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(AP Photo/Rachel Neville) If you decide to take classes at gyms, such as this one to help skiers get in shape, or just want a place to work out, “go at least three times a week to get your dollar's worth and to benefit,” said Denise Austin, fitness expert and author of “Side Effect: Skinny.”
Tips to stay fit without breaking the bank
Exercise » Thinking about a gym or a trainer? Check here first.
First Published Dec 31 2012 07:38 am • Last Updated May 05 2013 11:31 pm

As a new year dawns, the desire to get fit and live healthier will inspire many of us (or will we just be overcome by guilt?).

Either way, if you decide to go beyond an old-fashioned walk or push-ups at home and give in to the need to sign on with a personal trainer or join a fitness club, you don’t have to shrink your wallet or pocketbook.

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Here are tips on how to embrace your New Year’s fitness resolutions without wrecking your finances, and some advice on why its so important to get fit in the first place.

Make sure you’re committed » Thinking about joining a gym or buying a treadmill? Ask anyone who has paid for a gym membership they rarely use, and they’ll tell you the best way to save money is to not spend it needlessly in the first place. Same with someone who has an exercise bike in the bedroom covered in clothes. Before getting locked into a gym contract or buying pricey equipment, spend a few weeks regularly working up a sweat running or doing other exercises that don’t require equipment. If you can stick to a training schedule for a month or two, it’s more likely you will continue doing so once you join a gym — and that your investment won’t go to waste.

Use free trials and avoid the rush » At the start of a new year, gyms are eager to sign up members and will let prospective customers try out their facilities free of charge for a limited time. Take advantage of these free-trial periods before making a yearlong commitment. Try to put off joining a gym until February, after the New Year’s sign-up rush, said Jeff Kaplan, CEO of coupon website Lozo.com.

Flex your negotiating skills »You’ve finished your free trials and you’ve chosen your gym. It’s time to haggle. "The more gyms in your area, the more power you have," said Kaplan.

Find rival gyms’ ads or get gyms to offer terms, and ask the fitness club of your choice to match the deal. Or offer to sign up for a month-to-month contract and upgrade to a longer-term deal, in exchange for a discount.

By waiting until March, you could have more negotiating leverage because gyms aren’t getting as many new members.

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Even scoring a tiny discount can add up to big savings. Average membership dues for fitness clubs that don’t offer racquet sports or pools range from $30 to $60 per month, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association. But prices can range from $9.99 a month at some basic gyms to $200 at an upscale club.

Sweat the contract terms » To reap the biggest savings on a gym contract, opt for a full-year term and pay for it upfront.

Gyms typically offer memberships that run either month-to-month or for a year or more. Those who opt for the monthly contract can expect to pay more over 12 months than someone who signed up for a one-year contract.

You pay more for ability to walk away at the end of each month, which is great, unless you end up on a month-to-month contract for several years — and that happens to many people.

Annual contracts can be fairly difficult to get out of, so avoid signing on until you’re sure about the gym and your commitment. And when you do go, go often.

"You want to go at least three times a week to get your dollars’ worth and to benefit," said Denise Austin, fitness expert and author of "Side Effect: Skinny."

Try the buddy system » It can be tough to get going on your own. Personal trainers can help motivate and instruct clients how to get the most out of workouts. Their services also can be pricey.

The IHRSA estimates that, on average, a personal training session runs from $38 to $82, on the low end, with many upscale trainers charging as much as $150.

One way to cut the cost is to find a trainer who will take on two people or more at once for less than the combined cost of individual lessons.

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