5 Strategies That Gyms Use to Hook You (and How to Not Fall for Them)

Planning to join a gym this month? Watch out for free food, complicated contracts, and other pitfalls.

Year after year, one of the most common New Year's resolutions is to lose weight. Hitting the gym is a great way to keep active during the cold months of the year, but joining a gym in January means you may encounter high-pressure sales tactics. This is the busy season for gyms, and fitness companies are eager to take your money during the post-holiday gold rush.

Gyms will use lots of strategies to try and get your business, and then keep you as a member for as long as possible. If you want to avoid overpaying for a gym membership, be aware of these five sneaky tactics — and have a game plan for fighting back.

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Free (or Fancy) Food

It's easy to be lured by a gym that offers free food, or a well-stocked snack bar. Many gyms offer a monthly pizza night or bagel buffet. When it comes to free food, chances are the foods in question are high-carb, and likely to set you back on your diet. By eating unhealthy food, you're just going to have to work twice as hard to lose the weight... and that means the gym gets your membership dues for another month.

SEE ALSO: 9 Ways to Eat Healthy on a Budget in 2018

Other gyms offer high-end smoothie bars or other on-trend snacks. These snacks might be healthier than pizza, but they'll still have a big impact on your wallet. All those $8 kale protein smoothies really start to add up over time.

Our "Don't Fall for It" Tip: Don't go to a gym that offers food. If you must, have a healthy snack before you start exercising, and bring a healthy snack from home for immediately after your workout. This is not only better for your post-workout recovery, but also better for your wallet and waistline.

contract fear

Lengthy, Complicated Contracts

Gym contracts can be pages long, and composed almost entirely of fine print. If you don't read them carefully, you could be squandering your money. Some gyms may require at least a yearlong contract. If you want to cancel, you may have to pay an early termination fee. In some cases, you can't cancel, which becomes a problem when you move to another state, or if the gym itself gets sold to another company.

Our "Don't Fall for It" Tip: Only sign up for gyms with month-to-month contracts — or ones that let you pay per visit. This gives you a lot more flexibility, and can keep you from getting slammed with the kind of lump-sum bill that might arise from a gym with automatic membership renewal.

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Promising Big Improvements

Another tactic gyms use to earn your money is by talking up planned future improvements. A gym employee might try to win your business by promising access to planned features like a new sauna, state-of-the-art machinery, or more exercise studio spaces. You might buy a 1-year membership based on the gym's promise to have a new yoga studio, heated pool, and a new bay of elliptical trainers installed by mid-March. But if those improvements are delayed, or canceled altogether, you'll feel like a sucker.

SEE ALSO: Your Complete Guide to Buying Workout Clothes

Our "Don't Fall for It" Tip: Only sign a contract with a gym you like as is. You can also try to get a clause added to your contract that stipulates you'll get a refund or the option to terminate early in the event that the gym's renovations fall behind schedule. Of course, most gyms are reluctant to change their boilerplate contracts.

One tactic you could try is negotiating a reduction in costs, asking the gym to waive any introductory fees or startup costs associated with your new membership. Argue that you're not willing to pay full price for a membership to a gym that doesn't meet all of your requirements... yet.

yoga stretch

Multi-Club Access

Multi-club access sounds like a great deal, especially for those who travel frequently for business. You get access to your "home" gym, plus others in the same network. However, depending on your membership level, you may not get full access to every single location in the chain. And you may have to pay through the nose to get a true "all-access" pass.

Our "Don't Fall for It" Tip: Read the fine print, and make sure you're paying for multi-club access you can actually use. If multi-club access is available at locations that are convenient for you, confirm that it's also affordable.

gym buddies fist bump

Rewards for Referring a Friend

Many gyms offer a "refer a friend" program. If a friend you refer joins the gym, you often get a free month. This isn't actually the worst deal, but chances are you don't have an unlimited supply of friends you can leverage for untold free months at your local gym.

Our "Don't Fall for It" Tip: If you need to save money, try leveraging your student ID, workplace affiliation, or even your health insurance provider to get a discount. Some gyms provide cheaper membership options for students, or for people who work at certain companies. And some health insurance companies offer gym reimbursement for any health and fitness facility membership. Simply collect receipts for enrollment or monthly payments until they total at least your maximum allowance, then send them to your provider.

Readers, how much do you pay for your gym membership? Share your tips for staying fit on a budget in the comments below!

Contributing Writer

Tucker Cummings is a freelance writer based in New England. She's also written for Yahoo! TV and Tapscape. Follow her on Twitter @tuckercummings on Twitter for her musings on tech, TV, writing, and current events.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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Dear Tucker--Foods high in carbs are not necessarily bad, and pizza's fat kcalories will set you back more on your weight loss efforts. Unless you have a nutrition degree, maybe hold off on the nutritional advice and opinions.
Check and see if a gym does their own billing or use a 3rd party. If it's ABC Financial or Affiliated Acceptance RUN!

You'll never forgive yourself if you don't when it comes to getting canceled.