Is a gym membership worth the investment? / Image credit: Victor Freitas

Economics 101: is joining a gym worth the investment?

Thinking of joining a gym?

Last week, we talked about how to make New Year’s resolutions that last longer than February 1st. If you’ve taken my advice, you’ve focused on a single resolution with small, realistic changes. We’ve also discussed setting SMART goals and how having a measurable goal makes it easier to keep track of your progress.

If your resolution is to train for that 5K, lose 20 pounds, or take a new fitness class, you might be thinking of joining one of the big box gyms that are found on almost every main intersection. They are convenient and provide you with both cardio and weight machines. They also offer a range of classes from boxing to dance. For some people, the gym is a one-stop-shop for everything fitness. For most, they are a terrible investment.

While membership fees vary, the industry-wide average falls in at $58 per month, or $696 per year. On top of the monthly fee, some gyms often tack on an “annual fee” (paid at the start of each new membership cycle), and an “initiation fee” (a one-time fee that can run as high as $250, due upon signing).

If you were to use the gym seven times a week, every week, you would be getting a great deal. However, a study run by UC Berkeley economists found that while members anticipate visiting a gym 9.5 times per month, they only end up going 4.17 times per month. That works out to 50 visits per year.

If you are serious about achieving your goals but don’t want to pay for something that you don’t use, think about the role the gym will play in your workout schedule. What does it offer that you currently need? Will you be joining just for a place to run while the weather is cold, or do you want the guided instruction of classes?

If it’s to take a specialized class, are there other studios dedicated to this activities that can fill the gap (e.g., spin, crossfit box, or yoga studio)? These places don’t have monthly maintenance fees and work on different payment schedules. You can find group fitness classes to fit your budget and figure out which studio or activity best fits your goals.

If you are looking for a place to run and lift weights on your own, there are several contract-free gyms in Toronto. With low monthly fees and no perks, you might miss your scented towels, but you will have a basic gym with well-maintained equipment.

Finally, consider building your own home gym. If you have the space, you can turn that spare room — or even spare corner — into your perfect gym. Investing in durable pieces of gym equipment may feel like an initial expense, but once you add up the payments, it’s a great investment. And if you don’t want to commit to purchasing a cardio machine, free weights from Winners or Canadian Tire are a good starting point. There are many apps (free and paid) that can take you through heart-pounding workouts and require minimal equipment. Buy a wall-mount bracket for your tablet so you don’t have to keep checking your phone during a workout. You can also use this during your cardio sessions to replace those gym televisions which always have poor reception or shows you can’t change.

Joining a gym gives you a place to work out, but is it your best fitness investment? The truth is that it may be. You might like the convenience, classes, and services. However, for many people, being stuck in a contract will result in overall frustration. Figure out what role the gym will play before you give them access to your bank account.

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