You've probably been thinking a lot about ways to weather a recession, but what about saving money on your fitness routine? (No, the answer is not to quit working out entirely.) Here are some tips:
*Get a deal from your gym. I wrote earlier this year about how to maximize the value of your health-club or gym membership. Those tips—look for discounts through outside groups, never pay an initiation fee—hold true now more than ever. In addition to these, try buying in bulk: Purchase a discounted package of classes or personal training sessions rather than more expensive singletons, says Cedric Bryant, chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise. Or split the cost of a training session with a friend.
If you can no longer stomach your monthly dues, try to negotiate with a sales rep. The club might well rather keep you as a customer at a lower rate than lose you entirely. And the YMCA offers scholarships for people who cannot afford their membership fees, which are already lower than fees at many commercial clubs.
*Set up a home gym. You can make an investment in a few simple, multipurpose pieces of equipment, like an inflatable exercise ball, and use them in your own living room, says Bryant. The step used in step aerobics class can double as a weight bench. And if you want to invest in dumbbells, adjustable ones are available that incorporate many different weights into one piece of equipment. (Prices range from as low as $55 to about $700, depending on the brand and weight range.)
*Use technology to your advantage. In addition to the huge variety of DVDs available for purchase, there are free or inexpensive workouts online. ACE has an online library of still photos and videos to illustrate correct technique for a variety of exercises, from beginner bent-knee push-ups to advanced barbell lifts. On iTunes, you can download free fitness podcasts with instructions and music. (I also like some of the Nike Sport Music mixes on iTunes, which aren't free but offer spoken guidance and instructions from athletes such as Serena Williams and Lance Armstrong over the music.) And on how-to sites like Howcast.com, you can search in the fitness video section to find instruction and help on everything from the run leg of a triathlon to yoga's scorpion pose.
*Simplify your routine. If you're in a sport or activity that requires an expensive facility or equipment, maybe it's time to try something else for a while (the high costs of racing and gear are one reason I've eased off on triathlons). Walking and running are cheap, easy, and convenient. I wrote earlier this year about how to start up a running routine if you're new to the sport. Or take advantage of your surroundings: If you're in an area that gets a lot of snow in the winter, maybe you can freeze your gym membership for a few months and invest in a pair of snowshoes instead.
*Cut your gear allowance. If you want to keep doing an activity that requires a regular infusion of clothes or equipment, remember the fancy brand-name workout shorts are nice, but the cheapies from Target are very likely just as functional. And is the latest GPS unit really necessary for you to enjoy your bike ride? Just don't cheap out on anything that may put you at risk of injury, like a repair to crucial equipment or a pair of new shoes. While one study found that cheap or moderately priced running shoes are as good as or better than the expensive ones, be sure to watch out for signs that your pair is worn out. "Every 300 to 500 miles is the general rule of thumb, but that will depend on your exercise habits or biomechanics," says Bryant. Rather than sticking to an arbitrary limit, look for signs of uneven wear—a tread worn out more on one side of the shoe than the other. "That's going to be more predictive in terms of being at risk of injury," he says.
If you are going to make a purchase, take advantage of online coupons. Go to Retailmenot.com or Couponcode.com to search for coupon codes to use at online retailers. Or sign up for E-mail alerts at sites like steepandcheap.com, which offers one deeply discounted piece of outdoor/fitness gear a day. My U.S. News colleague Kimberly Palmer, aka Alpha Consumer, has more tips on finding online deals of all kinds.