First, consider getting a month-to-month membership. It may be more expensive than an annual contract, but if you're like many New Year's resolution-makers, it can be cheaper. Most gym-goers shell out more than $800 per year, which is the bigger waste if your fitness resolution falls by the wayside in a month or so.
For those who are determined to stick to a workout plan, pay for your membership upfront. If you can afford to shell out for the entire year's fitness costs upfront, many gyms will offer a discount. At 24 Hour Fitness, a 15-month prepaid membership is almost half the price of a regular contract.
Also, look into using an employer or insurer discount. Plenty of employers and insurers offer extra discounts - up to 30% - for gym memberships. Check sites like GlobalFit.com and your employee handbook for details. Some even reimburse you for out-of-pocket fitness expenses, such as memberships, classes, training sessions and race fees.
Don't be afraid to shop around for the best deal. This is the time of year when many clubs offer their best promotions. That can vary by location as well as by chain, so call around and ask what's available. There's also some leeway to negotiate a better price at one place by mentioning the deal at a competitor.
And finally, get a friend to join you and share training sessions. Many trainers are offering two-for-one deals or small group classes that cut the price of more expensive solo sessions in half.
For more tips on how to save money at the gym and other consumer advice, visit SmartMoney.com.
by Kelli Grant and Jenn Eaker