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8 Secrets for Saving Money on a Gym Membership

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Getting your sweat on is no small business—a quarter of members at multipurpose gyms paid more than $100 a month in 2014, while between 13 and 24 percent of people who worked out at smaller fitness studios shelled out more than $150 a month, according to stats from the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA). But staying fit doesn't have to break the bank; by joining at a smart time or choosing a less traditional gym membership, you can reap major savings. Read on for tips on how to slim down without shrinking your wallet.

1. PICK THE GYM THAT'S RIGHT FOR YOUR FITNESS ROUTINE—AND YOUR BUDGET

Boutique-style fitness studios (think Barry’s Bootcamp, Orangetheory, and Flywheel) are all the rage and a fun way to work out, but they can take a big hit to your bottom line: Monthly dues range from $80 to $140, says the IHRSA. If you’re happy to take a variety of classes at a traditional box gym, you’ll save—memberships average between $55 and $125. Better yet, go for a nonprofit like a YMCA; about half of nonprofit-gym members pay less than $25 a month.

2. PAY AS YOU GO

Before you sign a contract, ask if your gym will sell you a group of sessions rather than a regular monthly membership. Gym-goers can pay up to 70 percent more per session with a monthly membership than a pack of workouts, according to a study from the University of California at Berkeley [PDF]—and it can cost them $600 in lost savings over the course of their membership.

3. TIME IT RIGHT

In general, it’s smarter to join at the end of a month. Gyms often have goals about recruiting a number of new members, and as each month nears the end, they're more likely to give a deal to meet those quotas. It's much better, say, to join at the end of December than the first week of January (when gyms are already packed with new members and employees feel less incentive to get more to sign up).

4. LIMIT YOURSELF

If you’re into classes, consider buying packs of sessions at a boutique fitness outpost rather than an unlimited monthly membership at a gym or studio. A monthly membership at a smaller studio is pricey if you don’t go all the time; if your workouts get less frequent, buying your sessions in packs can be a smarter option because you don’t have to use all your sessions by the end of the month—they usually won’t expire.

5. SHOP THE SALES

Sign up for email blasts from local gyms and watch for a message promoting a waived-initiation fee (you could save hundreds) or other deal for joining. And whether you’re going for a membership at a traditional gym or a small studio, check out flash-sale websites like Living Social, Gilt City, and Groupon—they often run fitness specials that give you gym access for a fraction of the regular cost.

6. GET AROUND

Many traditional fitness centers will give you a multi-day free trial to test-drive their facilities. Have lots of gyms in your area? You could try out several and get a few months of workouts without dropping a dollar. If you like to vary your workouts and try the latest fitness trends, look into ClassPass. The company has various membership plans that get you discounted access to the top fitness studios in your city. 

7. SWEAT DURING OFF-PEAK HOURS 

Ask if the gym you’re joining offers a reduced-price membership if you work out during slow times of the day. Or check out the startup company Dibs (which is in a handful of studios now with plans to expand soon); it sells spots in classes that vary in price based on demand. So, for instance, if you can swing a workout in the middle of a Wednesday, you can snag your space for less money than one in a packed session during pre-work or evening hours would cost.

8. HOLD UP

If you’re going out of town for an extended period, ask your gym if you can freeze your membership while you’re away. There may be a small fee to put your account on hold, but it’ll likely be much cheaper than the cost of a full month or two of dues.

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Smiling Could Improve Your Athletic Performance—But Your Grins Can't Be Fake
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Athletes obviously enjoy breaking a sweat, but it’s not often that you’ll see one break into a smile while in the throes of competition. Yet that’s exactly what many coaches instruct them to do: Grinning mid-race has been said to relax muscles and boost physical performance. Recently, a group of researchers put this theory to the test, according to The New York Times. Their findings were published in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise.

Researchers from Ulster University in Northern Ireland and Swansea University in Wales instructed a group of 24 non-professional runners—both men and women—to shift between smiles and scowls while running on a treadmill. The volunteers were told that the experiment would measure how certain factors affected the amount of oxygen they used while jogging at various running speeds.

For the experiment’s first stage, runners wore face masks that measured their breathing. As they exercised until fatigue, researchers asked them to rate how they felt and report their coping strategies—for example, whether were they ignoring their pain or embracing it.

The study’s second segment required volunteers to engage in four individual runs, each lasting for six minutes. Mid-run, they were told to smile both genuinely and continuously, to scowl, to relax their torsos using a visualization technique, or to simply fall back on their usual endurance mindsets.

Smiles didn’t always improve runners’ performances. A few subjects picked up the pace while grimacing, possibly because these “game faces” made them ultra-determined to beat their personal records. But overall, runners with smiles were nearly 3 percent more efficient than normal. While seemingly insignificant, this difference is large enough to affect someone’s race performance, experts say.

Keeping in mind the study’s small size, the authors conclude that exercising while smiling might reduce muscular tension and thus amp up performance. But in order to gain this positive effect, athletes must beam genuinely. Fake smiles, like the kind you’ll see in school pictures, don’t work as many facial muscles, and therefore result in lower levels of relaxation.

Since it’s hard for anyone (let alone a focused athlete) to maintain an authentic smile during prolonged periods of strenuous activity, scientists suggest smiling near a race’s end, in 30-second intervals.

[h/t The New York Times]

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Marathon Running Won't Undo Poor Lifestyle Choices, Study Suggests
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Even marathon participants can't outrun an unhealthy lifestyle, according to a new study highlighted by The New York Times.

For years, expert opinion has been mixed on whether long-distance running helps or hurts hearts. In the 1970s, research suggested that marathon running and a heart-healthy diet would completely prevent atherosclerosis (a buildup of harmful plaque in the arteries). But since high-profile runners have died of heart attacks, scientists in the 1980s began to worry that running might actually harm the vital organ. Compounding this fear in recent years were studies suggesting that male endurance athletes exhibited more signs of heart scarring or plaques than their less-active counterparts.

Experts don't have a verdict quite yet, but researchers from the University of Minnesota and Stanford and their colleagues have some good news—running doesn't seem to harm athletes' hearts, but it's also not a panacea for heart disease. They figured this out by asking 50 longtime marathon runners, all male, with an average age of 59, to fill out questionnaires about their training, health history, and habits, and then examining them for signs of atherosclerosis.

Only 16 of the runners ended up having no plaque in their arteries, and the rest exhibited slight, moderate, or worrisome amounts. The men who had unhealthy hearts also had a history of smoking and high cholesterol. A grueling training regime seemed to have no effect on these levels.

Bottom line? Marathon running won't hurt your heart, but it's not a magic bullet for poor lifestyle choices.

[h/t The New York Times]

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