How to keep slim now the wallet's not so fat
Apart from South African holiday homes, pre-Christmas shopping trips to New York, brand new Mercs and Johnny Ronan there are few things that scream “Celtic Tiger excess” more loudly than gym membership.
During what we imagined were the good times, fitness centres with all manner of high-end aerobic equipment and moodily lit swimming pools with gold-leaf tiling and flatscreen televisions proliferated as the cubs sought to tone up. Fees were high – sometimes in excess of €1,000 for an adult – and the terms and conditions ridiculous and printed in a font so tiny you’d need a magnifying glass to read the various ways the clubs could screw you if they so chose. But still thousands of people paid gym fees without complaining. Some even went to their s regularly.
The riches we thought we had may be gone but the gyms are still here – almost 600 of them – and they have rarely been as popular as in recent weeks as thousands of people have filed through their doors seeking to work off Christmas pounds.
But joining a gym in January or February is never a good idea. The drop-out rate of those who seek professional help getting fit in the early part of any year is about 60 per cent. What is worse is many of those who sign up this month and next won’t read that tiny print and will, as a result, be locked into expensive contracts for at least a year. According to one survey, about 350,000 Irish adults are gym members but less than half return to the treadmill once the initial flush of enthusiasm wanes.
January resolutions aside, are Irish gyms still being used or have sensible folk turned their back on such high-cost luxury spending in favour of a brisk walk of an evening? And do gyms ever represent value for money?
Paying to belong
Pricewatch asked people on Twitter last week if they could still afford gym membership in Austerity Ireland. We fully expected a chorus of nos but within an hour we had quite the opposite response from scores of readers, with most insisting their gyms represented great value for money.
“I only go sporadically but go to Ben Dunne’s Jervis gym, which is only €200 a year so I still think it’s worthwhile and pretty good value,” says Tara Walsh.
Joyce Minogue, another Dunne fan, pays €235 a year, goes twice a week and describes it as “fantastic value”.
Ciara Carroll agreed and said that while a gym “seems expensive” it is “excellent value” if you are “serious about health. Stay in one night a month to fund it.”
Maria Daly insisted the key was interaction with instructors. “If you use the gym smartly they become personal trainers. Take classes as well for value,” was her take.
“Have joined gyms in the past,” said Andy McGeady. “Hardly went. Find pay-as-you-go options like the Markievicz [on Dublin’s Townsend Street] much better value.Another reader, Peter, disagreed. “I do pay-as-you-go, and I added it up at the year-end. Crazy money. I should have joined.”
There were some who had surrendered their membership. Niamh O’Shaughnessy dropped hers “to go for walks on a nearby beach instead. Much more enjoyable and refreshing, and it’s free.” Julie Farrell said she would “definitely choose a boot camp over a gym. Better results.”
While you can get as fit for free by running or walking, a gym has its merits. It is a handy one-stop shop – everything you want is in one place, cardio machines, resistance training and classes – and it is nicer to train in a gym in poor weather.
Some gyms still insist on long contracts and high pricesbut Pricewatch has come across one with a very different philospohy. When you read the letters Y M C and A, chances are visions of the Village People will dance across your eyes. But it’s about a whole lot more than dodgy leather chaps, Indian head dresses and infuriatingly catch 70s disco classics.
The Dublin YMCA runs a very good-value gym on Aungier Street that is free of restrictive terms and conditions. What’s best of all is all profits go back into the local community through a creche, accomodation and youth outreach programme.
A year’s access to the gym and its many fitness classes is €400. It can be paid in monthly direct debit instalments of €35while pay-as-you-go access is €5 with Pilates, spinning and boot-camp classes costing €6-8. It also has classes for older people, which cost just €4 with a sandwich and cuppa thrown in.
“We are a working gym and part of the community,” says the YMCA’s Killian Hurley. The gym offers a monthly direct-debit payment system but people can leave when they wish. “We understand people’s circumstances change and they may need to cancel. That is never a problem,” Hurley says.
Checklist: Picking the best gym or app for you
If you are going to join a gym, find out what is included in your membership and make sure the facilities meet your needs. Be wary of smooth-talking sales patter, and keep a close eye on the terms and conditions, particularly the length of contracts, the rolling direct debits and the cancellation policies.
Ask yourself what time you are most likely to use the gym and if you will be able to get on the equipment without a wait. If you plan to use the gym between 5pm and 7pm – the peak hours – there is little point getting a tour when it is quiet, as this will create a distinctly misleading impression.
Press the gym on what level of assistance you will get from staff when you sign on. Membership fees are getting cheaper in most gyms but some gyms charge extra for their instructors.
While you might think you know how the machines work, most of us need to be shown what to do and need new stimulus every six weeks.
Rather than going from gym to gym in search of the best value, visit gyms.ie, which has a comprehensive list of gyms around the country, as well as details of special offers.
Technology can also replace the gym. GPS watches can track your runs and there are all manner of smartphone apps to help you out. The Couch-to-5k app does exactly what it say on the screen and is very popular, while the new Run City from Unislim allows you to run through vertical cityscapes without leaving your living room.
There are plenty of apps out there to keep track of your running achievements, such as MapMyRun, Adidas’s MiCoach and Nike+ GPS.
If running isn’t your thing, you could try Nike Training Club, which has 85 custom-built work-outs covering everything from toning up to losing body fat. All for free.