For many, the New Year means a renewed commitment to fitness after the indulgences of the festive season; so it’s a given that gym memberships typically spike in the first few weeks of January.
However, as the year goes on, this new-found motivation may begin to wane, for a number of reasons. For instance, someone might:
- have less time to exercise due to work or other responsibilities
- not be seeing the results they expected
- not be enjoying their fitness regime
- find their fitness plan too difficult
- or find their exercise regime too costly or expensive to maintain.
‘Physical activity shouldn’t be seasonal.’ says Dr Daniel Atkinson, Treated.com Clinical Lead. ‘The key to maintaining good physical and mental health is exercising, in some form, all year round. So keeping up the motivation to exercise is important. To help do that, it’s vital to find one or more forms of exercise that you, firstly, enjoy; secondly, can actually do and have time to do; and thirdly, afford.’
So we thought it might be useful to take a look at some of the more popular routes to fitness, and compare the cost of doing them over the course of a year. We’ve also factored in whether you’ll need any extra equipment or clothing to do them, how much this might cost, how time consuming they are, and what sort of a commitment they might require from the person undertaking them.
Fitness plans: how much can they cost?
We’ve made our calculations based on approximate average costs, but obviously these can vary and promotions may be offered (on memberships, equipment and clothing) at certain times of the year.
We’ve also listed some of the pros and cons of each type of fitness plan, and tried to identify the sort of exerciser each regime might be better for.
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Pros and cons of different fitness plans
This pros and cons list might be able to help those new to exercise to determine which fitness could be the most beneficial for them.
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Gym chains cater to varying demographics, so they are not one size fits all.
More established, expensive gyms tend to offer tiered membership plans. For example, a cheaper membership might only entitle you to access facilities during certain hours of the day; whereas unrestricted access is more costly.
Budget gyms usually have all the equipment you need, but they won’t normally have a swimming pool like more expensive gyms do. Because they are cheaper, they’ll often be busier, particularly at peak periods (although a number of budget gyms take this into account and offer longer opening hours).
Gyms also tend to reward loyalty. You’ll pay less per month in some cases the longer you commit; a 12-month membership may cost less per month than a rolling one (where you can cancel at any time).
But making a commitment like this can go two ways: on one hand, the knowledge that you’re paying for a gym membership can spur you on to attend regularly; on the other, it might be off-putting to those who are starting out and not sure if they’ll take to the new environment.
‘So if you’re keen to try a gym out for the first time, take baby steps.’ Dr Atkinson tells us.
‘Take advantage of a trial session if the gym near you offers one, so you can have a look at the facilities. Start out by taking out a rolling membership at a cheaper gym, so you can get a feel for the equipment and develop a workout routine in that environment.’
‘Then, if you’re happy with the results after a few months, you can take out a longer-term membership if you like it enough to stay there. If it isn’t right for you, you can cancel your membership and try something else.’
‘On the other hand, if you find yourself eager and motivated to train but unable to access equipment because it’s too busy, perhaps you can consider upgrading to a more expensive (and quieter) gym. But again, try to do a trial session before you make that commitment and switch.’
The main advantage of training on your own, without a gym membership, is that it’s cheap. In the analysis above, we’ve put together an option for running outdoors and performing bodyweight exercises, like push-ups and sit-ups, at home. The only cost incurred is the price of a pair of running shoes, which you might have to replace every couple of years.
Another advantage is that you aren’t time restricted. You can exercise at a time of your choosing, as often or as little as you like, and you don’t have to wait to queue up for equipment.
However, the elements do have a say in your exercise regime. In less hospitable weather conditions, you might be more inclined to skip a run and stay in for the evening.
‘Also, because this type of fitness plan offers so much freedom at so little cost, it doesn’t come with the negative reinforcement factor of a paid gym membership.’ Daniel explains. ‘If you’re paying for something, you can feel guilty about not using it, and so be motivated to use it more often. Some people might be less inclined to keep a fitness plan up if they aren’t spending money on it, and therefore have to work harder to stay motivated.’
‘To counter this, it can help to draw up an exercise timetable, stick it on the wall, and try to follow it as much as possible. It helps to make your fitness plans more concrete; if you’ve only made a commitment to go out running tonight in your own head, it’s easier to call it off if you don’t feel like it. If you’ve written it down, the commitment you’ve made is a documented, physical thing. Plus, other people in your household can hold you to it if they see this, and you err on the side of skipping a session.’
Buying exercise equipment to use at home
Another option is to bring the gym home, and buy some of your own equipment. This doesn’t come with a monthly cost, but it can be a large initial financial outlay.
