Setting out to join a gym shortly after arriving in Hong Kong from the United States a month ago, I could not have imagined what a stressful process I was letting myself in for. Expecting to simply turn up and join the one closest to home was, to put it mildly, optimistic.

Rampant high-pressure sales tactics and an apparent lack of any structure or regulation came as a huge shock, and necessitated a series of further fact-finding gym visits.

Despite the facade of accessibility they present, the larger chain gyms turned out to be the worst offenders – as many fitness newcomers will have discovered to their cost. You’re face-to-face with sales staff from the moment you arrive and, following a tour of the facilities, you’re ushered into an isolated area where the scripted mental onslaught that is payment discussions begins.

The negotiation involves no listed prices or plans and almost anything is up for grabs. An outrageous first quote gives way to longer-term deals, with any number of “free” additional months, personal training sessions and locations tacked on.

Every deal seems to come with the same catch: the curse of the one-time-only offer. I will get the best price only on my first visit; if I don’t sign a contract now I will be forever doomed to higher joining fees and monthly rates.

When buying, say, a television, you have all the time in the world to consult friends and family, reflect on your decision and even sleep on it. Not so with gym membership. You’re trapped alone in a room with a too-eager young salesman and an offer that expires the moment you leave.

The absence of set prices along with a commission-based salary structure for sales staff incentivises employees to rip off unsuspecting gym-goers. Add special “first-visit deals” into the mix and you have the recipe for a financial fitness disaster.

I’m not surprised to see so many complaints about Hong Kong gyms. What else can you expect when such a system is the standard?