'I wouldn't cancel a 2021 gym membership,' health expert says: Here's what to do instead

"I do think there's a light at the end of the tunnel."


Despite rising Covid-19 cases, 1 in 5 U.S. adults feels comfortable going back to the gym, according to new data from Morning Consult.

Even if your gym is open, returning right now might not be the best idea, says Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, a pulmonary and critical care medicine specialist at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. He wouldn't suggest getting rid of your membership altogether, though. "I wouldn't cancel a 2021 gym membership," he says. "I do think there's a light at the end of the tunnel."

If you signed up for a membership thinking 2021 would be safer, or that the vaccine rollout would be faster, you might want to look into pausing or freezing — rather than canceling — your membership. That's an option that many gyms, especially big chains, provide.

A pause or freeze means that if you signed up for a one-year contract in December but don't feel safe exercising until March, you are allowed to take a break from payment while you aren't using the space.

When exactly might it be safe to go back? "My best estimate is summer 2021," Galiatsatos says.

In the meantime, here's how to pause your gym membership.

Check your gym's Covid-19 freeze policy

Some gyms automatically froze accounts last spring when shelter-in-place orders were deployed, temporarily shuttering nonessential businesses. If your gym opened back up, it might start charging you again, in which case you can check if they have a unique Covid-19 "freeze" policy.

For example, 24-Hour Fitness froze fees until gyms were allowed to open back up. Fees will resume if the location you visit opens. However, if you're still not ready to go back, there are some options. The gym is offering a one-month additional freeze for some members, or you can pay a small monthly "freeze fee."

"If you just don't feel right going back to the gym until summer, you can opt to pay a small fee, usually around $10 per month, to put your full membership dues on ice," Kristin McGrath, editor and shopping expert at Offers.com, told Grow.

If you do this, be sure to ask if the number of months you froze your membership will be tacked onto the end of your contract.

Try pausing for a valid reason besides Covid-19

"Concern about Covid-19 alone likely won't be enough to get your membership frozen for free," McGrath said, because Covid-19 is most likely not listed as a reason you can pause your membership. But if you read over your agreement, you might find another reason that applies to your situation. 

Commonly accepted reasons for freezing your contract for free include "major life changes," McGrath said. "Think circumstances like medical disability, active duty military transfer, employment transfer, or in some cases, loss of employment."

You'll need proof of the reason you're freezing your account. For example, if you're claiming a medical excuse, you'll need a doctor's note, or if you're moving you'll need to prove it with documents. "Employment transfers apply only if you'll be working in an area that's far away from a gym location, generally at least 25 miles away," McGrath said.

Get in touch with a real person

Gym membership contracts usually require you to show up in person to pause or cancel, Andrea Woroch, consumer savings expert, told Grow. If you're comfortable visiting your gym, that might be the best way to state your case. 

"If the gyms are open, go in person and request to speak with a sales person, explaining that you haven't been able to get a hold of anyone," Woroch said.

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If you don't want to visit the gym, try calling the "new membership" line to be connected with an employee, McGrath suggested. You may be more likely to reach someone quickly than if you call and ask to cancel.

Or consider sending an email, McGrath said. "You may face similar delays [as you would by calling] in getting a response, but at least you have the documentation and aren't waiting on hold."

Remember that lots of gyms, like many businesses, are negotiating fees to keep customers happy. "Some gym contracts state that a customer can request an extended freeze for a set number of months for any reason," McGrath said. "That request is subject to approval, of course, but it never hurts to ask."

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