Go ahead and lose some blood, sweat and tears in the name of fitness. But cash? Despite sky-high costs at some gyms – up to thousands of dollars per year – you don't need to spend a fortune to work out.
U.S. News consulted fitness bloggers who have perfected the art of saving on their workouts. Consider this advice, and your pocketbook will thank you. So will your abs.
Compare costs. More than one gym in your town? Good. Find out what each has to offer, and then ask your favorite if it will meet or beat the fees of its competitors. Always do this in person – over the phone won't suffice. And don't overlook options like the YMCA, schools, neighborhood clubs, temples and churches, too. These are often among the most cost-friendly options. Some yoga studios are also adopting a donation-based approach; though there's usually a $10 suggested donation per class, you can drop whatever you can afford into the box.
Show up during the slow season. When gyms are flooded with new patrons – around New Year's and during colder months when running outside isn't such a good idea – they don't need your money. That means they're less likely to cut newbies a deal. Specials and discounts are much more common during the summer and fall.
Take a class at an athletic clothing or sporting goods store. Already heading to Lululemon for those cute yoga pants? Time your visit so it coincides with the shop's weekly free yoga class taught by community teachers. Or check out Athleta, which hosts free in-store boot camps and barre classes. "They're a great way to meet other fitness-minded individuals in your city," says Jen Gaudette, who's based in New York and blogs at jensbestlife.com.
Get social. Follow your favorite studios, stores, teachers and bloggers on Twitter and Facebook; if you don't already have accounts, create them for this purpose. Studios typically spread the word about discounts and specials via social platforms. Plus, by following instructors, you'll stay in the loop on what they're offering – like free workshops or outdoor classes.
Follow the right blogs. It's somewhat ironic that surfing the Web is important from a fitness standpoint. But consider that countless experts offer comprehensive online workout plans that won't cost you a dime. Tone It Up, for example, a blog managed by two personal trainers, features dozens of printable workouts – from arms to full body, cardio to stretching. Spend some time scouring fitness websites specific to your town, too, like New York's Well + Good. These sites help ensure that you'll be the first to hear about fitness events in your area – particularly the free kind.
Go digital. Attend a class in person a few times, and then opt for the DVD version. Popular fitness studios such as Physique 57 and Core Fusion offer DVDs of all their classes. They're "typically much cheaper than a single class," Gaudette says, "so it's a good way to keep up a practice you enjoy without spending $30 per class." Another option: Try an online class instead of a DVD. Scour YouTube for full-length classes, and you'll find plenty of options.
[Read: 7 Mind-Blowing Benefits of Exercise.]
Take advantage of deal emails. Groupon, Amazon Local, LivingSocial, Gilt City. These and many others already land in your inbox, right? Take advantage of the fitness deals. Consider a few recent Groupon examples: $39 for a one-month gym membership, complete with unlimited classes (a $111 savings). Just under $70 for yoga teacher training ($80 off). And a month of unlimited bootcamp classes for $29, which is a $60 savings. Added bonus: Buying a 3-pack of classes to a studio you haven't tried before is a great way to discover new favorites.
Ask about discounts and incentives. It's fairly common for studios to offer corporate, student and military discounts. At 24 Hour Fitness, for example, military personnel pay $29 a month; standard membership rates begin around $65 a month. And some studios offer "influencer incentives" – bring in new clients, and they'll give you free classes. "Studios want to get more people in the door, so if you can drag along a friend or family member, you'll reap some of the benefits," says Brittany Bendall, who lives in New York and blogs at myownbalance.com. One caveat: Always read the fine print of your membership contract, because you may be agreeing to stick to one location of a chain or there could be severe cancellation fees.
Buy packages of classes. It's true at the grocery store, and same goes at the gym: Buying in bulk is cheaper. If you decide you really love a studio, investing in a package of classes can help you save a bundle of money. Many cut per-class price by $5 if you buy a 20-pack, which amounts to a savings of $100. "It's certainly an investment, but if there's a studio you truly love, it's a major saving device," Gaudette says.
Keep an eye open for free "community" classes. In New York City, studios such as Flywheel, Pure Yoga and Soul Cycle offer free community sessions. And in Louisville, Ky., stop by local parks for yoga and boot camp classes – totally free. In some cities, securing a spot can be tough, since everyone wants to get in, so show up early or make signing up a priority if you can do so ahead of time. Reach out to your favorite studios to see if they offer similar programs.