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8 ways to manage the costs of boutique fitness

On any given week, Norah Zis Kartagener, 39, teaches fitness classes like TRX Suspension Training, and a variety of high-intensity bootcamps. But Kartagener isn't affiliated with a trendy, urban studio. She works at the Jewish Community Center Metro West in West Orange, New Jersey, which offers dozens of boutique fitness classes in everything from cycling to barre to Pilates.

“Our members demand a lot, so we give it to them," says Kartagener. “We have to compete with all the brand name specialty studios."

Those specialty studios are at the top of their game—and slowly usurping traditional gyms in popularity. According to research from the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), of the 54 million Americans who were health club members in 2014, 42 percent were also members of a boutique studio. IHRSA also reports that more than 40 percent of boutique studio members are under the age of 35.

But at up to $35 a class, boutique fitness can get expensive, even after just a few sessions. The average amount spent on such classes, according to the IHRSA, is between $80 and $140 a month. Nationwide, the average monthly gym membership is about $40.

Being budget conscious doesn't mean you have to cut out your favorite fitness classes. Here are eight ways to enjoy them without going broke:

1. Barter

What can you offer that would be valuable to an instructor or to a studio? Bartering can be quite effective at an independent studio.

Dr. Mary Badon is the director of SOMA Movement Studio, in Farmington, Connecticut. She says a boutique studio like hers usually needs someone to greet guests and straighten up. Badon offers a work-study program where she offers a free hour of class for every hour worked in the studio.

“Most studios are small businesses, so don't be afraid to ask what they may need," Badon says, adding: “It may be something as simple as picking up lunch before a midday class."

2. Get on the list

Email and social media are common ways boutique studios let members know about specials, such as "Bring a Friend" discounts and events.

Badon says she has two Facebook groups for her studio—a private group page for regular clients and a public page. On the private page she'll often post about events she hears about through her professional groups, as well as private (and usually free) classes taught by teachers-in-training.

3. Be a student, for a student

Typical yoga teacher training involves 200 hours of classroom time, and takes anywhere from six months to a year to complete. Pilates and Gyrotonic have similar requirements before an instructor can become certified or licensed. It's worth finding new teachers who need to clock some supervised hours and who charge lower rates.

4. Keep an eye out for online discounts

Boutique fitness studios maintain their cool quotient by keeping classes full, so many offer discounts at daily deal websites. Always read the fine print with any online deal, of course. But remember that you may not need to be a new member to take advantage of them. Deal sites are also great ways to find new studios trying to build their clientele—and entice them with can't-pass-'em-up offers.

5. Explore off-peak perks

Some studios offer lower rates for daytime workouts beyond their more popular evening and weekend slots. If you don't work a strict 9 to 5 schedule, look into places that offer time-specific savings.

6. Get social

"The more, the merrier" is a major appeal of boutique fitness. If someone can organize a group of three to five people, says, Kartagener, her rate drops and everyone gets a personalized workout—and an opportunity to socialize. "It's an easier sell, and we can meet in a park or someone's home," she says. In some parts of the country, a typical trainer may charge $100 for an hour-long session. But the rate can be as low as $25 per person in a small group.

7. Get your dance on

Barre classes are pricey, averaging around $23 a class. Since the workout is ballet-based, it can be more cost effective to take a real ballet class at a dance studio for half the cost.

8. Find a big gym that wants to feel small

When all else fails, don't discount your local "big" gym. Many fitness chains realize that members want a more boutique feel, which is why more of them are opening specialty "studios within a studio." For example, the company that manages New York Sports Clubs along the East Coast, plans to add Cyc spinning classes, which have specialized studios in a handful of major cities.

No matter the costs, Kartagener says that boutique fitness classes are a high priority for many. “They make people happy," she says. “It's a social event now. Exercise isn't seen as drudgery."

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