After looking into joining a gym, I can't help but notice that all of them require a credit or debit card or a checking account number to join. I've also noticed that the contracts they require you to sign are very wordy and borderline shady. For example, you have to send a written notice to the gym via certified mail within 45 days of the billing cycle you wish quit, or you they have you go through some hoops in order to quit. I'm guessing this is to get another two or three billing cycles out of you before they decide to quit debiting your account. None of the gyms I've been to have said that I could pay cash for a membership. At one gym the salesman kept leaving and coming back with an altered contract. I asked for a one year contract without automatic renewal but he kept rewriting it with the automatic renewal box checked.

Is there any gym out there that accepts cash for X number of months and gives me a receipt for that payment and the only document I have to sign is perhaps a medical release form?

If the business model it takes to run a gym is that shady, then it must be borderline legal. Why do the sales people have to be so shady at these places?

I have considered getting a pre-paid credit card and thoroughly reviewing the contract before signing it (and reviewing any copies I get on the spot.), but it seems that these places are scandalous, and I don't trust any them (i.e. they would keep trying to bill the credit card after the contract had expired and then try to hold me liable because I had missed something the salesman pulled over on me...).

What's the safest way of paying for and signing up for a gym membership?

  • I would have tried scratching out the part of the contract with automatic renewal and signed it. Dec 12, 2011 at 19:29

7 Answers 7


Shady isn't quite the right word. They know that most of their customers are going to quit soon after they begin -- as in "before the end of January" -- so they lock you in while you're motivated. And of course they're going to make it difficult for you to quit.

No choice but to read their contract, understand it completely, follow their rules, and meet their deadlines. There's lots of freedom for them and lots of restrictions for you. It's like this if you're not the one writing up the contract.

However ... do you have a YMCA around? Our YMCA has an initiation fee, but beyond that it's month to month. Most flexible gym membership I've heard of. If you lapse for too long they'll make you pay another initiation fee to rejoin, but there's no penalty for canceling. Not all Y's are like that, but check around to see.

  • Small local gyms in my area also have month to month terms. It is worth shopping around for a gym. I would rather drive a little farther to work out for a good deal then get ripped off.
    – MrChrister
    Nov 11, 2010 at 15:49
  • 1
    +1 for suggesting the Y. It probably won't be flashy, and probably won't have personal trainers for hire, but will almost certainly have all the equipment you need to stay in shape.
    – kdgregory
    Dec 12, 2011 at 0:51
  • 1
    My Y is better equipped than the local gyms and has personal trainers for hire. If it wasn't for the ridiculously cheap deal I was offered through work, I would still be there. Dec 12, 2011 at 19:27
  • 1
    I don't know about you, but I consider "make it difficult for you to quit" to be a shady practice! I actually just saw a news report on this last night, and even the bank apparently recommends closing your account and opening a new one! How messed up is that?
    – corsiKa
    Jul 23, 2012 at 17:38

I've worked in gyms for 9 years. Here's a few things I've seen:

  1. Contracts aren't necessarily a terrible thing if you know that you are going to stay for a while, just know the terms you're signing up for.

  2. Be aggressive and relentless with the membership salesman, don't be afraid to put your own price out there and if you don't get it walk away. Don't want the super high sign-up fee, say you won't join unless that is gone or lower. (Often these sign-up fees are commissions for the salesman. One time I had a guy slip me a $100 under the table to drop the sign-up fee and monthly rate saving him at least $500 a year)

  3. Pick newer gyms because they will be more in a need of new memberships thus giving in to lower prices.

  4. If you don't want to sign a contract just say so, you'd be amazed how often someone gets out of signing a contract just because they asked and threatened not to join because of it.

  5. Be aware of annual fees, a trend in the industry now is to have a super low membership dues but charge the member an annual "gym improvement" or "rate guarantee fee".

  6. Join with a buddy, ask for a buddy discount if you sign-up at the same time.

  7. Finally consider why you are joining a gym, I've seen it so often that someone joins a gym and then gets frustrated because they never use it because they weren't getting the results you wanted. Maybe your better off spending a little more and going to a private personal training studio or a group exercise studio. Independent bootcamps are a hot now.

Ultimately it's about you getting what you want out of it, so do what is going to give you the best chance to get the results you want.


I've often encountered the practices you describe in the Netherlands too. This is how I deal with it.

Avoid gyms with aggressive sales tactics

My solution is to only sign up for a gym that does not seem to have one-on-one sales personnel and aggressive sales tactics, and even then to read the terms and conditions thoroughly. I prefer to pay them in monthly terms that I myself initiate, instead of allowing them to charge my account when they please. [1]

Avoid gyms that lack respect for their members

Maybe you've struggled with the choice for a gym, because one of those 'evil' gyms is very close to home and has really excellent facilities. You may be tempted to ask for a one-off contract without the shady wording, but I advise against this.

Think about it this way: Even though regular T&C would not apply, the spirit with which they were drawn up lives on among gym personnel/management. They're simply not inclined to act in your best interest, so it's still possible to run into problems when ending your membership. In my opinion, it's better to completely avoid such places because they are not worthy of your trust. Of course this advice goes beyond gym memberships and is applicable to life in general.

Hope this helps.

[1] Credit Cards aren't very popular in the Netherlands, but we have a charging mechanism called 'automatic collection' which allows for arbitrary merchant-initiated charges.

  • 4
    +1 for avoiding financial contracts with bad people/companies.
    – Alex B
    Nov 12, 2010 at 17:17

New York state actually has laws protecting gym members from predatory gym membership pricing. Your state may also have laws like that as well.


I once was reviewing one of those contracts with plenty of bad clauses in it, sitting across from the salesman whose commission depending on me signing it. I started crossing out all the bad clauses, initialed them and said I would sign it if he'd initial the changes as well. Oh, and there was one clause that said something like "THIS CONTRACT MAY NOT BE MODIFIED WITHOUT THE EXPRESS WRITTEN CONSENT OF THE EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT..." Of course, I crossed it out as well. I signed, he signed. Everyone was happy. Fortunately I never had to deal with any of the issues, but what's the worse they could do?


Quite often the local university has decent gym facilities with super-competitive rates, even if you are not a student there, and you can usually join for a single term and pay by cash. They lack some of the fancier things and might be not as shiny, but I want my membership fees to pay for equipment, not interior design.


The safest way is to not sign contracts with terms that are onerous to you.

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