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How Some Gyms Rip You Off!

Ned Arick


Don’t Get Mad—Get Informed. We ‘ll Help Make Sure You Don’t Get Scammed Again!


As soon as you walk into a big box gym these days, it seems like you’re bombarded with questions about signing up that day, that second. Even if you have a gym membership already, they attempt to up-sell their gym by telling you all about the great group classes they offer, the amazing cardio equipment (sure don’t enjoy cardio), and my favourite of all, the low, low price of a membership. Signing up for gyms these days is like buying a used car. You’re a minnow, and you’ve just walked into the shark tank. The front desk staff is coached on sales, just as a used car salesman is. They quickly find out what gym you’re coming from, what neighbourhood you live in, where you work—they even size up your income level by the clothes you’re wearing and what type of car you pulled up in! They’re trained to know exactly how to get you, the unsuspecting victim, to buy a gym membership. This article is going to help you understand the top five phrases, offers, or just plain scams that are just to get you in the door and signed up at many big box gyms.


1. Personal Trainer “Freebies” 

“Oh you haven’t been to the gym in years and don’t know what to do? I would love to have one of our qualified personal trainers sit down with you and show you the ropes. It’s totally free with your membership!”

It is not totally free! Most personal trainers get paid only when they train clients, so when you come for your consultation, they’re going to try to sell you on training. Your $20-per-month gym membership doesn’t come with three days a week of hour-long sessions with a trainer. Your trainer isn’t going to show you how to use the machines and what program to follow and write you a nutrition plan in one hour like you were told. This is one of the biggest scams ever. The front desk manager tells you that you’ll get what you need from this session, you sign up, and when you walk back in a week later, you’re surprised when they pull out a price sheet. Don’t fall victim to this. If someone at the front desk tells you something like this, don’t believe it. Many gyms make more pure profit from personal training than they do selling gym memberships. Why would they give away the goose that lays the golden eggs?

2. Urgency of Advertising

I’ll let you in on a little gym secret: The $0 enrollment isn’t only this weekend, and when the front desk employee says he can only waive that fee today, they’ve been saying the same pitch every day for the last year! The ad campaigns for the big box gyms mirror this sale pitch. Huge billboards shout “$10 A MONTH” “TODAY ONLY!” “THIS WEEKEND ONLY!” “NO HIDDEN FEES!” We’ve all seen those, and we’ve all sadly fallen victim to those catchphrases. This isn’t so much a scam as it is a tactic, but it’s a tactic that continues to work on unsuspecting people who have no idea what they’re getting into. Here’s another little secret: The gym isn’t going anywhere, so if you don’t feel comfortable, don’t feel rushed to sign up now because the offer will still be there next month!


3. Fitness Tests

“Do 20 pull-ups and get a month of free membership”! If I don’t already have a gym membership and I’m slightly overweight, do you think I can do 20 pull-ups? No? That’s the point? Oh, well I’d better sign up so I can do 20 pull-ups at one point in my life. I’m all for a good bit of competition, but making the 190-pound soccer mom try to do pull-ups in front of her two kids so that she signs up for a membership out of pure embarrassment is ridiculous. Some gyms even say it’s mandatory that you do a “fitness test” to ensure that you aren’t a liability to the gym and that you can be covered by their insurance. This is a lie! If they give you this pressure, tell them you’re not paying for a fitness test and that you’ll provide them with a letter from your medical doctor that certifies that you’re healthy enough to exercise at their gym.


4. Price

Most gyms don’t do this, but just in case you walk into one that does, be careful. Some gyms don’t have prices posted for a membership, and this can really be a bit of a mess. If you come in dressed well and they saw you park a Mercedes, you may pay more than the guy or girl with the messed-up hair and three kids who drove up in a 1999 Honda minivan and just complained to the sales rep about losing their job. The fact of the matter is that some gyms have a revenue quota. Let’s say they have four memberships, at $20, $40, $50, and $80 per month. Each one gives a little more and has some added incentive. If you drive up with a nicer car or are dressed nicely, they may start with saying something like, “It’s your lucky day! We have a special on our $80 membership, no enrollment today only, and you get access to everything we have to offer everywhere.” This is the classic up-sell. They start high in hopes of getting you there, but in all honesty, if you buy the $40 membership, they’re still going to most likely be okay with that. If you want the $20 membership, get that membership; don’t let them talk you into the huge membership just because you may look like you have the money.

MUSCLE INSIDER TIP: Avoid showering or shaving for a few days, dress in your most beaten-up gym clothes and tell them you just lost your job. Park your car far away from the gym, and when they ask where you live, say, “I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be there now with everything going on.” The sales rep will disappear faster than a bottle of Deca at a bodybuilding convention.


5. Scales

Most gyms will give you tours, and during the tour they may offer to weigh you or measure your body fat. This is often done to put you on the spot, embarrass you, and have you further realize that you need to join their gym. Some gyms take this one step further and test your body fat with bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA). This is the instrument that looks like an old-school Nintendo controller. BIA is a fantastic tool to measure body fat, but it needs to be calibrated and used in a controlled setting to be accurate. Sadly, you walking into the gym at 3 p.m. on a Thursday isn’t controlled since they just used it at one o’clock with a person who was more hydrated and had more or less fat than you. Don’t let these sorts of numbers push you into getting a membership you don’t truly want. Having measuring tools like this are great, but they must be used correctly and with consistency to measure changes in body composition over time.

How Do I Get Around the Hassle?

Do your research! Know what you want from a gym, and know what you’re willing to pay. Don’t walk in without knowing the cost or what the gym has to offer. I normally advise most people to not take the tour of the gym. This is where they get most of your information to sell you: where you’ve worked out before, where you work, whether you are renting or own your home, what you like to do for fun, family, friends etc. To be honest, most gyms have the same equipment, and they can tell you exactly what they have at the front desk. The most important factor is getting a gym that’s close to home and one that has enough equipment to get the job done and at a fair rate.

If you can afford it, many gyms allow you to pay up front for the year—normally between $200 and $300. Most of the gyms I’ve belonged to don’t even take your card to have on file if you pay this way. This helps you if they decide to raise fees or randomly charge you for “insurance” or “upkeep” or any of the other bogus charges that come up later on in the membership. Read the fine print! Like, really read it, or make sure the person signing you up talks you through every signature. Once you’ve signed, there’s no talking your way out of it. Just make sure that you have everything understood, but like anything in life, your best bet is to be well-read and have your research done!


Disclaimer #2/Conclusion

I do want to make it known that this article isn’t about all gyms, general managers, or front desk staff. I’ve personally worked for some of the best gym managers and front desk staff. But I’ve been around gyms and traveled long enough to realize that it’s a business, and as with all businesses you have ethical ones and those that cut corners and do anything to make a quick buck. I wish it were different, but in a lot of gyms, that’s how it is.

Some of these managers really care about the members and will do anything for their staff, but it does come down to a paycheck at the end of the month, and a lot of gyms pay by performance. If you’re looking to sign up for a gym, it’s the best decision you will ever make for improving your health. Just be informed and let some or all of this article enlighten you to some of the risks involved so you can make a smart decision.