Photo by Tammy Stables Battaglia/MCT

Personal trainer Steven Pierce teaches GM retiree Vanessa Hicks to use custom exercise cards for home workouts at RS Health & Fitness in Ferndale, Michigan.

DETROIT -- Mandy MacNeil's birthday present from her husband was a set of 10 personal training sessions at their Oakland Township, Mich., home from Leah Veprauskas of Lake Orion, Mich.-based Leah V. Fitness.

When the prepaid classes ran out, MacNeil, a 38-year-old pharmaceutical sales representative, got creative.

She didn't want to continue to shell out the $60 per session cost of the in-home trainer, and she didn't want to commit to a gym membership.

"I wanted to keep Leah, but I couldn't continue at $60 a session," MacNeil says. "I asked her if she had any interest in training a group of women. So I just e-mailed a group of friends."

Now, Veprauskas works with MacNeil and six to 10 other women in an Oakland Township, Mich., group nicknamed the Driveway Divas that moves basement-to-basement or yard-to-yard twice a week, depending on everyone's schedule.

Splitting the cost makes it affordable, about $10 to $15 a session, MacNeil says. The women -- including a pharmacist, a CFO who works from home for a New York City-based investment firm, a photographer and a philanthropist -- knew each other through their children's school, Delta Kelly Elementary.

"Leah provides all the equipment, so all we have to do is show up," says MacNeil, a mother of three. "You don't have the extra expense of the gym or really even have to drive" because the women all live in the same neighborhood.

Excuses for avoiding exercise -- can't make it to the gym or can't afford the gym -- don't cut it anymore. Personal training at home, around town and online offer affordable, time-saving alternatives to the gym, motivation included.

As the economy slowed, the number of U.S. health club memberships dropped from 45.5 million to 45.3 million between 2008 and 2009 following year-after-year increases the past decade, according to the latest figures available from the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, a Boston-based nonprofit trade association representing fitness facilities. And the number of health clubs -- including YMCAs, community centers, small training centers and gyms -- declined slightly from 30,022 clubs in 2008 to 29,750 in 2009. The numbers are expected to be about the same for 2010.

But the number of Americans using personal trainers in and out of the gym has jumped, from 4 million in 1999 to 6.5 million today, according to IHRSA.

"Fifty years ago, we did not have gyms, and we were way fitter," says California-based celebrity coach Valerie Orsoni, the creator of the online personal training website www.LeBootCamp.com, who advocates working exercise into daily regimes.

"It's really going back to the roots," Orsoni says.

Orsoni points to a study published in January that found that those who worked exercise into their daily routine were fitter than those who were mostly sedentary but visited a gym. Research shows that the lack of ongoing exercise manifests iPierce's one-on-one training fee of $70 per hour.

It fit perfectly for Vanessa Hicks, 53, of Canton, Mich., who longs for a flat stomach and Michelle Obama arms.

"I'm retired, too, so I'm really on a strict budget," said Hicks, a former line worker for General Motors.

She clicked with Pierce when she saw him on a Fox2 News exercise segment. But regularly driving to his Ferndale gym from Canton was too much. She signed up for the monthly program.

"What I do is I hold them accountable," Pierce says. "Once I see their results on their cards -- because they're responsible for filling out their cards -- I give them a whole new workout routine. And I probably will increase the intensity, because it's going to be a progression program."