Exercise some frugality


Fitness centers are slashing fees for current and new members, and even former members, for 2009.

Lapsed members of the upscale SportsClub/LA (the were recently invited to return with no need to pay the one-time initiation fee, which can be at least $600, and no membership dues for two months, a savings for some of at least $330.

Less high-end clubs are also offering deals. Among them:

* A two-week free guest pass at Bally Total Fitness (bally, which recently filed for bankruptcy reorganization but says it plans to continue operations;


* One month free, then 50% off the monthly membership fee, through March 6 at Curves (;

* No enrollment fee at Gold’s Gym (;

* A 30-day money-back guarantee at L.A. Boxing (

“Gyms realize these are tough economic times, for themselves as well as their members,” says Joe Moore, chief executive of the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Assn., a fitness trade group.

Even independent gyms are offering deals, so talk to the manager.

Moore recommends that new and old gym members review benefits online or in the information package they are typically handed when they sign up. Go through the materials with a staff member to be sure you know what you’re getting. Then heck, ask for a little more -- gym membership in the U.S. was down 3% in 2007 (there are no numbers yet for 2008) and clubs might consider throwing in a free month, a bigger membership discount, passes for a workout buddy, free or discounted personal training sessions or a free trial for a service the club otherwise charges for, such as a pool.

Monthly fees at luxury gyms such as SportsClub/LA, Equinox ( and many hotel fitness centers that take monthly members can run north of $100. For hundreds to even $1,000 or so less each year, consider giving up the plush carpet and free mouthwash. Many lower-priced chains can charge less because they leave out expensive amenities such as spa, cafe and baby sitting, but they still offer cutting-edge equipment and, often, classes. Some even offer access 24/7, which the high-end clubs don’t usually match, or give access to any club in the network, useful for when you’re traveling.

Make sure to ask about all fees, however, and whether you can sign up month to month, rather than be locked into a full-year contract. And be sure to ask about cancellation rules, even for month-to-month contracts. Some clubs charge an enrollment fee but will often waive it if asked.

Lower-priced national chains:

* Snap Fitness (snap -- 24/7 access. Fees about $40 per month, deals on couple and family memberships. Month-to-month contract.


* Anytime Fitness (anytime -- access 24/7, key fee of about $35, monthly rate about $35. May require year contract plus initiation fee of about $50. Ask for best deal.

* 24 Hour Fitness (24hour Monthly rate about $29; may require year contract plus initiation fee of about $50. Ask for best deal.

Other tips:

* Out of work? If you’re locked into a year-long contract, ask the club if it will freeze your membership until you start working again, at least for a few months.

* Check payment details before you hand over your check or credit card. Best bet is a club that bills each month rather than via a deduction from a credit or checking account, though many clubs will insist on the deduction. You also don’t want to be locked into a year contract, if possible -- you could change your mind or move.

* Before you sign, be sure you’re clear on what’s free and what you pay extra for. If classes are extra, you may want to find a club that includes them in the membership fee.

* Clubs often offer one or two personal training sessions free when you sign up. It’s cool to have someone work with only you, but it’s also expensive -- $50 to $300 per hour, on average. If that’s not in your budget, consider these options: Ask for more free passes, ask trainers you like if they are ever on the floor to offer gratis coaching and find out if the club offers small training classes at rates well below the one-on-one sessions.


* Check your company benefits to see if free or discounted gym memberships are offered.

* Many health insurers offer discounts at specific gyms. Call the membership number on your insurance card or check the insurer’s website.

* If your doctor prescribes a gym membership to help treat a problem such as arthritis, you may be able to use your flexible spending account -- a pretax account for medical expenses some firms set up for employees. Ask the doctor if a prescription is appropriate, then show it to the person at your firm who manages employee benefits and ask if your company will allow gym use to be covered by the account.