We have enough to worry about in this world, gym contracts shouldn't be one of them. 

You just finished the first day at a new gym, and you’re sweaty. But it’s not from the workout. A contract was just handed off so girthy it might as well be Lenny Kravitz — and there's two suit & tie sales-bros watching the pen in your hand like it’s their favorite scene from Fight Club. They want you to sign that dotted line, but should you?

If any of that contract’s legalese seems intimidating or complicated, there's plenty of reason to be wary. According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (yes, this is apparently so rampant it’s on their radar) gyms that employ long term, consumer-binding contracts sometimes bamboozle their customers into bad deals through a combination of “high-pressure sales tactics, misrepresentations about facilities and services, broken cancelation policies, and lost membership fees when gyms go out of business.”

So if you’re thinking about joining a gym, or if you’ve just joined a contract gym, watch out. Gym contracts aren’t inherently corrupt. However — as with software user agreements — they are inherently corruptible, as gyms can embed them with policies that fill their pockets and harm the consumer. Planning on joining? Here are a few questions to keep in mind: 

1. Is the contract straightforward? Are you being skeptical enough?

Make sure you understand what you’re getting into. This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s easy to cave under that pressure when you’re in a cramped office with a pen and paper. Ask as many questions as you can. Remember, these are salesmen. They may say that you’re going to be a part of a family. Don’t believe all that sugar. You’re their bottom line, not their brother.

2. Is the cancelation policy clear? How free are you to leave?

Many gym contracts contain punitive fees for cancelations. Some will even go so far as to enlist collection agencies if you violate their terms. Make sure you know how to leave. If there’s any ambiguity regarding fees, consider it a red flag. Finally, you might consider looking for a place that doesn’t involve a long-term contract. There are plenty of gyms that offer (and advertise) easy month-to-month deals. Try one of those instead. It’s a gym, after all. It shouldn’t require this much mental muscle.

– by Paul French