one-day only pass but it's easy to get - simply fill out your details and the pass will be sent to you via email.
  • Total Fitness - free one day pass
    Total Fitness have a few more gyms than Fitspace (16 in total) and you can request a free one-day pass by filling in the web form.
  • Xercise4less - free one-day pass
    Fill out your details online to receive a free day pass - most of the gyms are in the north of England.
  • DW Fitness - free one-day pass
    Enter your details online to be emailed your free day pass, then call up your local club to book an appointment.
  • Simply Gym - free one-day pass
    Enter your details to receive a free one-day pass by email - valid at one of Simply Gym's nine UK branches.

#5 - Gym tip five - Check out the uni gym

If you're OK with people you know/have slept with/are trying to sleep with seeing you all red and sweaty then the uni gym may be your best option. They're often cheaper than private gyms and might be easier to get to if you're on a campus. Here are some examples:

Royal Holloway, University of London

royal holloway gym
(From £80 a year)

University of Birmingham

birmingham university gym
(From £135 per academic year)

Aston University

aston uni gym
(From £130 a year)

University of Bath

university of bath gym
(From £346.40 a year)

University of Leicester

leicester university gym
(From £105 a year)

#6 - Gym tip six - Avoid contracts, just pay as you go

If you’re new to gymming or are planning on taking months out here and there, it may make more sense to join a pay-as-you-go gym rather than locking yourself into a contract.

You generally pay for these gyms by direct debit on a monthly basis (as well as an initial one-off joining fee in most cases), so if you decide you want to quit, just cancel the payment before it’s taken out of your account.

These types of gyms are often pretty cheap too, and most stay open 24/7. The downside is that they’re generally more basic than other gym chains - no swimming pool, sauna, sunbeds etc., so you may have to take your beautifying elsewhere.

Here’s a selection:

The Gym Group

Cost: From £11 a month (varies by area) + £20 joining fee


Cost: From £10 a month (varies by area) (£0 joining fee)


Cost: From £16 a month (varies by area) + £25 joining fee (new clubs are free to join)


Cost: From £17 a month (varies by area) + £20 joining fee


Cost: From £10 a month (varies by area) + £20 joining fee


Cost: From £13 a month (varies by area + £29 joining fee

If you’re not 100% sure about one of the gyms, it may be worth signing up to the newsletter as you'll be emailed when there's a ‘no joining fee’ special offer period at less busy times of the year.

#7 - Gym tip seven - Go off-peak

Going off-peak can often reduce the cost of a monthly gym membership. That means you can only use the gym at certain times - usually the less busy periods whilst most people are at work. Some gyms also offer a student membership package - you can compare a few popular ones below. (All prices shown are for 12-month contracts, excluding any additional fees, based in/near to Bristol for comparison)


Full membership

(per month)


(per month)


(per month)

Virgin Active



(Off-peak hours vary per club)

£48 (for 18 - 25 year olds rather than students)

Fitness First



(Off-peak hours typically 9am to 4.30pm on weekdays and 2pm till closing time but may vary per club)

Not offered

Xercise 4 Less



(Off-peak hours are 10am - 4pm weekdays and all day weekends)

Not offered

The Gym Group


Not offered

No joining fee (usually £20)

#8 - Gym tip eight - Keep an eye out for daily deals

You can often find some great deals or even extra long free trial passes on daily deals sites like Living Social, Wowcher and Groupon.

If you keet your eye on these sites, it is perfectly possible (in fact, we know people who do it) to go to the gym regularly just using these deals - as long as you're happy to move around.

Obviously, these deals change daily or weekly - so you'll need to keep an eye out. We did a quick search for fitness deals in our area and this is what we found:

  • £10 for 10 gym passes at MoveGB (worth £60)
  • £12 for a six week pass at Space Health and Fitness (worth £118)
  • £12 for nine boot camp sessions (worth £36)
  • £12 for 12 swim passes at MoveGB (worth £46.20)

#9 - Gym tip nine - Read the contract

READ IT. Ok you don’t need to hire a lawyer but if you’ve negotiated extras or discounts, make sure they’re actually stated in the contract. Remember, a verbal contract is not binding.

Things to check:

  • How much notice you’re required to give if you want to end the contract.
  • How much will it cost if you want to end the contract sooner than agreed.
  • Does the contract renew automatically?
  • Can you cancel if the gym hikes prices?
  • Can you cancel if the club removes/changes some of its services - such as a pool or opening hours?

#10 - Gym tip ten - Sign up to social clubs

If you’re not emotionally scarred by your experiences at school, how about signing up for a sports club like netball or hockey instead of joining the gym? It’s likely to be a lot cheaper and most have the added bonus of social activities too.

Get fit, get drunk, make friends, save money - what’s not to love?

#11 - Gym tip eleven - Don’t go crazy on extras

The initial cost of joining the gym is often the tip of the iceberg when it comes to expense. There are all kinds of wondrous items just waiting for you to purchase once you get in there - branded water, protein shakes, power bars - as enticing as they may seem at the time, they’re generally much cheaper when bought anywhere but the gym. Check out our MyProtein deals page for example.

You may also find yourself being pressurised into purchasing beginners classes, health check-ups, weight-loss schemes, personal trainers, spa treatments... the possibilities are endless. Just remember why you joined the gym in the first place - we're guessing it wasn't for the fish pedicures.

#12 - Gym tip twelve - Do free stuff instead!

There’s a total abundance of free alternatives to joining a gym, which will all help shift the pounds (and hopefully save you some too - wahay!).

Get running

  • NHS Couch to 5k app - which is an awesome and completely free app for total running beginners. It's a running plan which will get you running 5k within nine weeks, even if you are seriously unfit.
  • Parkrun UK - Parkrun organise free, weekly, 5km timed runs around the world. The events take place in parkland and they encourage people of every ability to take part.
  • Good Run Guide - This site helps you find races and running clubs near you. It brilliant tools which help you map our and measure routes, share routes and has a running forum you can find people to run with you and share/get advice.
  • Charity websites - they often have running events they have that you can sign up for (Battersea Dogs & Cats Home has runs, treks, cycles and other cool stuff for example).

Free yoga, Pilates and outdoor gyms

  • Sweaty Betty free classes - Sweaty Betty host free weekly clubs for women in over 30 branches. They change their shops into fitness studio and holds classes such as Pilates and yoga.
  • Free outdoor gyms - Think LA's Muscle Beach, but in a rainy british park. There are loads of outdoor gyms around parks, beaches and the countryside around the UK. Search to see if there is one near you.

Make the gym come to you

You can get some great bargains on exercise machines in places like Argos and Tesco Direct. Basic exercise bikes or crosstrainers actually don’t take up too much room or too much effort to assemble (depending on the size of your student digs of course!).

Even slightly fancier machinery may work out cheaper as a one-off investment than an ongoing gym membership, like this non-motorised treadmill for under £90 or this (quite frankly fabulous) folding pink one (£130). Remember - this could save you money if you use the thing. If not, it's a total waste of floor space and cash, so think carefully.