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Get fit: joining a French gym

If you promised yourself that this year you were going to get fitter you might like to look into joining a gym.

IF YOU promised yourself that this year you were going to get fitter you might like to look into joining a gym.

The concept is catching on in France even if having a gym membership is not yet as common as in the UK.

The French seem a little unsure about exactly what to call the activity - this is one of the areas in French life where you will see many English terms.

What is it called?

Getting fit is la remise en forme (getting back in shape) or, slightly formally, la culture physique, while your level of fitness is your condition physique.

Doing keep-fit activities may also be referred to as pratiquer le fitness, which mainly refers to cardio workouts, or la musculation (or la muscu), which relates to using weights.

The place where you do it may be called un gymnase, though that can have connotations of a traditional gymnasium, or un club de gym, une salle de sport or une salle de musculation.

Other terms for the typical modern gym or fitness centre include un club de remise en forme or un centre (or club or salle) de fitness.
Activities might include le cardio-training such as le vélo elliptique (cross-trainer), le rameur (rowing machine), le vélo [en salle] (exercise bike), le tapis [de marche or de course or roulant] (treadmill) or le stepper (stepping machine).

You will often also find cours collectifs (classes) like le spinning (group exercise bike classes), l'aérobic (aerobics) or le step (stepping), gym douce (gentle gym) like le yoga or le pilates or gym de base (basic gym) involving toning up les abdos, and les fessiers (buttock muscles) or doing le stretching.

You may also want to pay extra for help from un coach individuel. Centres are also often equipped with facilities like un hammam (steam room) or un sauna.

Where to do it

Gyms may be part of a chain or franchise, privately owned or in some cases owned by the local mairie (une salle de fitness municipale).

Check the yellow pages for what is on offer and talk to your mairie or tourist information office. Municipal facilities, where they exist, are often much cheaper than private gyms (they can be €100/year or less compared to €300 to €1,000 plus) and they may offer reductions based on factors like income or family size.

However they will not necessarily be as well-equipped as private ones or open such flexible hours. In some cases municipal facilities will only offer group fitness sessions with a trainer rather than facilities for flexible personal use. Private gyms often open seven days a week, typically from 7.00 to 22.00.

Making a choice

Visit several gyms before making up your mind and check out the facilities. Are les vestiaires (changing rooms) and douches (showers) clean and are there secure casiers (lockers) to put your clothes in? How busy does it get at the times you are likely to go? Are there enough machines? Do they offer classes that interest you at suitable times?

It is common for clubs to allow people to try out a class or some of the machines before deciding, but if you cannot, many gyms offer one-off day tickets which would allow you to get a feel for them.

You also have the right to ask for un exemplaire du contrat d’abonnement (copy of the joining contract) which you could read at home.


Before you sign a contract you should read the small print (or get someone to read it for you if your French is not good). The document should include the price TTC (including VAT), opening days and hours and whether or not it allows you to use any other gyms belonging to the same chain.

Try to avoid tying yourself straight away to a long-term contract - three or six months may be better than a whole year, for you to find out if the gym suits you.

See what the résiliation (cancellation) or suspension conditions are. They may only allow cancellation without paying the full contract in very limited circumstances which should be spelled out, such as pregnancy, loss of job, moving house etc).

Cancellation may also have to be done in a specific way, eg. with an attestation from an employer or a medical certificate.

You will usually have to apply to a specified address using a lettre recommandée avec avis de réception (recorded delivery with receipt slip).

In the event of cancellation what are your rights? Ideally you want to get back any money paid pro rata for the time not used.

Payment methods also vary - do you need to pay for a year upfront or can you pay in instalments over the year?

In the latter case some gyms will treat this as a form of loan to you and add interest, some will not.

If they are actually offering a form of credit, then a bank loan to pay up front might be preferable. Some gyms may suggest you give them several post-dated cheques, however be wary of this as in French law they are allowed to cash them immediately.

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