It’s a jungle out there and our gym survey discovered plenty of pitfalls for the unwary.
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  • Updated:12 Jul 2004


Joining up

In an ideal world — one where all gyms follow the guidelines in their state’s code of practice — all signing-up experiences would be like this. However, our survey findings suggest the real world’s very different.

A common complaint (14% of members in our survey) was that they were induced by special offers and an invitation to inspect facilities, then felt pressured to sign up. This figure increased to over 30% among members of two gym chains, FITNESS FIRST and FERNWOOD (see Gym chains, for more on FITNESS FIRST and FERNWOOD).

Most codes of practice say gyms shouldn’t use high-pressure tactics, harassment or coercion to get people to join up. However, exactly what constitutes ‘high pressure’, etc., may largely be a matter of interpretation.

Not being offered a monthly payment option (8%) and being offered a chance to pay upfront fees for a membership longer than one year (7%) are also potential breaches of the codes of practice.

Other complaints included not being made aware of the full price of services offered (8%), feeling misled about the services and facilities on offer (6%) and feeling misled by special offers as to the true cost of membership (5%).

All in all, 31% of gym members in our survey felt they had experienced some form of unfair or high-pressure sales tactics when signing up.

What to look out for

  • Don’t succumb to high-pressure sales tactics. Take your time to look around, consider the membership options on offer, and check out other gyms.
  • Don’t be swayed by special offers available for ‘today only’. Chances are, if you go back after you’ve thought about it, the offer will still stand.
  • Ask questions before you sign anything. If they’re not interested in helping you during the money-extraction phase, they’re even less likely to want to help you achieve your health and fitness goals after you’ve joined.
  • Know your rights — familiarise yourself with your state’s code of practice before joining (see How fit’s the industry?).

Medical matters

All codes of practice require gyms to screen potential members for pre-existing medical conditions that might put them at risk during exercise. 20% of respondents weren’t asked to fill in a medical questionnaire — which would be the ideal way of screening for potential problems — although they may have been verbally screened. Among those who indicated they did have a medical risk, it was essentially ignored in 18% of cases, with no further questions asked.

What to look out for

  •  It’s in your interests, as well as the gym’s, to alert them about any health issues such as high blood pressure, previous or current injuries, pregnancy and so on. A formal questionnaire and basic medical check-up is ideal, but if it’s not offered, volunteer any potential problems.
  • When signing the contract, make sure you’re clear on your rights regarding suspension or termination of the membership due to illness or injury.

Terms and conditions

Most people felt the terms and conditions of their membership were reasonable — although a large proportion weren’t able to tell us because they didn’t actually know what their conditions were. Obviously it’s in your interests to be aware of what you’re signing up for, so that if issues come up with your membership you know where you stand.

What to look out for

Here’s a list of terms and conditions you should check on the contract:


  • Initial joining fee.
  • Direct debit service set-up fees.
  • Membership fees and frequency of payment.
  • Any additional fees required for each visit.
  • Fees for fitness services (fitness assessments, sessions with personal trainers).
  • Any other fees for which you may be liable.

Suspending membership

  • Circumstances under which you may suspend your membership (such as illness, injury or holiday).
  • Annual allowances (how many weeks per year you’re allowed ‘off’), and the minimum and maximum time periods allowed (for example, there may be a two-week minimum in one block).
  • Amount of advance notice required.
  • Any fees payable.

Transferring membership to another gym or to another person

  • Circumstances (if any) under which you may transfer your membership.
  • Amount of notice required.
  • Other requirements on your part.
  • Any fees payable.

Terminating membership

  • Circumstances under which you may terminate your membership.
  • How you go about it.
  • Amount of notice required.
  • Fees payable if the membership is terminated due to sickness or disability.
  • Fees payable if the membership is terminated for other reasons.
  • Circumstances under which the gym may terminate your membership.

Cooling-off period after signing up
(That is, a chance to change your mind and get your money back.)

  • Required in Queensland and the ACT, and required for code of practice signatories in NSW, SA and Victoria.
  • Length of the cooling-off period.
  • How to go about cancelling if you do change your mind.
  • Fees payable.
  • How any refund (minus fees payable) will be paid.



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