Dec. 31, 2013 -- Is the New Year the best time to get the most advantageous deal for a gym membership? Or would you just be booking yourself into a crowded gym rife with fellow New Year's resolution types?
Tim Keightley, executive vice president of operations for fitness chain Gold's Gym, said the two best bargain times for a consumer to make a decision to join a fitness club are the summer and the New Year.
"You actually get a better deal in December going into early January, and you get a really good deal in the summer," Keightley said. In the East Coast, a lot of people go to the beach on weekends, kids are home from school and membership slows down."
The drawback in waiting for summer gym deals, is that many people go to gym to look good for the beach, Keightley said. "If you are thinking summer, you should try joining late spring," he said.
From a gym company's perspective, Keightley said gyms have an incentive to sign members up on Jan. 1, instead of Feb. 1, if members are paying monthly membership fees. "The company is making more money," he said, explaining that many gyms offer promotions in December to have people commit starting Jan. 1.
Keightley, who previously worked for Town Sports International, which owns New York Sports Club and Washington Sports Club, said the biggest challenge for the gym industry is keeping the members who join.
"Our ambition is to not have a January sale," he said.
For those who are looking to join a gym, Keightley offers tips, such as joining under a longer contract for a lower monthly price. But it's only worth the commitment if it's realistic for you.
"Ask yourself if you can commit to 12 months – or, you can say you would prefer to go month to month and see how life goes," he said.
It's not only a logical time to join a gym in January because of the deals, but it's "probably the best emotional time to join," Keightley said.
However, Keightley notes that gyms will no doubt be packed with other members -- perhaps a 30 to 40 percent increase in traffic -- who signed up as part of their New Year's resolution.
"Be patient and be prepared that it's not the little quiet gym you can go anywhere you want," he said, at least until March, when foot traffic will likely flatten.
Keep in mind too that gym prices are highly negotiable. Once a fitness club has its doors open, each new member adds little in terms of costs, so prices are often not set in stone.
Through Gold's Gym, headquartered in Dallas, many locations are offering a zero enrollment fee through January, with no contract or administrative fees. As part of the deal, you are offered a promotional price for a trainer.
You can get a seven-day guest pass at Gold's Gym to "try before you buy." Keightley advises you try a gym at least three times to get the "real feel" of the classes, available machines or other training. If you're a sports enthusiast, you should ask if there is training offered related to golf, baseball or whatever your interest.
If you want only a quick 45-minute workout, then a retail store and cafe are probably not things you need. Sometimes, services like kids' clubs are included. But if those amenities are offered, there are usually costs associated with them.
If you need extra motivation, Gold's Gym offers cardio cinema, in which there are 18 or so pieces of cardio equipment in front of a film in surround sound. Movie schedules vary and showings are complementary. Gold's Gym also offers member challenges like $1,000 prizes and trips to Las Vegas to help members reach fitness goals.
"If you're joining in January, when the weather is bad, the boss is moaning at you, someone is telling you to come home early, the last thing you want to do is go to the gym, so it's good to join a challenge," he said.
Writing down your fitness goals usually helps you achieve them too, Keightley said.
If you are serious about your fitness goals, Anytime Fitness CEO Chuck Runyon said consumers should be less concerned about the cost of membership and more concerned finding a gym that fits their needs and lifestyle.
A convenient location, either near home or work, "probably trumps everything," Runyon said.
And for many people, the right atmosphere is an important factor in wanting to return to a gym.
"There are many niche clubs less intimidating than big clubs," Runyon said.