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Since when did fitness get so expensive?

May 15th 2016 / Anna Hunter

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Your ultimate guide to the coolest classes, bootcamps and ways to get and stay fit, on a budget

I’m a sucker for any fitness space that comes equipped with straighteners, luxe conditioner and high thread count Egyptian cotton towels, but there comes a time, about a week after payday, when my fondness for luxe fitness becomes unaffordable. Health may be wealth, but when you’re dropping £575 a month on gym fees (as members of one exclusive London gym are known to), give or take extortionate joining fees, you best have buns of steel and weights made of pure gold, not to mention a considerable fortune, to justify the spend. Yet amongst a landscape of mushrooming plush, premium studios and members clubs, a crop of cutting edge, butt-kicking classes, contract-free gyms and free group exercise programmes promise to get endorphins (and glutes) firing without the lavish expense. Welcome to fitness on your terms that’s not requiring of a trust fund.

The good value gyms

Whether due to unrealistic resolutions or swanky add-ons as above, many gyms don’t have a reputation for ‘bang for your buck’ performance. Gym debt could be self-inflicted in that you’re not getting your money’s worth in terms of cost-per-visit, or it could be that you’re locked into a seemingly eternal contract that’s not meeting your needs. Gyms can be ruthless commercial environments, so if you feel short-changed, it’s worth reading up on your rights. Just for the record, your contract should never be for longer than a year; in 2011 the High Court deemed it unjust for gyms to bind members to a contract for over twelve months.

Other contractual stipulations to look out for are gym policy on freezing membership, notice periods, automatic contract renewal, changes to your circumstances (such as pregnancy, injury, illness or moving house) and where you stand should gym amenities or services be removed. If it’s not written into your contract, and you’re not satisfied with a gym’s membership benefits, fees and payment structure, don’t go there. Seek transparency, take a stand and if it comes to it haggle so that you’re getting your money’s worth, not to mention a fair deal. When the going gets tough…

If you’re satisfied that the gym life is for you, but you’re just not quite sure where to sign the dotted line, many high street gyms are upping their games to get you inside. Good old Fitness First offers free three days passes in all but the Black Label clubs, and ‘bring a friend for free on Friday’ is also a perk on offer in many of the brand’s 75 clubs across the UK and Ireland. If a day or three isn’t enough to convince you, one month memberships are also available from £19 to get you in the swing.

Money Saving Expert reports that, along with Fitness First, Virgin Active is one the UK’s most receptive gyms in terms of fee flexibility, member rewards and guest passes; from discounts across a range of major brands to reduced rates for under 16s, 18-25s and joint members, the global gym giant is likely staying well under the industry average customer drop-out rate (50 per cent). Exclusive classes and innovative technology also make it a cut above the competition; tailored Tough Mudder training and fresh cycling concept The Pack (spinning goes space age) are just a few of the state-of-the-art elements that secure Virgin Active as a key player in the reasonable but revolutionary fitness market.

For commitment phobes, PayasUgym provides the perfect portal by which to not only buy short term passes to a huge variety of gyms and fitness spaces (2300 and 410 pools currently), but you can also snoop on each venue impartially. If you’re a Londoner, ‘take your mind and body somewhere new’ by hitting up Another Space when it opens officially on 23rd May. With no membership, no joining fees, the ability to book classes for up to three friends and a very hip vibe, it’s giving high-end boutique gyms a run for their money. HIIT, various forms of yoga and spinning will be on offer on launch, with an introductory offer of two class credits and a buddy pass for £20. Expect plush towels, Cowshed toiletries and those much coveted changing room ghds. There’s also a juice and smoothie bar onsite, plus daily changing menu by Natural Fitness Food and The Detox Kitchen.

The canny classes

There’s nothing like a bit of group motivation to get your guns in gear, but if your points of reference are limited to ‘legs, bums and tums’ and Mr Motivator, you’ve got a world of online and communal workout adventure waiting for you.

