It’s January, and for many that means making a renewed commitment to improving health and fitness. For fitness clubs, it's also the time of year when they want to sign on as many newly motivated people as they can. So they'll often offer cut-rate prices on their membership plans.

But if you missed the initial wave of gym membership mania, you still have plenty of opportunities to get a good deal.

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“You can often get the biggest discount on a gym membership later in the month,” says Andrea Metcalf, a certified trainer and health coach in Chicago. That holds true in January or during any month of the year. Metcalf says that toward the end of a month, fitness clubs may need to boost their monthly sales quotas, so they will offer even lower rates to entice you to join.

Another good time to lock in an annual membership rate is during the summer. When the weather is good, fewer people sign up for memberships, so gyms often reduce fees to attract new members.

There are plenty of other ways to save:

Sign up for a trial run. Call fitness clubs near your home and office to ask for a no-commitment trial. Most clubs will give you a one-week pass to try out the facility, says Pam Kufahl, director of content at Club Industry, a website for fitness pros. Visit during the hours you’ll be most likely to work out so that you can see how crowded it is. Try the classes that interest you, from yoga and pilates to spinning and kettlebells. Be sure to also look closely at the condition of the facilities, including the weight machines, the locker room, and the swimming pool. If you can, ask members what they like and don’t like about the club, and get a copy of the fee schedule so that you’ll know what your monthly expenses would be.

Search for better prices online. While you’re deciding which gym to join, scour the web. You may find out about some great deals on fitness websites and even through sites such as Groupon, Living Social, and Gilt City. Kufahl says that these deals usually include discounts on a gym membership or classes.

Prefer to work out at home? Check our buying guide and reviews for ellipticals, rowing machines, and treadmills, and learn about alternative motion machines.

A foot on a treadmill

Negotiate a deal. When you decide which club you'd like to join, speak with a manager instead of a salesperson. She is more likely to be able to negotiate a better gym membership price for you. Metcalf says you should ask whether you can get a month free or not have to pay the initiation fee—especially if you agree to pay for an annual membership upfront. Also find out what the fees would be if you pay monthly instead, so you can compare the total cost.

While you're negotiating, try to get some additional bonuses thrown in without charge, such as a wellness assessment or a personal training session. If the membership includes services you won’t use, such as childcare, classes, or use of a pool, ask for a reduced rate that doesn’t include those perks.

Be flexible. A club may offer you a discount as long as you agree to use the facilities only during off-peak hours or on certain days. Consider the offer carefully. The restrictions may be worth it, especially if you can easily fit those hours into your schedule. Such special rates, though, aren’t usually advertised, so you’ll have to ask for them.

Join with a group. Many fitness facilities will lower their monthly rates for a large group. One of the easiest ways to take advantage of this benefit is through your employer. The Sporting Club at the Bellevue, for example, has offered discounts to Temple University’s full-time employees. Ask your human resources department whether your employer has deals with local clubs.

Many fitness clubs offer "family" or "household" discounts to two or more people who live together. You can also gather a group of friends and ask a gym manager if he or she would be willing to cut a deal for the group. If you can't wrangle a discount, find out whether your group can get deals on additional services, such as small group personal training sessions, Kufahl says.  

Check your insurance benefits. Health insurance plans may provide discounts on a gym membership. Some plans offered by United Healthcare, for example, have reimbursed members up to $240 a year if they belong to a participating fitness center. Call your insurance plan's member services number (often listed on the back of your health insurance card) or check with your company's human resources insurance expert to see whether you're eligible for a discount. See whether there are any special requirements to get a reimbursement—you may have to visit a facility a certain number of times a month.

Read the contract. One of the most expensive charges you could eventually encounter is a club’s cancellation fee. Although you might not be able to get it removed, you should be aware of the terms in advance so that you don’t get stuck paying a penalty for a membership you no longer use. You might have to let the club know you want to cancel two months in advance, for example, or submit a notarized letter to end the contract.

Keep in mind that this has been an area that fitness customers have complained about. Earlier this month, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said that there was a significant rise in consumer complaints in his state about discrepancies between what they were told by sales personnel and what the signed contract guaranteed, especially when it came to cancellation procedures. The Attorney General says you should carefully read any contract you sign, keep a copy of that contract, and be wary of unusually low prices.

Ask whether the membership fees have changed. Once you've joined a club, you'll still want to keep tabs on the monthly or annual fees the gym charges. A club can lower prices but not reduce the fees it charges existing members. If you find that to be the case, ask the manager whether there is a way to lower the monthly fee.