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Getting fit for free

It's time for your Saturday-morning yoga class. You meet your fellow fitness buffs in a scenic outdoor setting, lay out your mats and begin your hourlong workout. It's a great way to start the weekend. And even better, it's entirely free.

No-cost yoga classes aren't the only options for free exercise in the Baltimore region. Many gyms and exercise studios in the area offers free trial memberships. Most also give free memberships to employees, so if you're willing to teach a class or two, or even work the front desk, you probably qualify.

And then there are clubs that offer organized bike rides, hikes and runs, some for a small membership fee and others at no cost at all. The Maryland Outdoor Club, for example, has no membership fee, and the Baltimore Bicycling Club offers a well-known Instructional Rides series each year that provides instruction, safety tips and group rides, at no charge. The Baltimore Road Runners Club invites nonmembers to its scheduled runs.

Of course, scoring a free workout has always been as easy as lacing up a pair of sneakers and heading out for a walk or run, or keeping pace with an exercise show on television. But freebies are also available for people who prefer professional instruction, organized excursions and rooms filled with serious equipment. Here are some ideas for getting exercise without sweating the price.

Free yoga

Every Saturday from mid-May through August, weather permitting, Charm City Yoga hosts a 9 a.m. yoga class right in the Inner Harbor, at West Shore Park, in cooperation with the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore. "We do what's called an all-levels class," said Allison Korycki, director of community relations and operations for the studio. "It's structured so everyone from the first-time yoga practitioner to the experienced yogi can get a good workout."

Participants can bring their own mat or rent one there. "It's a great workout," said Korycki. "It's a great way to balance, de-stress, build strength and flexibility, and to experience a good meeting between nature and city."

Also offering a free weekly outdoor yoga class is Lululemon, the retail chain that sells yoga and running clothes, which has a new location in Fells Point, open Thursdays through Saturdays. The classes, open to all levels, are free of charge and held Saturday mornings at 9 in Patterson Park by the pagoda. It will move to the showroom when the weather gets cold, said Amanda Casgar, regional community guru for the Eastern United States.

The store also hosts a "run club" that meets Thursdays at 6 p.m. for a city run of between 3 and 6 miles. The promise: "You can run at your own pace, and we'll be there to keep you entertained and motivated."

Free gym memberships and classes

There are at least two paths to travel if you want to work out for free at local gyms and exercise studios. The first is to obtain a pass for a trial run. The second is to work at the business, even part time, since most health clubs give free membership to employees.

Gyms and fitness studios often offer passes entitling users to a week or two of free classes and use of equipment, as a way to lure potential members. Gold's Gym offers a seven-day pass on its website. Merritt Athletic Club advertises a five-day pass.

"We usually have passes to try the club for 14 days at no risk," said Josh Gerber, marketing director for Lynne Brick's and Brick Bodies, the Maryland chain of coed and female-only health clubs. Pass-holders can use all gym equipment and take classes at any location during the two weeks, he said. Instructors and other employees, even part-time ones, get free memberships, he said.

Other local businesses have similar deals, so if there's a particular venue that interests you, it pays to ask if you can try it for free.

"We always offer a free tryout class," said Danyelle Berger, who owns the Baltimore Martial Arts Academy with her husband, Gary. And here's an inside tip: If you ask, you'll almost certainly get a free week, she said. "It's almost too much stuff to try to come in and try one class," she said. Options include judo, Pilates, kettlebell fitness, karate and kickboxing aerobics.

The Bergers, who opened the studio in 1995 and moved it from Howard County to Baltimore County last year, also give memberships to employees, including students who take on such tasks as cleaning, she said. "We just want to make it work."

Clubs

Outdoor exercises like running, hiking and biking are already pretty cheap (except for the cost of the bike), but they can be lonely. Instead of setting out on your own, why not join one of the many clubs in the region? They offer instruction, advice and guided excursions. And working out with like-minded exercisers is just more fun.

The Maryland Outdoor Club is run by volunteers and has no membership fee. It offers activities for all fitness levels, including bike rides, hikes, camping trips and purely social events such as picnics. Sometimes a fee is levied to cover expenses, but many of the events are free.

The Baltimore Bicycling Club holds an instructional series every spring. For no charge at all, riders can learn basics of safety and bike maintenance, and then ride with a group each week. The rides are of varying lengths, but they get more difficult as the season progresses.

The Instructional Ride Series, now in its 27th year, starts in early May with an orientation offering information on basic cycling techniques, safety, bicycle equipment, repairs and appropriate clothing. Participants can bring their bicycles for a free check and instruction on doing a pre-ride check. Weekly rides led by instructors are also part of the series.

"The purpose is, if people get into it and they like it, they become members," said longtime member Gordon Peltz. "It's our outreach."

By the end of the seven-week program, he said, many cyclists are riding as many as 30 hilly miles, and "the people who are very timid in the beginning are just bubbling over with confidence and camaraderie at the end of each ride," he said. The club also hosts several group rides each weekend, all open to nonmembers at no charge, said Peltz.

For runners, one of the many local organizations is the Baltimore Road Runners Club, which charges a nominal membership fee but invites nonmembers for group runs and sprints on the track at Goucher College.

"We have a lot of what we call informal running groups," said Christy St. Clair, president of the Baltimore Road Runners Club. "There are no costs associated with that. Just meet at the designated time." Both Saturday-morning long runs and Thursday-evening "speed work" sessions on the track at Goucher College are open to nonmembers, she said. "We'd love to have anyone who would join us."

Resources

Charm City Yoga: Multiple locations, 800-336-9642, http://www.charmcityyoga.com.

Lululemon: 1724 Aliceanna St., 410-537-5120, http://www.lululemon.com/baltimore/baltimore.

Gold's Gym: Multiple locations, http://www.goldsgym.com/gyms/maryland.

Merritt Athletic Club: Multiple locations, 800-639-7427) http://www.merrittclubs.com.

Brick Bodies and Lynne Brick's: Multiple locations, 866-952-7425, http://www.brickbodies.com.

Baltimore Martial Arts Academy: 6565 Baltimore National Pike, Catonsville, 410-465-7799, http://www.baltimoremartialarts.com/.

Maryland Outdoor Club: mdoutdoorclub.org

Baltimore Bicycling Club: http://www.baltobikeclub.org

Baltimore Road Runners Club: brrc.com

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