Five cheap and free ways to get fit… and avoid a pricey gym contract

It’s a common resolution to start the new year with the best intentions of getting fit, but one month in some who signed up to a lengthy gym contract may already feel like it’s been a waste of money. 

People are often quick to take up gym contracts in a burst of ambition, but don’t always think about how expensive they are, especially if they don’t use them multiple times a week.

In January, a large chunk of gym memberships are opened according to broker Norton Finance, but 50 per cent of new gym members stop going within six months.

If it’s not too late already to avoid a pricey locked-in contract, you might want to consider some cheaper and even free ways of burning off calories before signing on the dotted line.

Consider using an outdoor gym instead of signing up to a lengthy gym contract – it’s free

1. Subscribe to a budget-friendly fitness app 

There are thousands of budget-friendly apps to choose from, offering exercise videos and training plans for all types of workout. 

Free apps include Public Health England’s ‘Couch to 5k’, Nike Run Club and Strava. 

Some apps offer extra services, such as personalised fitness plans and advice, in exchange for a monthly fee. 

These include Moovlite, which charges subscribers £15.99 a month, and WithU, where app users pay £7.99 a month or £59.99 for the year.  Clearly the cost of these can also add up and you’ll still need to find somewhere to exercise and use the motivation they provide, but it’s likely to be much cheaper than a gym.

Jeannie Di Bon, a movement therapist and founder of Moovlite, says: ‘A subscription offers more than just exercise videos. 

‘For example, our clients get access to a private community and access to me – we wanted to make the experience feel as close to working with me one on one as possible.’ 

A spokesperson for WithU adds: ‘Users will save money ultimately because they aren’t getting tied into a long-term agreement like a gym membership. 

‘The workouts are designed primarily to be done at home or without specialist equipment – so users can be efficient with their time, and save money on transportation, membership fees and buying equipment.’ 

At £7.99 the WithU fitness app subscription is much cheaper than most monthly gym deals

At £7.99 the WithU fitness app subscription is much cheaper than most monthly gym deals

2. Use outdoor gyms 

Freezing temperatures may make you think twice about this option but, with more than 1,500 outdoor gyms to choose from, this can be one of the best ways to get fit for free – and get some fresh air to boot.

They are usually located in public parks. You can find your closest outdoor gym through The Great Outdoor Gym Company (TGO) or Fresh Air Fitness websites. 

TGO’s Active App is free to download and will help you find your local free outdoor gym as well as log, track and share your activities. 

3. Opt for ‘pay as you go’ at the local council gym

If working out via digital means or outside doesn’t appeal, you could still save money if you go to a gym, because your local leisure centre will typically now offer more flexible options that won’t sign you up long term.

Some private gyms also now offer this but you might have to enquire. Salespeople will push the gym’s fixed contract, but this is where you should stop the sales pitch and ask for ‘pay as you go’. 

It’s an ideal alternative if you know you won’t use the gym that much or aren’t ready to commit to a full membership. 

A number of companies now run a lot of council leisure centres for them – and this can mean that it’s easier to find out about and book at multiple sites. Although many people complain about having to sign up for numerous accounts rather than just go down the lesiure centre, as they once did. 

Everyone Active lets you to book and pay for activities (prices vary) at any time at one of its 190 centres across the country. Mark Basker, regional contract manager at Everyone Active, says: ‘Our pay as you go membership is free to register online. 

‘This means visitors are charged per activity each time they use our facilities i.e., gym, swim or an exercise class. This allows more flexibility to those who do not wish to commit to a monthly membership.’

Day passes are another option. Better gyms, which has around 200 leisure centres, offer day passes that give you access their facilities for one, seven or 30 days. Prices range vary depending on location.

3. Free classes for seniors

Some gyms may even offer you free classes if you’re over a certain age. 

As an example, Basker says: ‘Those aged 60 and above can also access all Southwark Leisure Centres free of charge one hour a day Monday to Thursday 9.30am – 10.30am and then Friday, Saturday and Sunday in line with Free Swim and Gym Times.

‘Additionally, over 60’s receive three group exercise classes per week at The Castle, Peckham, Dulwich and Camberwell Leisure Centres free of charge.’

Find out if your local leisure centre offers something similar by dropping in or trying to call or email them. 

4. Choose to go off peak

If you’re working from home or work flexibly you can take advantage of going to the gym at less busier times and getting charged off-peak prices which are generally cheaper than full priced memberships.

Puregym, for instance, charges £9.99 per month for its off peak package, which is cheaper than its Core (£12.99 per month) and Plus packages (£18.99 per month).

Just make sure you can go to the gym at the restricted times on offer.

5. Consider trials

If you’re not certain that you can commit to a gym full time, consider a trial first. David Lloyd, for instance, offer a three month membership.

Gyms can have ways of locking you into a contract, so it’s crucial to take the time to read your contract from start to finish before agreeing to anything 

You should always check how long the trial period is and whether you will be obliged to pay for a full-price membership immediately after the deal ends. Find out when you need to cancel before the full membership kicks in. 

Nick Drewe, of online discounts platform WeThrift, says: ‘Gyms can have ways of locking you into a contract, so it’s crucial to take the time to read your contract from start to finish before agreeing to anything. 

‘If you’re uncertain about any part of the contract, flag this with a member of the gym team. 

‘Fortunately, not all gyms out there offer locked contracts – but it’s still important to be 100 per cent aware of the terms and conditions of the deal you are signing up for.

‘If a gym does have an exit policy, you could try negotiating the terms of this policy before signing up.’