What to Look for in a Gym Contract


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It’s finally sunk in: You’ve got to join a gym. The home workout stuff just isn’t cutting if you’re going to really fulfill those New Year’s resolutions you made, what, like two months ago? Now before you pack up the gym bag and hurriedly sign up at the first gym that offers you a cheap rate, you’ll want to do three things: review your fitness goals, check out the facility, and get a look at that membership contract.

Reviewing your fitness goals

Now what type of gains did you want to make again? Whether your goals coming out the gate in 2016 were to build mass, increase strength, or improve endurance; you have to get yourself on a program.

When choosing a pre-existing program, or devising one of your own, you’ll want to set SMART goals. This personal development acronym devised by business consultant George T. Doran in 1981 has since been put to use by personal trainers to effectively bring their clients to their fitness goals. Here’s how you’ll want to break down the SMART tool in relation to your goals.


What are you specifically looking to achieve? Increase muscle mass by X inches. Deadlift twice body weight. Run 8:10 mile pace.

What are you specifically going to do? For mass, increase calorie intake, as well as protein, and reduce cardio. For strength, increase load and reduce rep range. For endurance, incorporate HIIT and cross training.


How are you going to do track it? For mass, bring out the scale and tape measurer. For strength, chart the load increase over set time period (weeks/ months). For endurance, chart decrease in seconds each time you hit the mile mark.


Is this goal challenging, but still achievable? No matter the goals, you want to be sure they are not extreme and out of reach, but also not below standard performance.


Is this a realistic goal? If you want to gain those X inches in seven days, it’s likely not realistic. If you want to deadlift that weight with one day of training every two weeks, it’s likely not realistic. If you want to run that 8:10 mile on two hours of sleep a night, it’s likely not realistic.


When will you achieve the goal by? Always have a specific date of completion. Realistic but not too distant in the future.

Check out the facility

close-up of man working out on a rowing machine at the gym

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Now that you have your goals set and a fitness program chosen, it’s time to take a tour of your gym of choice. Those goals are why a tour of the facility really matters. And we’re not just talking a quick walk-through, in which the sales associate rattles off how affordable their membership is.

This is when you want to take a good look at the equipment and ask the crucial questions.

Are you spotting not only enough benches and weights to get that mass, but also quick and easy protein supplements for post workout? Do they have equipment crucial to your strength goals — olympic bar and plates, kettlebells, racks? Is there enough space to bring you toward that 8:10 mile, as in a stretch area where you can also perform HIIT circuits, as well as rowing machines and stationary bikes for cross training?

Be sure to ask about peak hours and current membership numbers. Find out if there are waits for the equipment and if there is a timed-use system in place. Jump on a machine or two to see how well they work; be on the lookout for broken or wobbly equipment, especially benches. And don’t forget to checkout the locker room, while also inquiring about locker policy and additional amenities, such as towel service.

Take a look at the contract

man signing a contract

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If the gym you’re interested in doesn’t allow you to review the membership contract before signing up, then it may not be the gym for you. For instance, the gym I work for brings up your contract electronically on a kiosk for you to review line-by-line before signing off on the membership.

When reading that contract at the gym you’re considering there are a few things you’ll want to keep your eyes peeled for:

  1. Length of agreement: Most gym contracts are set at a year duration, others are month-to-month or up to two years.
  2. Renewal policy: Some gyms allow for automatic renewal of their membership. In other words, don’t assume you’re no longer a member after those 12-24 months are up. While the contract may have ended, there could be a clause that notes automatic renewal with a no-fee option to cancel after the first 12-24 months.
  3. Cancellation policy: Speaking of cancellations, you’ll want to be clear on the fees and timeframes. Most gyms allow a three-day cancellation with no charge. After that, there is typically a cancellation fee. Some gyms may allow you to cancel your membership at any time, while implementing a prorated charge. In other words, upon cancelling your membership you would pay a fraction of the monthly dues and continue to have access to the gym for X amount of days.   
  4. Activation and maintenance fees: Depending on the promotion your gym of choice is running, there may not be an activation fee, but for some gyms that fee can run you up to $100. Without a doubt, there will always be a non-negotiable maintenance fee, typically charged once per year, sometimes at time of sign up or a few months into the membership.
  5. Rates and billing cycle: As most gyms now automatically deduct your membership dues from a card on file, you’ll want to be clear on which day of the month the charge will be made as to not accrue late fees and ensure gym access. You’ll also want to be sure rates will not change throughout the year.
  6. Membership amenities: More gyms than ever are offering one-off complimentary services, such as a free personal training session or class or complimentary guest privileges.

Be sure to read the fine print, and ask questions if you’re curious so that you’re well informed when you join!

Ellen Thompson is a National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) certified personal trainer at Blink Fitness in New York City, where she serves as Head Trainer at the Penn Plaza location. Ellen’s approach to training is that “anything is possible.” Endurance, strength, and stability/agility training are at the core of her fitness programming. She holds a master’s degree in New Media Publishing and Magazine Editing from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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