Exercise can be an expensive business. From gym fees that stretch north of £50, to contracts that carry more weight than you though, a resolution to head to the gym is often bad news for your finances.
If you fancy getting fit for less, or even for free, try our 14-step guide to keeping down the cost of workouts and gym membership.
1. Get fit on your commute
Adults are advised by the National Health Service to do 150 minutes of weekly physical activity to keep healthy.
This can most easily be fitted in with the daily routine so instead of catching the bus to work, think about walking (quite fast) for 30 minutes, five days a week – and run up the stairs when you get there.
2. Keep motivated
With many smartphones now offering apps monitoring the steps you take (10,000 is a recommended minimum daily target) watching the number build up can help reluctant exercisers gain momentum with reaching goals at no cost.
There are some apps such as StepJockey which encourage you to burn calories by walking or running up the stairs at work. Download it for free to start tracking your stair use.
3. Seek green spaces
There are 27,000 public parks in Britain meaning there should be one within reach of your home.
If a walk or run in the park is not incentive enough to break into a sweat, look out for the free ‘fitness trails’ dotted around many parks that aim to make exercise more fun.
Everything from monkey bars and hurdles are on hand to encourage the reluctant participant. Also, try ourparks.org.uk, which runs exercise classes in many parks.
4. Try running
Couch to 5k is a free NHS devised app (offering podcasts) aimed at getting people with little or no experience ‘up and running’ in nine weeks.
At the same time consider signing up to mapmyrun.com for help in devising an appropriate running route.
Also consider Parkrun, which organises free, weekly 5 kilometre timed runs on a Saturday morning.
Register online at parkrun.org.uk, where you are issued with a barcode. This gets scanned at the end of the race and tracks your run time.
5. Manual labour
Green Gyms are an alternative way to get fit for free while learning a new skill such as tree-planting, willow-coppicing or stile-building.
Run by charity The Conservation Volunteers, the activities are aimed at all levels of fitness. Find a Green Gym at tcv.org.uk.
6. Get fit with YouTube
The internet may make couch potatoes of millions but it is also the source of free fitness help. Hundreds of exercise videos are on offer.
7. Get together
If motivation is an obstacle to getting started, consider attending a free class with others such as those organised by some sports brands. For example, Sweaty Betty runs dozens of classes every week from its stores, while Lululemon offers yoga and running clubs.
8. Go municipal
Local authority leisure centres have smartened up their act in recent years.
Many now provide top-notch facilities at a more affordable price than offered by private chains – though you will usually need to take your own towels and shower gel.
For example, Latchmere Leisure Centre in Battersea, South London, charges £26 a month for gym membership (plus a £25 start-up fee).Compare that with the fancier Nuffield Health’s gym up the road costing £61 a month (12-month contract).
9. Try before you buy
If a private gym turns out to be your preferred option, ask for a taster session before you commit. Some will offer a day or even a weekly pass for free.
But you may need to jump through hoops and give all your personal details for the privilege.
10. Buy a package
Think about purchasing a package of classes through an app such as ClassPass. For a minimum £35 a month for three classes, you have huge choice – everything from boot camps and dance to yoga.
It is a rolling monthly contract, so it can be easily cancelled. But if you do not turn up to a class without cancelling in advance you will incur a penalty charge.
11. Bargain hard
Private gyms are eager for new custom at this time of year and will offer incentives to hook you in.
This includes waiving sign-up fees or providing a free month’s membership. Annual contracts can be expensive, especially if your desire to go to the gym diminishes as the year progresses.
Consider paying by a monthly rolling contract instead. Though more expensive you can cancel when your commitment dries up. At Virgin Active in Broadfield Park, Sheffield, for example, the annual contract costs £54 a month (plus £15 joining fee) whereas the monthly rolling deal costs £62.95 a month (plus £15 joining fee). Buyers of VitalityHealth private medical insurance get half-price membership at Virgin Active.
12. Pay as you go
Gym bunnies who do not want to commit to regular visits or a contract can try websites such as PayAsUGym. This provides access to good value day or monthly passes at thousands of gyms across Britain without the nuisance of contracts.
Further savings can be made by buying through a cashback website such as TopCashback or Vouchercodes.
13. Beware small print
Many gym contracts are packed with incomprehensible language, tortuous clauses, long notice periods and even the odd unfair term.
Make sure you know what you are getting into. If signing a 12-month deal, for example, make a note of the renewal date so you do not unwittingly get put on a new 12-month arrangement.
If you cancel a contract under the terms of the deal, also remember to cancel direct debits or the continuous payment authority linked to the arrangement.
14. Know your get out clauses
Lawyers at Das Law say contracts are tough to escape but there are routes out:
1. If the gym closes or removes a facility which formed a crucial part of its offering – for example, a swimming pool, gym equipment or steam room – this could be construed as a breach of contract. You can argue for a reduction in fees or ending the contract.
2. If personal circumstances change during a contract period, such as diagnosis of a long-term illness, you have grounds for immediate cancellation, thanks to a decision by courts to outlaw certain unfair terms in fixed-term contracts.
3. Should a long-term illness stop you from using the gym, you have the right to ask the provider to make modifications to the gym so that you can continue to use it if you wish.
4. An increase in membership fees could result in a breach of contract. This depends on the wording of the contract. The price rise will need to be large enough to show that it represents a significant departure from the original basis of the contract.
SOURCE: SALLY HAMILTON FOR THE MAIL ON SUNDAY