Again, the actual cost of equipment can vary. You can buy an exercise bike for as little as £40, or for more than £300. With a weights set, a basic one might only set you back about £20, whereas a more advanced set may cost several hundred.
Provided you have the space for the equipment at home, buying your own is more convenient than doing to the gym, and you’ll always have access to it. It also means that if you want to do some cardio, you don’t need to go outside to train in harsher weather if, for example, you have an exercise bike at home.
However many people may make these purchases with the best intentions, but find that this equipment ends up at the back of their garage after a few uses and the novelty has worn off.
And, arguably, buying workout equipment to keep at home might not have the same guilt or reinforcement factor as a gym membership. When you join a gym, you’ll see the money coming out of your account each month and be reminded of your spending; when you buy your own equipment, you pay for it once and then you own it, so it’s easier to forget about it.
‘Once more, baby steps is the best approach when getting exercise equipment to use at home.’ Daniel says. ‘Before you decide, maybe try out a cancellable gym membership for a month or two to see what sort of equipment you get the most use out of (dumbbells, kettlebells, exercise bikes, and so on) so you have a better idea of what will benefit you when it comes to buying your own.’
‘It’s better to start out cheap, so if you don’t keep it up, you haven’t wasted a lot of money; or you won’t feel as bad about going back to your gym membership if working out at home isn’t going to plan.’
‘Again, draw up a timetable of when you plan to exercise, to ensure you get the best use out of it.’
‘If it does work for you after a few months, and you want to upgrade and have the money to spare, you might consider selling your cheaper home equipment second hand, and buying more expensive equipment.’
Clubs and classes
‘There is evidence to suggest that working out as part of a larger group has greater benefits on mental health.’ Daniel explains. ‘So for cardio, this might be joining a running club. To improve flexibility, this might be a yoga class. Gyms also run strength training and conditioning classes, and these can often be included in the price of a membership.’
Working out in a group with other people, or under the supervision of a class leader, has the added benefit that you’ll be more likely to pay attention to keeping good form.
Some classes and clubs won’t break the bank either. Many running clubs don’t charge anything to join, or only ask for a small contribution towards costs.
Yoga classes can be a little more expensive. Some may offer several sessions for a discounted price; so it’s best to dip your toe in the water first, then commit to more classes when you know you’re going to keep them up.
That said, not everyone thrives in an environment where they feel pressured to keep up with others. If a class doesn’t seem to go well, it can be easy to become apprehensive about going to another.
‘People who do feel self-conscious can try exercising on their own for a short time before starting classes, to get their basic fitness level up.’ Daniel explains. ‘Even if it’s only a few solo running sessions before going to a class, preparing yourself and getting into the fitness frame of mind can boost your confidence, which makes communal exercise more fun and enjoyable.’
People looking for a bespoke training programme tailored specifically to their needs and fitness goals, and who have the money to spend on it, can benefit greatly from personal trainer sessions. You’ll have time to discuss exactly what you want to achieve, and they can put together a regime that helps you to reach this. They’ll also sometimes be able to give you some pointers on nutrition, to help you stay healthy and get the most out of your sessions.
Working with a PT can be particularly useful then for people who are new to exercise. In the majority of cases, you’ll start with more than one session a week, and as you become more practised, slowly start to lower your frequency so that you have them less often.
One of the drawbacks is that you’ll need to have a gym membership as well, which is an added cost. And prices for personal trainers themselves can vary, with some being quite expensive. However, they may offer a discount if you commit to buying several sessions.
‘PTs often have a wealth of fitness knowledge and first-hand experience, and they’ll motivate you to stay on course too.’ Daniel says. ‘But it can be useful to try working out on your own first to know how much you really need one. Do your research beforehand, and talk to other people who you know have had a PT. Many personal trainers run group classes, so go along to some of those first to get an idea of who you think you can work well with.’
How much exercise should we be doing?
Exercise guidelines for adults in the UK currently are:
- 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic exercise
- 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic exercise
in addition to:
- strength training on two or more days per week.
Keeping to the above consistently can be very beneficial in reducing the risk of health problems such as heart disease, and maintaining a healthy weight.
So to ensure you’re reaching these targets, some variation can be useful. The more varied your physical activity regime is, the more you’ll enjoy it, and stick to it.
If you can manage it financially and have enough time, using a combination of two or more of the activities we’ve considered (for example, being a member at a gym and joining a running club) means you aren’t doing the same thing all the time.
‘The most important thing to remember,’ Daniel adds, ‘is that no two people are the same. What works for someone else may not work for you, regardless of whether you’re around the same fitness level or not. The main thing is that you’re doing physical activity regularly. So don’t be afraid to try new things out, and look for activities you enjoy. Exercise isn’t exclusively about hard work; it’s about having fun too.’