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Why Is Canceling Your Gym Membership Such Hell?

Elliptical machines.
One of my oldest foes. Photo: Image Source/Getty Images

Severing ties with your gym has always been a uniquely arduous task. Though the bureaucratic process varies from place to place, it typically goes something like this: After attempting to cancel your membership from the comfort of your own home, you are instructed to physically go to the gym, where you fill out tedious paperwork, agree to incur a fee, and repeatedly explain why you’ve decided to abandon your fitness goals to a walking muscle who makes you acutely self-conscious about the soft backs of your arms.

The inconvenience, of course, is the point. “Gyms are notoriously hard to quit, because most clubs do not want to allow the member to cancel their contract once they realize the hard work and commitment involved in becoming fit,” New York City attorney David Reischer recently told the Washington Post. “These contracts are drafted in such a way as to not to allow you to quit without suffering a penalty.”

But as a thought experiment, allow me to envision an alternative reality. Imagine if we could simply terminate our gym memberships online, in the same manner that we cancel our social-media accounts and streaming-service subscriptions?

While I’ve long held this stance, my indignation has mounted as exercise facilities around the country have begun reopening their doors. At this moment, I — and one out of four Americans, per one recent survey — have no desire to step foot in the gym anytime soon, especially not to cancel my membership. Sure, facilities may be implementing all the advisable precautions — mask requirements, decreased capacity, hand-sanitizer galore, etc. — but I don’t miss mechanically cycling away on the elliptical for 30 minutes enough to risk exposure to a terrifying virus. I’ve also adjusted just fine to doing my humiliating butt workouts in my bedroom, where no one can see me.

Yet even though I have no plans to go to the gym anytime soon, I cannot seem to bring myself to cancel my membership; it is a permanent, unmet fixture on my daily to-do lists. And I don’t think I’m alone: In multiple conversations with friends, we’ve admitted that the process of terminating the contract seems so torturous that we’ve considered resigning ourselves to eating the monthly fees.

But this is absurd! And there is an obvious solution: Let us accomplish this dreaded task online. Please don’t force me to walk 20 minutes to the gym, just to craft the same elaborate and ultimately unconvincing lie about how I can no longer return to the facility — or any of its locations — because I’m moving to this rural place where, unfortunately, no gyms exist.

Why Is Canceling Your Gym Membership Such Hell?