Tempting as it may be to take a jog in the park or join an outdoor boot camp, there's good reason to check out the gym this summer—it may be your cheapest shot at membership year-round.
Sure, there are plenty of promotions in January, as gyms compete for their share of New Year's resolution-makers. But there are also plenty in the summer, as gyms try to lure in new members amid sunshine, fresh air and warm weather.
According to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, new memberships hit a low point from June through August. (The exceptions: Clubs that have a pool or tennis courts, and those in areas with warm weather all throughout the year.)
Although the average monthly rate for gym fees is $49, per the IHRSA, prices can be much higher—or lower. "You also see other gyms popping up where it's a low cost of entry, and there are no frills," said VJ Mayor, vice president of communications and research for the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. At some, memberships start at $15 or $20.
Check out the video for some tricks to slim gym fees. One to consider: Be a free agent when it comes to your fitness.
By IHRSA's figures, of the 62.1 million Americans who used a health club last year, 9.2 million weren't members. Taking advantage of free trials and low-cost passes can keep costs low, and offer the ability to switch up exercise routines and work in more fun free summer activities like running or hiking.
For $85, the American Health and Fitness Alliance sells books of passes for fitness clubs in New York, Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles. And daily deal websites offer multiclass packages and one-month gym trials for as much as 85 percent off the going rate.
Hopping around to try different gyms can also be helpful when it comes to picking the right one to commit to, said Mayor. Attendance rates tend to drop if a gym is more than 10 minutes from where a member lives. (See charts above for some of the most popular gym features and programs.)
Trial visits can also help you figure out how well a gym's value matches its price—Are you using all it its pricey amenities? Do crowds shut you out of popular classes? How often is the equipment out of order? "Make sure it's a gym that you're actually going to use," he said.
—By CNBC's Kelli B. Grant.