Nearly 70 percent of Americans with a gym membership never use it, flushing significant cash every month they skip. The average membership fee runs about $58 — but can head north of $130 in places like New York City or even Naples, Florida.
If you want to save money, either quit the gym or put your money to work. And considering so many experts consider exercise — that thing that happens in gyms — to be the magic pill to health and well-being, let’s consider how to get the most out of your money.
Find a gym that’s convenient
This means both location and hours. If you have to drive 20 minutes to get there, you’re not going to do it. If you can’t go before or after work — or whenever your sweet spot is, you’re not going to do it.
Tip: For most folks, a good location is close to home, but maybe it’s close to work. If you aren’t sure, some places will let you do a month-long test drive. See what works for you.
You’re more likely to use the gym if it offers what you need. For certain folks, that means free fresh towels and clean showers. This makes leaving and going straight to work or out for dinner easier. For you, it may be a sauna, spacious lockers, and free bottled water.
Have a goal, map a strategy
Ninety-five percent of people who join a gym without a plan will fail. Many gyms offer an introductory fitness assessment with one of their staff. Take advantage so you can set those goals and then figure out what you need to do to reach them.
Tip: Losing weight is a popular goal, but that alone is a little vague — pick a number or a pair of pants or a favorite skirt you want to be able to wear. And weight loss isn’t the only goal. Building on your endurance in miles or minutes, for example, can be just as rewarding.
Take a class
Some gyms charge by the class, at others membership, opens the door to a slate of classes. Group workouts are proven to keep people motivated, be it the great instructor or the familiar faces.
Tip: Before joining, check the schedule to see if class times fit your schedule. Sticking to the same two or three classes a week builds routine, and the expectation that you’ll be there and so will they.
Get a coach
Nothing motivates like your own personal trainer. Two or three times a week is ideal but also can be costly. Gyms may give you one session or one week with a trainer for free, but most charge after that.
Consider biting the budget bullet for a month to get you into the groove, then dial it back to once a week or every other week. Ask the trainer to give you a to-do list for the alternate days and stick to the list. If you can scrape it together, a regular coach can be worth it — you work harder and skip less often if money is on the line.
Tip: Trainers have regular clients, and in some towns those clients are seasonal. See if you can negotiate discounted sessions in the offseason. Or perhaps you can do 30 to 45 minutes rather than the full hour together.
Bring a friend
Almost as motivating as paying for a coach is agreeing to be there for your workout partner. If you agree to a schedule together you’re more likely to show up and once you’re there those competitive drives can kick in to make workouts more productive.
Tip: Set some goals and make some bets about who can get there first.
Buy a fitness tracker
FitBit, Apple watch, various phone apps — there’s plenty of research out there about their accuracy, but that’s secondary to the motivation that comes with wearing them. At the very least you can compete against you-last-week. Even better, various fitness trackers allow you share your workouts with friends — and the competition continues.
Workout at home instead
Don’t blow it with the other 23 hours in the day
Make it easier to meet your goals by eating foods that aren’t roadblocks. Alcohol in the evening can make the next morning’s work out feel like slogging through mud. And if you’re looking for visible results, also try eating cleaner with fewer sugars and processed foods. Consider trying a detox tea to prep your body before and during a dietary change.