How To Get a Gym Membership for Practically Free

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With monthly membership fees, one-time joining fees, taxes and more, the costs to join a gym can add up quickly. On average, a gym membership costs more than $600 per year. But I’ve looked into how you can get a membership for less. In this article, I’ll review:

Ways To Save Money on a Gym Membership

Before you join a gym, two things to consider are what kinds of workouts you want to do and what types of equipment you need to do them. This is important because you want to make sure you join a gym that’ll meet your needs.

Last year, “roughly 6.1 million American adults flushed a total $397 million down the drain on unused gym memberships,” according to a survey by Finder. The simplest way to save money on a gym membership is to not get one that’ll go unused. If you don’t need a gym for your workouts, I share alternative fitness options that are free or practically free below.

But if you want a gym membership, the type of gym you go to will impact what you pay. For workouts that only require standard weight training or cardio equipment (like dumbbells, treadmills, ellipticals, stationary bikes, etc.), the following options can save you money on your gym membership.

Community Centers

Community centers can be a great way to get access to a gym for practically — if not completely — free. In the city of Atlanta, for example, a one-year athletic pass costs $110. So for about $9 per month, residents can access the weight rooms, walking tracks, swimming pools, and more in 33 public recreation centers across the city. For seniors, the cost drops to $65 a year, or less than $6 a month.

The best deals on community center gyms usually go to city or county residents, but many centers offer low rates for access to non-residents. Where I live, the community center gym is free for city residents, but non-resident adults can pay a $3 daily fee or $15 a month.

You might not find specialized workout equipment at your community center gym, but you’re likely to get a great deal on access to standard gym equipment and may also have group class options. To find your nearest community center, you can search for recreation centers in your city or county.

Free Gym Passes

The option to try a gym membership before you buy it can be a great way to see if it’s a good fit for you. Many gyms offer free passes for first-timers to their business. Here are a few major gyms that offer trial periods:

GymTrial Period
24 Hour Fitness3 Days
Anytime Fitness7 Days
Gold’s Gym1 Day
LA Fitness3 Days
Planet Fitness1 Day

Some gyms also offer sign-up promotions. Always ask what deals or discounts are available. Lower rates are sometimes offered to senior citizens, military members, healthcare workers, first responders, educators, and students.

Take advantage of any trial periods before making bigger financial commitments whenever you can. This can save you money from things like an unused membership or hidden cancellation fees in the long run.

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Budget-Friendly Gyms

There are many different types of gyms, ranging from smaller boutiques and high-end gyms to mid-range and budget-friendly chains.

High-end and boutique gyms are typically the most expensive. These businesses are usually smaller and offer specialized equipment and classes in exchange for membership costs that can exceed $1,000 annually. Mid-range and budget-friendly gyms may not offer all the classes, amenities or personalized experiences as smaller gyms, but you can get access to some of the most widely used fitness equipment at a lower cost.

Many chain gyms offer memberships at rates that are considered budget-friendly when compared to the average cost of membership across the country. But with any gym, be on the lookout for hidden fees. In addition to a membership rate, gyms usually have annual fees, taxes, dues or other costs that will be added to your final bill.

Sample Rate From Planet Fitness:

With more than 2,300 locations across the United States, Planet Fitness is a great example of a budget-friendly gym. The chain is known for its $10-per-month rate for a basic membership, so I looked into joining a few locations near me and here’s what I found.

Although the monthly membership fee is only $10, joining also includes a startup fee, dues, and an annual fee:

Planet Fitness Sign Up Rate, McDonough, GA

The first payment is the startup fee, which is a one-time fee that’s due at sign-up. I found slightly different rates for this around the city, all between $5 to $6. Two weeks later, the first membership fee charges. With added startup fees, the first month costs $15.93 in the example above, which is slightly more than the promoted $10 monthly rate.

In addition, annual fees of $49 are due two months later, bringing my March total to around $59. The due date for annual fees depends on your start date and type of membership.

To see more information (including the member contract), you have to provide bank details for recurring payments. (I didn’t do this.) Based on the rates I got without sharing bank account information, this gym membership costs at least $164 a year, or around $13.67 per month. This rate assumes there aren’t more one-time charges down the road and is much lower than the $600 average. You can likely get comparable rates from other budget-friendly gyms in your area.

Just remember to ask about additional taxes, fees or changes in rates that might occur. Also, it’s a good idea to ask about a gym’s cancellation policy before signing up. That way you don’t end up paying excessive cancellation fees if you realize a gym membership isn’t for you.

Health Insurance

You may have heard the saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Insurance companies know that it costs less to keep you healthy than pay for treatment if you get sick. So, if you have health insurance, your plan may include free or reduced access to gym memberships, fitness classes, or fitness-related equipment.

