Unfair gym contracts common

CHOICE reveals the pressure tactics gyms use to lock you into their contracts.
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  • Updated:29 Apr 2009


Punching bag

In brief

  • We found the gym industry is efficient at signing up new members, but far less vigilant in explaining the price, contract and cancellation terms.
  • Unfair practices and other traps can make it very difficult for consumers to cancel their memberships if they’ve had enough.

It’s a common scenario: you decide it’s time to do something about your health and fitness and head to the nearest gym, keen to change some bad habits. The sales people are charming, the gym looks good, and before you know it you’re sitting down with the paperwork and a salesperson who can’t wait to lock you – and your bank details – in.

But should you decide to quit, the gym’s sense of urgency suddenly evaporates. You’re forced to jump through the most outlandish hoops just to cancel a membership you should have every right to terminate over the phone. Yet despite an avalanche of complaints about aggressive sales tactics, elastic pricing, confusing contracts and overcrowded classes, gyms are big business in Australia.

To get an insight into what a typical consumer might encounter when they front up to a gym, CHOICE sent out two shadow shoppers to the major chains, posing as potential customers. Their experiences confirmed what the grapevine has been telling us – that emotive sales techniques, complicated contracts and unclear pricing structures abound.

Please note: this information was current as of April 2009 but is still a useful guide today.

Gyms in Australia

In Australia, although there are many smaller gyms, the industry is dominated by a handful of big chains.

  • UK-owned Fitness First has 89 outlets nationally and more than 360,000 current members.
  • The up-market women-only chain Fernwood has 77 outlets and 80,000 members.
  • Women-only gyms Curves and Contours are very basic, circuit-based franchise operations with 400 and 160 outlets respectively.
  • Virgin Active, which opened its first gym in Sydney in December 2008 (with another set to open in Melbourne). While more expensive than their competitors, these gyms are undeniably flash, with 'pay-as-you-go' and flexible contracts.

CHOICE verdict

The best protection you can have against pressure sales tactics is to know your rights and be aware of the psychology that drives gym tactics. Don’t sign up until you’ve taken the time to fully understand the price, terms of your contract and conditions. If you choose to end your gym membership once your contract has expired, you don’t need to explain why.

Similarly, you – and not the gym – hold the right to authorise your bank to cancel your direct debit arrangements at any time as long as you are no longer under a contract. See CHOICE can help, to find out how.



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