First, the freebies. Sweaty Betty and Lululemon regularly offer complimentary yoga, pilates, HIIT and other workout classes in their branches nationwide. You can normally sign up instore on a first come, first served basis and you’ll receive top notch, expert tuition during your session. Reebok Fithub in Covent Garden also runs an ever changing roster of complimentary classes, while OnlineGym4Me is currently offering a 14 day free trial of its extensive range of live and recorded classes, from yoga flow to HIIT challenges and ‘healthy joint’ workouts.

Less free but incredibly effective is barrecore’s online workout library. For just under £25 a month (a steal given that a single in-studio class goes for £28), you’ll have access to unlimited barre workouts, allowing you to progress in terms of intensity, zone in on a particular area you’d like to target or bash out an express class when time is tight. Your butt will be tight by the end of the month too; it’s one of the most ‘hardcore’ yet easy to follow home workouts I’ve tried. You can purchase a barrecore accessory pack online so you’ve got all the gear, but the team upload many a ‘no equipment required’ online class so it’s not an essential. If you prefer your classes IRL and live in the capital, Slice Live are currently offering 30 days unlimited access to classes across London for £25, with single classes at £9 and generous ‘bring a friend’ bonuses.

If you’re more ‘bootcamp’ than barre, a free week’s pass with British Military Fitness will also put you through your paces without hurting your purse. With 140 outdoor class locations throughout mainland UK, you can attend as many sessions as you wish during your seven day trial period. We think that might be an underhand challenge right there. Speaking of al fresco fitness…

Natural highs

Apparently nothing gets British endorphins soaring quite like a jog; according to Mintel research released last year, 24% of us are regular runners (48% of 16-24 year olds), with one in three Londoners pounding the pavements to stay fit. The North East and Wales aren’t far behind, although walking is the most popular heart rate raiser of all, with 39% of Brits striding out to stay healthy.

David Walmsley, Senior Leisure Analyst at Mintel, thinks that the practicality and minimal economic impact of such accessible activity not only encourages us to workout more regularly, but keep up the good work for the long term too:

“Ease of access to participation opportunities is key to enabling regular activity, which is why individual ‘doorstep’ sports are most popular at the highest frequencies of play. Walking is obviously at a significant advantage over swimming in these terms but it also has another edge in being more accessible physically than most other sports too, in that you don’t have to be especially fit to be able to take part.”

“In-home and individual fitness activities are low in cost and high on convenience, a combination that makes the products and services that cater to consumers’ needs in these areas some of the UK’s most important sport and exercise markets. Affordability has been a central factor in sustaining the appeal of these activities during the economic downturn, but it is wider trends in demographics, technology and public health policy that now offer the key opportunities for longer term growth.”

One brand that has been quick to recognise the importance and popularity of on-the-spot, cost-free fitness is Nike. The Nike+ Training Club and Nike+ Running apps offer expert advice and training plans wherever and whenever you choose to train, while in-store meet ups and free Run Clubs bring you face to face with Nike master trainers and like-minded exercisers, whether you’re a beginner or a pro.

If jogging is your jam, signing up for timed weekly 5k runs with parkrun will help you to track your progress and connect with other runners, young and old, while Good Gym will have you running with more purpose than ever; combining regular exercise with good deeds in the community. Whether you’re running (quite literally) a group project, solo mission or simply sprinting over to an elderly person’s house to make them feel less isolated, you’ll receive advice and support from a qualified trainer as you go about your philanthropic fitness business. Green Gym has a similar ethos, although is focused on conservation and environmental projects.

Lastly, our wonderful NHS are doing their bit to make fitness open to all. From free workout podcasts to the ‘couch to 5k’ plan, incentivising getting sweaty is high on their wellbeing agenda. If you’re feeling especially ambitious, you can join the British Heart Foundation’s MyMarathon campaign, which is encouraging the nation to complete a 26.2 mile challenge by the end of May. Obviously it may have been a tad easier had you started at the beginning of the month, but the heightened challenge should hopefully see you attracting heftier donations to fund crucial BHF research. Getting fit for free and actually generating money for your efforts has got to feel good.

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