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15 Things Your Gym Doesn’t Want You to Know

Yep, working out is important—but before you sign that next gym membership, check out these things your gym doesn't want you to know.

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They embed fees they're hoping you forget about

Sometimes gyms will add fees that are easy to forget such as a maintenance fee for which you are charged once every three months, or bi-annually. "The maintenance fee is in addition to your monthly membership fee," explains Steven McDaniels, director of fitness and recreation at Beacon College in Leesburg, Florida. "Often, when a customer starts a gym membership, the salesperson briefly will mention the maintenance fee almost as an afterthought just to get it out the way."

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They purposely make the monthly fee look inviting

When a gym has "$10 a month" offer, who wouldn't want to sign up? Except there's usually a registration fee and an annual fee on top of the monthly fee. So if you're paying a $120 annual fee, and a monthly fee of $10, then you're really paying $20 a month. And, they'll continue to bill you! "They'll do this even though the facility knows you haven't used the gym for several months or years. That means they only want your money—and not your participation with them. They will gladly continue to bill you even if you never go," says McDaniels.

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Machines rarely—if ever—get a thorough cleaning

It's unusual that a gym will bring in cleaning staff after the morning or evening rush, says James Shapiro, a certified, independent trainer. Instead, he says, gyms pass the buck on to members by expecting them to wipe down the machine after they use them. "Humans are flawed," Shapiro says, "even more so in gyms, so you can imagine the low percentage of people that are courteous."

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Free trials aren't really free

Remember what your mother told you about there being no such thing as a free lunch? In this case, you're giving up your ability to remain anonymous. "Gyms are counting on you becoming a full-fledged member," says Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics, "but if you buck the odds, they have your information and unless you make a concerted effort they will harass you to the ends of the earth."

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Upgrading machines is not a priority

Have you ever entered a gym and wondered why the equipment looks like it's from the late '80s or '90s? "Many corporate gyms hold warranties with the equipment, but many also have a 'handyman' on staff who services that equipment," explains Shapiro. "Now if that's the case—what does your annual 'service fee' actually improve at the facility? That money largely goes into the total sales generated by the facility and a SMALL portion is actually used for purchasing new equipment or upgrading the facility."

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You can get really sick from your gym

"Gyms are notoriously dangerous not because of the weights but because of the germs," says Shapiro. Working as a trainer, he's gotten sick from "nasty flu-like bugs that shut down my body for days on end or left me unable to work," he says. "Many people go to the gym with symptoms and think they'll be fine. The best thing you can do is wash your hands before and after your workout."

Check out just how dirty your gym is.

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Month-to-month options are your best bet

Gyms want to get you locked into a contract, and they'll rarely mention month-to-month options. "Many locations offer month-to-month, no commitment options for a slightly higher price. This clearly states how a person can cancel that membership at any point after one month and not be set into a year contract," says Shapiro.

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Gyms purposely over-enroll members

You know people who pay for gym memberships and don't actually use them—you may even be one yourself. One study found that gym members average about five trips a month. This is why gyms sign up more members than they can fit in the facility at one time. And it's why you have to wait to use a machine during peak gym time. If the gym offers a free day pass, test out the gym during busy hours to see what you're in store for. Otherwise, it may not be worth your commitment.

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They prey on people's optimism

"If you're unsure about your schedule, or where you may be living over the next 18 months, don't sign," says Backe. "Going to the gym doesn't work for everyone, so how sure are you really that you'll be regularly attending this gym in a year and a half?"

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Those free towels and mats are not as clean as you think

Unless they're regularly and professionally cleaned, those mats and towels are some of the germiest freebies your gym has to offer. Backe says that while the towels have been washed, they often go back into the same hamper used to collect sweaty towels. The exercise mats are even dicier: "Seriously just bring your own. They collect germs like they're going out of style," says Backe.

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Some machines don't benefit your body

Jeff Miller, a certified personal trainer, says that you're better off developing core fitness on your own: The core gym machines don't recruit all the right muscles. "When you're doing free, functional exercise, your body's natural balancing mechanisms kick in and get stronger, and that builds core strength. Just plain old walking is superior to machines—even ellipticals can increase lower back pain," he says.

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You can cancel your gym membership

Depending on your membership option, you have to wait a term (one calendar year from the day you signed up) to cancel your membership unless you have a disability or you're moving. "However, membership managers, sales managers, and assistant sales managers all have the power to nullify and cancel a contract," says Shapiro. He says before calling an attorney, try and speak to the club manager right away. They might just be willing to work with you or freeze your account.

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Not all trainers are certified

Miller says he's known gyms that put more emphasis on past experience than actual certification. "This is wrong—you need both," he points out. Certification helps trainers learn about the latest research and allows them to learn from peers with deep reservoirs of experience.

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They're not too concerned about the safety of your stuff

There's a reason for the sign indicating your gym is not responsible for theft. Bring a lock or leave your valuables in the car; the gym isn't required to do much if you realize your diamond ring is no longer in your coat pocket.

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Gyms are not necessary

"You can get the same benefits working out at home as you can at the gym," Miller says. "You don't have to pay for a membership, you don't have to drive there during rush hour, and you don't have to change in a germy, crowded locker room. There are exercises that you can do without machines in the comfort of your own home, the park, or even your office that can cover all the bases."

Here's a guide to a great home workout!