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UnitedHealthcare is the largest health insurer in the country. The company offers on-demand and live-streaming workout classes to members. Kaiser Permanente, another major insurer in the country offers gym memberships, video workouts, and discounts on fitness trackers, clothing and equipment. The availability of these benefits will depend on your location and policy.

No matter your insurer, I recommend calling or checking online to see what gym membership offers are available to you. Even if you can’t get a free membership, you might learn about other discounts, money-saving incentives, or even qualify for free health-related equipment and coaching through your insurer.

Medicare Supplement Plans

While Medicare “doesn’t cover gym memberships or fitness programs,” a Medicare Supplement Plan or Medicare Advantage Plan might offer you discounts on fitness.

SilverSneakers is a popular program offered by many companies that sell Medicare Supplement Plans. If you have a Med Sup Plan, use the SilverSneakers Instant Eligibility Check tool to see if you get the free on-demand videos, live-streaming workouts, or access to over 15,000 fitness locations available for members.

HSA or FSA Payments

Gym memberships are typically excluded from health savings account (HSA) and flexible spending account (FSA) reimbursements. But if your doctor orders exercise as part of your medical action plan, you may qualify for an exception. And if your employer contributes to these accounts, your gym membership might end up being free or practically free.

You need a letter of medical necessity (LMN) from your doctor for this. The LMN is usually good for up to a year after it’s written and must be sent to your insurer for approval and possible submission to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). While this is one way to save money, be sure to follow the process for documentation and approval if your fitness is doctor ordered. You can read more on the guidelines from the HSA store here.

Other Fitness Options That Are Practically Free

The gym is great for people who want lots of options for fitness equipment or prefer to work out in a public setting. But if you want to get more active by any means, there are many alternatives to a gym membership that can save you money and time. Here are a few to consider:

Streaming Fitness Classes Online

From yoga to weight training or even dance classes, you can find and stream just about any type of workout online. There are several companies that offer memberships to access live video classes or pre-recorded programs on-demand. But if you are subscribed to a streaming service, you might already have access to fitness videos at no additional cost.

For example, a variety of workout videos are included with an Amazon Prime membership. You can also add fitness channels to your Prime membership such as FitFusion, which costs $6.99 a month, or you can even buy individual workout videos.

Netflix recently released a few Nike Training Club workout videos for all members to stream, and the company plans to roll out more than 90 fitness videos this year. You can take advantage of their new home workout videos at no additional cost to you if you’re already subscribed.

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Other streamers may have limited free options or offer upgrades that include fitness channels and content. You can also find follow-along workouts shared by many fitness companies and professional trainers for free on YouTube.

Using a Fitness App

Since the pandemic, fitness app downloads have increased by 46% across the world. Many apps offer workouts that can be done anywhere. Fitness apps can also have other benefits like progress monitoring, goal tracking, workout reminders, group features to share with friends and family, and more. What’s even better is that several apps are free! Check out some of the best free workout apps here.

Taking Advantage of Nearby Parks and Nature

We spend a lot of time looking at screens, and fitness apps and online classes add to that. But going outside is one way to up your fitness for free without increasing your screen time. Spending time in nature has been shown to, “lower blood pressure and stress hormone levels, … increase self-esteem, reduce anxiety, and improve mood.” There are countless ways to move outside. You can explore a great trail, play with your pets, or might even find free fitness equipment at a nearby park.

Setting Up Your Own Home Gym

While buying fitness equipment costs money, this tip can save you money in the long run. If you have space for your preferred workout equipment or you only use a few things every time you’re at the gym, it might be worth investing in your own equipment. You can start small (mat, dumbbells, jump rope, etc.) and build up your home gym slowly.

Even without equipment, there are many exercises you can do at home with just a little bit of space. Check out the free Exercise Database & Library by Ace Fitness for a great resource for exercises you can add to your routine.

Final Thoughts

A gym membership can be costly, but there are several ways to save money on your fitness. If you have health insurance, a good place to start is with your insurer. Many companies offer free or discounted rates for gym memberships to members. If not, you might still learn about other fitness benefits and incentives available to you.

Community centers are also a great starting place for free or discounted rates for fitness equipment. Your nearest community center might have the same equipment you’d find at the gym.

Otherwise, you might save money at a budget-friendly gym. Take advantage of trial periods to decide if a gym is a good fit for you. And be sure to read any contract before joining. Many memberships include additional fees that can drive your rate up.

Finally, if you’re open to alternative workouts, the options for your perfect, free (or practically free) fitness routine are endless.

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