Navigating The Hell Of Ending A Gym Contract
You can't see me, so I'm going to describe my body to you. I'm an absolute tractor of a woman. I stand six feet, two inches tall, and weigh just over 265 pounds. Impressed much? Just wait until I tell you my measurements. Arms? 24 inches. Calves? 22 inches. Thighs? 45 inches. Fingers? Five (each hand). I am constantly breaking steel bars in two. Anyway, I say all this not to brag or make you feel bad about your stupid, weak, before photo life, but to assure you that I know my shit when it comes to gyms. For me and so many of my best friends, gym = life. Okay! Now that we have my credentials out of the way, I'd like to talk you through some gym trends unleashed because of the pandemic.
People Are Leaving. And This Time, It's for Good
A lot of people are understandably fearful of getting coronavirus during a gym class where, essentially, you're in a cloud of other people's sweat, heavy exhales, and probably some protein farts for an hour. Gyms seem incredibly risky, don't they? Personally, I don't want to be near someone who is huffing and puffing like a possibly diseased Big Bad Wolf even when there isn't a pandemic. (Fine, I'll admit it. The introduction to this article was a complete lie.) Anyway, sure, masks can help with the spread of COVID, but they are less effective when soaking in your gross head sweat. Many people have chosen to permanently end their gym memberships, or at least not renew them until there's a reliable vaccine. A June OnePoll survey suggests that one in four people will not be returning to their gym. Another survey found that almost 60% of people won't renew their gym memberships after the pandemic.
Additionally, a lot of people realized they simply don't need a gym membership anymore. There's this amazing new thing called the Internet, where people can stay at home and have constant access to excellent exercise classes. You can stream them right from your TV or computer and not risk getting infected by anything but YouTube's terrible recommendation algorithm. You should try the Internet sometime.
There are also tons of options for at-home exercise equipment. 56% of people surveyed by TD Ameritrade said they found more affordable ways to exercise with the pandemic. I sweet-talked my way into getting a deal on a nice stationary bike. And baby, let me tell you, I love it. I don't stream any classes, though. Instead, I watch reruns of The Nanny. (I bought the entire series on DVD this quarantine. It really holds up.)
They're Harder to Quit Than Ever Before
Listen, it's common knowledge that it's incredibly difficult to cancel a gym membership without incurring some sort of double-dip of financial and mental punishment. A personal anecdote? Earlier on the "2020 Is Trash" checklist, I had to deal with an annoying gym for about five months. This gym overcharged me by about $200. It was so annoying trying to get the money back that I ended up just canceling my membership, which was another massive headache. A side anecdote to this personal anecdote? I once bought a small-to-regular-sized water bottle at this gym, and they charged me $10. 10. Dollars. That's ridiculous. The whole experience was such an enormous pain in my tight, toned ass that I doubt I'll try joining another gym. Or maybe I will. I don't know. I can be very spontaneous.
Anyway, this is just how gyms are designed. Those legally binding membership contracts are drafted by attorneys, so they're often long and complicated to understand without a law degree. Canceling your membership will likely involve showing up in person or sending a notarized letter and paying a fee. The pandemic has exacerbated these contract issues. With safety concerns, many gyms had to decrease their staff, making it harder than ever to reach an actual human to talk to about your contract. If you're trying to cancel your membership because you're worried about entering the gym and getting sick, chances are you won't love having to enter the gym just to talk over your contract with someone. One positive is that many gyms froze people's accounts while they were closed during the pandemic. How generous! Not. But once they were allowed to open back up with certain restrictions, the gyms may have unfrozen them. Some larger gyms, like LA Fitness, are now involved in lawsuits after members were being charged while the gyms were forced to close completely.
Smaller Gyms Are the Hardest Hit
Gyms that have been able to reopen during the pandemic have tight restrictions to follow. First of all, they can't operate at full capacity, as only a small fraction of clients are allowed at the gym at a time. Despite this, gyms still have to pay the full 100% of their costs. At the height of the pandemic-related business shutdowns, the fitness industry lost about $700 million a week. Big, chain-gyms are being hit really hard. For instance, 24 Hour Fitness and Gold's Gym have already declared bankruptcy. As you can imagine, smaller gyms are suffering even more. According to this AP News article, "The International Health Racquet & Sportsclub Association, an industry group, estimates that gyms, health and fitness clubs lost an aggregate $13.9 billion during shutdowns as of Aug. 31. The group warns that without government help, at least a quarter could close by Dec. 31 as limits on indoor workouts continue." Over 80% of the fitness clubs in the United States are small businesses. How can they possibly compete?
What Should You Do When Dealing With A Crappy Gym Situation?
There are numerous tips to use if you're dealing with an uncooperative gym. When you find the appropriate contact information, you may want to CC a lawyer, district attorney, or even the Federal Trade Commission. It can help to send a letter via certified mail, letting the gym know you want out. You may want to call your credit card company and have them dispute unwanted gym charges and prevent future charges. Most gyms will not be interested in pursuing a lawsuit for a broken contract. If it's a big chain, try contacting someone in the corporate office. They might be able to help you transfer or freeze your account. You could also try to get a doctor to write a note on your behalf to get you out of a tough contract. Whatever you end up doing, you should always make sure to read the contract completely and understand what you're getting yourself into when you become a gym member. If gyms keep charging you after you've canceled, be adamant about disputing the charges with your bank.
And a word of warning for anyone who says, "Hey, you know what, dummy? I'm smart! I figured it all out! I'm just going to cancel that credit card linked to the gym to avoid the charges." Apparently, you shouldn't actually do this since that can result in a bigger headache for you if a debt collector gets involved. If you're trying to get a human to talk to about your contract, you may want to try this clever trick that one very smart gym-goer used. Simply call the gym pretending to be a new customer. Say something along the lines of, "Oh hello, robot who handles the phones, I am interested in the fitness that you can offer me." Most likely, the robot's computer eyes will turn into money symbols, and it will transfer you to a human representative. At this point, you've got them! Shout, "Ah-ha! I've fooled you! I'm not here to give you more money! I want you to end my membership right this moment!"
Well, I've had a lot of fun. Please follow me on Twitter @katiemarovitch.
Top image: Prostock-Studio, Chansom Pantip/Shutterstock