Have you bought any Groupons for exercise?

Have you bought any Groupons for exercise?

If you've used Groupon, Living Social, Amazon Local, or any of the other daily deal/coupon sites you've seen the dirt-cheap deals:  $30 for 10 boot-camp classes, $45 for 10 yoga sessions, a month of unlimited barre classes for $29. Maybe you've even a bought a few coupons like this (we have). And maybe they either didn't get used or you tried a class once or twice and then never went back.

If you went to a class and you never went again because the workout or the trainer wasn't right for you, consider the coupon time and money well-spent (assuming you gave it a fair try). Using these coupons is actually a great way to try out a bunch of different types of activity to see what you really like (and what you don't) without committing to any one workout. If you're out 20 bucks after a bad Pilates experience at least you didn't commit to a month's worth (or more) of hell, right?

But there are better and worse ways to use these daily deals sites to truly get bang for your buck. After all, your goal is (we hope) to ultimately find some type of activity (and it doesn't have to be "exercise") that you like to do, which ensures you'll want to do it, week in and week out.  To find out how to choose wisely from all the promotions on these sites we talked to Zac Pruitt, co-founder of Sweat City Fitness, a Los Angeles-based boot camp and athletic training business, to learn more. Sweat City Fitness advertises on Groupon and other daily deal sites, so they get a lot of customers who use the coupons to try their boot-camp classes on for size.

If you want to use the fitness coupons from Groupon and others, Pruitt says it's crucial to start with realistic expectations (i.e., you won't get a body makeover in two weeks), but you should see some results if you're working hard. "A lot is possible in just five sessions," he says. "You should try to get about 2.5 hours per week over a two-week span; you can see results in just five sessions." But what really matters most for weight loss (and Pruitt acknowledges that everyone hates to hear this) is what you put in your mouth, not exercise. "It all comes down to nutrition; you're going to lose weight if you take in less calories," he stresses.

If you do a strength-training/CrossFit/boot camp style of class you may find that you're putting on lean muscle, which weighs more than fat—so you may not see the scale shift as much as you'd like--or at all, sometimes, Pruitt cautions (this is where diet is so important). "When you're developing lean muscle it may not show on the scale side, but your pants will be fitting better. A lot is possible in even two weeks."

He adds that when you're choosing a daily deal, it's essential to be realistic about the location. Time, after all, is the biggest barrier to regular exercise for most people, and while you may think you won't mind the 20-minute drive to a yoga class, when you're beat after a long day it may just be too much. Choose a place that's near your home or work and makes it reasonably easy and quick for you to get there and back without too much trouble. Some studios and training centers also have showers, making early-morning workouts a little easier.

Most important, though, is something that probably sounds counter-intuitive: keep your enthusiasm in check, at least a little bit. "The biggest mistake that beginner exercisers make is getting way too excited in the beginning and burning themselves out," Pruitt says. "They say, 'I'll get this Groupon and jumpstart things' and you come to one class and it's hard. So you go hard in a few classes and you reach this huge peak—physically and mentally—and endorphins are flying high, and you say 'I'm going to do this all the time.'"

At this point, he says many newer exercisers develop an idea that they need to be working out very intensely every time they exercise. "But," says Pruitt, "It's got to be a more sustainable approach; you can't say you have to do something every day. And exercise doesn't need to be a crazy, gnarly boot camp class; that can burn you out."

Setting yourself up for those kinds of expectations means that if you have a rough day, when you're super-tired, you might miss one class. And then you miss another. "Soon you're going the other way," says Pruitt. "It's good to get excited, but just make sure that you're doing things that you can sustain in the long term. Not every time you work out does it have to be 100%." On the days you're not able to get to class, for example, maybe your priority is simply eating fewer calories. "You're still going to be making progress if your goal is weight loss," adds Pruitt. "Weight loss is actually more about those off-days, ensuring you're not sitting around and eating a ton."

 Whatever workout you choose—whether it's one you discover through a daily deal coupon or in some other way—the best way to ensure it's something you'll want to keep doing is to combine that initial excitement with a touch of moderation. "It's a fine line, because you do get excited," says Pruitt. "Everyone has great intentions, but don't feel that every time you have to do better than the time before. There will be ups and downs and what's important is that there's an upward trajectory overall."

Have you bought coupons from daily deal sites? Did you use them? What did you like or not like about them?