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Don't Buy This: Your Annual Gym Membership Is a Waste of Money

You never go—and even if you do, it's probably not working.

Gina  Ragusa

Gina Ragusa

Photo by Trinette Reed / Getty Images

So how’s that New Year’s resolution to go to the gym working out for you? If you forgot about that well-intentioned membership you purchased in January you're in good company. In fact, about half of the people who purchase gym memberships at the Planet Fitness chain never go, according to a Planet Money report.

"People think if they spend money on a gym membership it will give them motivation to workout, but that’s not how motivation works,” says Erika Nicole Kendall, a certified personal trainer and nutritionist, who blogs at A Black Girl's Guide to Weight Loss.

The average gym membership costs about $60 a month—or more than $700 a year. That's a lot of money to waste on something that isn't helping you achieve your health and fitness goals. Here are the three main reasons why an annual gym membership isn't worth it and what you can do instead to get in shape for free:

You just stop going

Let’s be honest: exercise can be uncomfortable. After a long day at school or work, you may just want to curl up on the couch instead of staying out even later to exert yourself. It can be fun at first to try all the different classes and exercise machines, but sooner or later even cardio kickboxing can feel routine. Deciding between yet another zumba class and a Lost in Space binge is an easy decision. Netflix usually prevails.

And while you might think plunking down hard earned cash would motivate your ass to get to the gym, money may not be enough of a reason. "Joining a gym is an interesting form of what behavioral economists call pre-commitment," Kevin Volpp, director of the Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics at the Wharton School told Planet Money. People picture the “new me” when they sign up and commit with money at first, but that vision fades after contracts are signed and a few days go by.

You're probably not losing weight

Even if you dutifully go to the gym three times a week, you may not lose weight, if that's your goal. Some common culprits include eating too much, only doing cardio, not pushing yourself and blowing off weights, which help burn more calories.

Although it might be nice to think you can exercise away those Friday night margaritas, it's not easy. Exercise actually makes you eat more, plus people tend to become pretty sedentary after the exercise session ends, the New York Times reported. And in a cruel twist of biological fate, even working out more doesn't necessarily burn more calories because your body quickly adapts to the extra activity level, according to a 2016 study in Current Biology.

You're doing the exercises wrong

A common workout fail is doing the same workout day after day—an easy trap to fall into when you go to the same gym and take the same classes week after week. While regular exercise is good for you, the problem with doing the same workout is that your muscles get used to it, and you start to burn fewer calories.

If you like to lift weights or use machines at the gym, there's also a good chance you're doing the exercises wrong, which can lead to injury. “You can get hurt by lifting weights that are too heavy,” Craig Cisar, professor of kinesiology at San Jose State University said. That's because you end up contorting your body to lift the weights and injure another muscle in the process.

How to get (or stay) fit for free

If you really want to get fit, you don't need a pricey annual gym membership. Instead try this:

  • Ask about free trials. Most gyms offer them and tend to be more generous with these deals during the slow summer months when everyone else is on vacation or exercising outside.
  • Take free outdoor fitness classes through your city recreation department or on Meetup.
  • Be active every day, whether that means cleaning the bathroom, washing your car or just taking a walk. "I started by just walking,” says blogger Kendall, who eventually lost 160 pounds though a combination of diet and exercise.