Working it out: Do we really need to pay for exercise?

Running shoes Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Lacing up your shoes and running around the park could cost you nothing at all

The row over plans to charge £1 for a Parkrun event has caused nothing short of a national outcry. But as the average cost of gym memberships rises, there's a growing trend in people paying next to nothing to get active.

While some people might be prepared to shell out £50 for an exercise class at an exclusive boutique gym, others are paying nothing to run around the local park.

Depending on budget, taste and level of motivation, the good news is that now more than ever before, there's something to fit all budgets, no matter how big or small.

Armchair athletes and gym rats alike have at their fingertips a cornucopia of classes from which to pick their fitness poison, from sweating it out at an exclusive spinning class to leisurely saluting the sun at hot yoga.

Even traditional gyms are still going strong, partly in thanks to the boom in low-cost gyms.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Traditional gym memberships are on the rise

The Leisure Database Company reported last year membership to fitness centres across the UK continues to thrive with 6,312 sites and 8.8m members.

In fact, the average cost of a monthly gym membership is on the rise, going up from 50.80 euros (£40) in 2014 to 56.10 euros (£44) in 2015, according to the European Health and Fitness Market.

Stan Jackson, from fitness industry regulator UK Active, described it as a "pretty standard increase" but added the gap was widening between high end and budget gyms.

"There's a lot of diversity at both ends of the market and I think customers have voted with their feet," he said.

"People who want an experience when they go to a gym [might choose one such as] Virgin Active, which really sells the 'lifestyle', for which customers pay a premium.

"Then there are others who just really want a conveniently placed treadmill and don't really mind about the experience. There isn't really a middle ground."

People are certainly thinking outside the traditional sweatshop box and looking for alternative ways to get their fitness kicks.

Image copyright Bryan Bedder
Image caption SoulCycle enthusiasts pay up to £24 a session

Pay-as-you-go schemes like the American fitness craze SoulCycle - soon to hit our shores - are proving popular if its 300,000 converts are anything to go by, even at a cost of £24 for 45 minutes.

Another popular scheme that has captured the minds of gym-goers across the world is CrossFit, a group programme led by a coach, which boasts 496 affiliates in the UK alone.

The cost of taking part is higher than the monthly cost of a budget gym, with prices ranging from £75 a month in Manchester to an unlimited monthly pass in central London at £220.

But a spokesman for the firm said it operated differently to standard gyms.

"The CrossFit model isn't about money. Rather than focus on money and what people get for what they pay, it's about creating a community and making people better," he added.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The popularity of CrossFit has seen it become an international competition

Shelling out for one-to-one coaching has become a global market with real advantages, said fitness PR Yvonne Radley, from Big Me Up Media.

"When people pay for a personal trainer they're paying for the accountability. You can find anything you want on YouTube or on blogs for free, but what you lose is that check-in every week," she said.

"When they charge what they charge you're paying for access to their knowledge. You don't have to be in the same room, you could spend an hour to someone on Skype.

"But there's a one-on-one connection, whether that's online of offline."

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Personal trainers can provide a tailored one-to-one service

The rise of the social media-savvy instructor has given those who cannot afford private tuition a way into the fitness world.

Body Network, fronted by well-known personal trainer Matt Roberts, provides an on-demand library of videos for £15 a month, while videos posted on YouTube by the likes of celebrity coach Joe Wicks give free access to high-intensity workouts you can do in your living room.

Though exercise videos in themselves are not new - one needs only to recall a legwarmer-clad Jane Fonda telling fans to "feel the burn" - the home workout is experiencing something of a resurgence.

A workout video by Geordie Shore star Charlotte Crosby became the fastest-selling UK workout DVD of all time when it topped the charts last year.

Image copyright Google

Cost of gym memberships

  • 1Rebel - Canary Wharf, London: Up to £220 a month
  • Third Space - Tower Bridge, London: £125 a month plus £50 joining fee
  • Virgin Active - Leeds: £51 a month plus £15 joining fee for 12-month contract
  • Fitness First - York: £38 a month with £20 minimum start-up fee for 12-month contract
  • PureGym - Manchester: £21.99 a month plus £10 joining fee, no contract
  • easyGym - Birmingham: £17.99 a month plus £25 joining fee, no contract
  • Xercise4Less - Nottingham: £9.99 with £20 admin fee, off peak, 12-month contract

For those who are looking to spend even less than the cost of a DVD, there are a host of free, government-approved activities on offer.

The majority of Parkruns still cost nothing and the NHS Couch to 5K programme aims to get would-be-runners on the road in nine weeks via weekly podcasts which cost nothing to download.

If running doesn't appeal, there are other free programmes available, including an outdoor fitness scheme run by the National Trust, a military-style fitness app run by the Army and Park Lives events at locations across the UK.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The NHS Couch to 5K programme aims to get people running through weekly podcasts

Public Health England said people should aim to get 150 minutes of moderate activity each week.

Justin Varney, from the department, said it is never too late to start incorporating physical activity into daily life.

It seems like sensible advice - and with so many options, there's really no excuse either, whether you've got money to burn or not.

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