Between gym fees, a PT and shoes that honour your health and style sensibilities, staying in shape sounds expensive. But these hidden bargains can help save you big bucks, writes Angela Tufvesson

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1. SWAP face-to-face personal training for online personal training

Cost saving: Around $170 a week (based on three $70 sessions)

Make it happen: Personalised fitness training offers a wealth of benefits but comes at a price. If you’re after one-on-one coaching minus the hefty price tag, online personal training is a cheaper option that can offer loads more flexibility.

Your PT still puts together assessments and schedules, but instead of regular sessions, you’re in charge of managing your workouts. Most online services offer regular phone, email or Skype time with a qualified PT. There is also the option of increased flexibility to work out where (outside, at home, in the gym) and when you like.

“Online programs are normally very low in cost due to the easy accessibility of them and there are so many available now on the internet for every fitness level,” says PT Tracy Gott.

Online company Ideal Bodies Online provides a structured, fully personalised exercise and nutrition program for $37.25 a week as part of the 12-week Body Makeover program, which managing director Sue Heintze says makes staying in shape accessible.

“Why should looking and feeling great be limited to those who can afford a personal trainer charging $50 to $100 for a single session?” Heintze says, adding that the program includes lifetime membership to an online community and motivational library.

Exercise physiologist Merendi Leverett says the benefits vary depending on which program you choose, but just as with traditional in-person training, online coaching offers improvements in cardiovascular fitness, flexibility and strength.

Watch out for: Beware the motivation monster without a PT by your side – look for a program with a community, such as Ideal Bodies Online. Otherwise, ask your trainer for tips to combat low motivation and ensure you’ve got clear goals.

2. SWAP regular yoga classes for quarterly private classes

Cost saving: $1,500 a year

Make it happen: “The average price of a yoga class is $19,” says yoga instructor Nikola Ellis from Adore Yoga. “If you’re doing two classes a week, that soon mounts up.”

She says many of her students attend a private class every 12 weeks. For $120 students receive personalised instruction and a fully illustrated home practice kit tailored to their individual requirements. They maintain yoga practice at home then return to the studio for a refresher.

“This works out at under $10 a week and the personalised home practice is doing the students far more good, and with less potential for injury, than doing a general class with dozens of other students,” says Ellis.

Watch out for: The obvious pitfall of at-home yoga practice is that you may develop bad habits. To ensure correct technique ask lots of questions at your private classes and take detailed notes.

3. SWAP free weights for resistance bands

Cost saving: $160 

Make it happen: “Resistance bands are a fantastic substitute for free weights and will achieve a very similar outcome in the strength department,” says PT Mathew Skate. “The best thing is they are portable so you can take them to work or when you travel. Resistance bands cost about $40 for a pack of three different resistance variables.”

Watch out for: A study published in the Journal of Strength Training and Conditioning Research found that exercisers who used resistance bands and free weights gained twice the strength versus free weight or resistance band use alone. So don’t ditch free weights altogether – consider investing in a group set or make use of free weights at the gym.

4. SWAP gym membership for gym trials

Cost saving: $900 a year

Make it happen: “Become a serial gym trialler,” says Gott. “This involves using discount vouchers for a certain number of weeks at various local gyms, which normally includes a certain amount of classes, workouts and sometimes personal training, too.”

She says the best part of this arrangement is that, should you like one of the gyms, the company is more likely to offer you a great deal to stay on.

Watch out for: Be aware that gym trials don’t include the fitness assessments you’d expect when signing on full time

5. SWAP brand name gym membership for community gym membership

Cost saving: $400 a year

Make it happen: Community gyms like your local YMCA offer great facilities and classes for less than the price of a membership at brand name gyms. Like clothes, gyms have labels that can bump up the price of memberships without any notable benefits.
“The YMCA is affordable, but the variety it offers also means that you’re making the most of that membership fee,” says Amber McSwiney from YMCA Victoria. “Many YMCA centres offer a pool as well as a gym and group fitness. Family memberships are available, which means you can make it a one-stop-shop for the whole family.”

Watch out for: If you’re after particular equipment or fitness classes, check before you sign on as some community gyms offer more limited facilities than their fancier, more expensive brand name cousins.

6. SWAP fitness classes FOR exer-gaming

Cost saving: $800 a year

Make it happen: Bring the gym to your lounge room. Sounds a little couch potato...or does it? Offering aerobics, strength training, yoga and balance games, the ubiquitous Wii Fit sits next to the telly in more than one million Australian lounge rooms. According to Leverett, while the initial outlay isn’t cheap, in the long run ‘exer-gaming’ is more than a wee bit cheaper than fitness classes.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin found that of six Wii Fit activities tested, Island Run and Free Run reported the highest energy expenditure, burning 165 calories in 30 minutes. The remaining four each burned a minimum of 99 calories in the same time.

If you’re unsure about Wii Fit, Bentley recommends good old workout DVDs as an effective alternative. “You will often find them on eBay cheap, but it’s important to make sure they are fun. Zumba DVDs are a great example of this. Make sure you schedule this type of workout into your week and don’t think about it, just do it.”

Watch out for: Wii Fit provides a moderate workout, so don’t rely on it for all your fitness needs.

Want to lose weight? Use our handy online calculator to find out your BMI and ideal weight, then choose a workout plan.