SANTA ANA, Calif. - When business slowed at Michael Beresford's advertising company in the fall, he replaced his personal trainer with www.hundredpushups.com, a free Web challenge. He also dropped the fancy gym membership to jog the hills of his Laguna Beach, Calif., neighborhood.
He misses the push of trainer-led calorie burns and weight-training sessions, but his Blackberry is keeping him accountable to exercising on his own.
"Working out is still very important to me for relieving stress, but paying $500 a month for a nice club and trainers adds even more unnecessary stress," said Beresford, president of Net-Scope.com. "So I went for the free activities that benefit me just as much."
In these lean economic times, folks are finding ways to pinch their pennies without pinching more flesh around their waistlines. They say they're figuring out how to keep fitness a priority, while cutting out luxury. And in this season of New Year's resolutions, gyms and fitness centers are slashing costs to attract members.
Soul At Home, a Tustin yoga studio, is discounting one-year memberships from $649 to $389 through the end of the month.
Linda Krall, a self-employed illustrator, said although her business is hurting, she couldn't pass up the deal.
"That's been a gift in terms of the economic challenges," said Krall, 49. "Going to yoga is keeping me grounded, hopeful and optimistic. It's given me that inner peace and contentment amidst the craziness of the world right now."
Gil Yurly, owner of Body Wise Fitness in Costa Mesa, Calif., lowered his rates after re-reading Sam Walton's "Made in America."
"Three months for $99," Yurly said. "It's a good deal and people recognize that. We just need to get bodies in the gym, keep the energy up."
At the Saddleback YMCA in Mission Viejo, Calif., applications for financial-need scholarships have increased by 25 percent in the past few months. New and current members can receive a discount of up to half off their monthly dues.
"It's really helped a lot of people who would have had to quit," said Elizabeth Bishop, the club's marketing director. "The first thing you hear on the news on how to save money is drop your gym membership."
While bargains are out there, some are sticking with free options.
After Vicki Orgill's husband was laid off from his job in the computer industry, the Laguna Beach, Calif., couple wrote up a budget.
"I was quite shocked when I went through and realized what I was spending on things," said Orgill, 51.
Not only did she pay $80 a week for semi-private Pilates classes, but she went to a yoga studio a few times a week. Then she spent more money on lunch with girlfriends after class.
Orgill knew she had to give all that up.
Now she records workout routines from FitTV. She was thrilled when she discovered free yoga classes offered through Irvine Valley College Emeritus Institute.
There are some drawbacks, though. The classes, geared toward older adults, are less challenging and she's not going as often.
"If I pay for something, I don't like to miss," Orgill said. "I don't push myself unless I get pushed."
Diane Sabba, 55, and her husband stopped taking swing and waltz lessons after his work in construction slowed.
"I went out and bought some DVDs like 'Dancing with the Stars' and boot camp. That's a big savings," she said.
Sabba also considers Huntington Beach, Calif., her personal gym for brisk walking with an ocean view, volleyball and cycling, all for "no money down."
Beresford, 39, said he doesn't miss the 30-minute drive to exercise at Equinox in Newport Beach, Calif. His recession workouts have given him more time outdoors and he sees his neighbors more often.
"It's also nice to be outside and enjoy where I live," he said. "I enjoy that just as much as the nice gym and the facilities and amenities."