Crunches on my living room floor? Those I can handle. Walks around my neighborhood? I’m there. But a pricey gym membership? No thank you, that’s just not for me. I’m all for being healthy and I know that fitness comes at a price. But, I just don’t want that price to come out of my wallet. I’m willing to put in the time and effort, as long as my finances don’t take a big hit in the process. Fortunately, it turns out that it’s easy to get fit on the cheap. Here’s what I’ve learned about how to exercise on a budget.
Use Free Exercise Videos
My absolute favorite way to exercise is with free videos on YouTube. For one thing, when I’m dancing up a sweat in my living room, I am comfortable with looking as ridiculous as I want. There are no curious strangers eyeing me while I sweat those pounds off! If it takes me a few tries to learn the moves, that’s totally okay. Plus, I can do it on my own schedule and don’t have to worry about getting a sitter for the kids. And, did you hear what I said? They’re free. Completely and totally free. Sometimes there is a quick ad to watch at the beginning of a video, but if those keep YouTube free, I’m totally okay with that.
I get bored with doing the same routine day after day. If I’m going to keep up with an exercise program, it absolutely must have variety. I thought that it was just because I have a short attention span, but One Medical tells me that variety is actually good when exercising. Mixing up the workouts helps me exercise different muscle groups, prevents repetitive strain injuries, and encourages my body to work harder. Fortunately, with YouTube videos, I can do a different style of exercise every day of the week. Yoga, HIIT routines, dance aerobics, kickboxing: They’re all there. Of course, the downside is that the enormous selection can be a little overwhelming to browse through. To get a jump start on finding the best of the best, head over to Greatist where they have a list of 21 of YouTube’s best workout videos. The list includes a Keaira LaShea routine, whose videos are a personal favorite of mine.
Get Out and Walk
Do you want to lose weight, be in a better mood, and have healthy bathroom habits? Start walking on a regular basis! According to Prevention, walking 30 minutes a day can do all this for you and more. Walking can keep varicose veins at bay and stimulate your brain to think about problems more creatively. That’s a lot of benefits for an exercise that just requires a pair of sneakers, a willing body, and a place to walk.
So where do you walk? Around your neighborhood is convenient and a good choice for many people. However, if your neighborhood doesn’t have clear sidewalks or you are just ready for a change, look around your community for another place to walk. Most towns have at least one spot where the locals go to walk laps. In my community, there’s a local cemetery where respectful fitness buffs regularly go to exercise their legs. In your town, the popular spot might be a park, a school track, the shopping mall, or the downtown business district. If you’re not sure, ask around. I’ve often found that a simple query on Facebook is a great way to crowdsource information about all that my local community has to offer.
If walking is your exercise of choice, just make sure you do it right. Mayo Clinic says that for the most beneficial walking, you should bend your arms just a touch and allow them to swing freely. You also need to keep your back straight and your abdominal muscles tucked in. Your eyes should be on what’s ahead, not what’s on the ground. Make sure your shoulders, neck, and back are comfortably relaxed. Steps should be smooth, with a rolling motion that goes from heel to toe.
Find a Cheaper Gym
Gym memberships are often known for their hefty price tags, but there are some lower-cost alternatives out there. Boston Magazine lists the YMCA as one of the cheapest gym options in Boston, a city not known for low price tags on much of anything. Both the YMCA and the similarly-modeled YWCA have locations throughout the country. Although membership costs are usually lower than premier gym chains, you still get a whole host of benefits. Most have weights and other exercise equipment, swimming pools, and basketball courts, plus discounted fitness classes and programs for the whole family.
You may also be able to score a discount on a gym membership. Look into whether your employer offers a group rate to any of the fitness centers in your area. Even if they don’t, Consumer Reports suggests that you might be able to negotiate a group discount if you convince several of your friends to sign up with you. Consumer Reports also suggests looking into a discount through your health insurance company, keeping your eyes open for deals in the summer, and comparing rates online.
Use Fitness Apps
A personal trainer can be a great motivator. A personal trainer is also expensive. Really expensive. According to Women’s Health, $60 is the low end of what you should expect to pay for every personal training session. If that expense doesn’t fit your budget, turn to the personal trainer that can fit in your pocket: your smartphone. Although not quite the same as a real, live human being, fitness apps for your smartphone can track your exercise progress, suggest new goals, give you workout ideas, and provide healthy eating plans. Some apps are free, but others cost a bit. Either way, a one-time app purchase is significantly cheaper than weekly personal training sessions. Cheap or not, though, try not to waste your money by downloading apps that don’t meet your needs. Read reviews and flip through the screenshots in the app store before purchasing. For a good starting point, head over to PCMag where they have a list of 25 of the best fitness apps.
If you are using fitness apps to keep track of how much exercise you are doing, Bankrate strongly advises using a wearable fitness tracker that syncs with your app. That’s because, while you might overestimate how much physical activity you are getting, the device won’t. Plus, if the device automatically syncs to your app, this saves you the trouble of inputting the data or of remembering to input the data. I don’t know about you, but anything that saves me a step is a lifesaver. Otherwise, I just keep telling myself that I’ll get around to it later, and before I know it, I’ve forgotten just what the data was. If you, like me, would benefit from a wearable fitness tracker, Tech Radar says that the Fitbit Charge 2 gives you the most bang for your buck.
Use Resistance Bands
A set of resistance bands adds a new level of challenge to your regular workout because, like free weights, these stretchy plastic bands are good for strength training. They offer resistance both when they are stretched out and when they contract again, so you build muscle during both the inward and outward directions of your exercise moves. Both stretchy tubes with handles and flat, stretchy strips are available. When using resistance bands without built-in handles, it is important to wrap them properly around your hand so they don’t slip out of place. Top.me has a handy series of graphics illustrating different wrap styles. They also show you how to wrap bands around your feet and how to tie loops in the bands.
Resistance bands are relatively cheap. According to Fitness Select, the price of a low-resistance band starts around just $5. Higher-weight bands cost more, but $40 is a reasonable price for the top weights. Prepackaged sets usually give you a better deal than buying each band level individually. With just three to five bands, you can have a pretty complete range of resistance levels for much less than the cost of a full spectrum of free weights.
Find Affordable Classes
If the company of others motivates you to do your best when exercising, then participating in classes might be your cup of tea. Fortunately, there are plenty of options for finding exercise groups that won’t break the bank. My parents go to a weekly yoga class through their city’s community college extension program. I have friends who work out every week with a free workout group at a local church. According to Living on the Cheap, other places you might find free or reduced-cost exercise classes are libraries, community centers, and athletic stores.
November Project is a free fitness group that meets in select cities across the country and around the world. The groups meet in the morning one or more days a week. Rain or shine, participants get together to encourage and motivate each other through challenging outdoor workouts. All you have to do to start participating in a group is show up. If there isn’t a group in your area, you can find information on their website about starting a chapter in your city. Or, visit Shape for a list of 21 free exercise programs around the country.
Actually Use That Treadmill
I know I’m not the only one with a treadmill in the basement that serves as a drying rack more often than a piece of exercise equipment. That’s a shame because, according to Runner’s World, treadmills provide a convenient and effective way to exercise even when the weather is bad. I’ll add to that: The treadmill also gives me a no-excuses fitness method for those times when I don’t have anyone else to stay home with my kids.
The Nest tells me that every mile I run on a treadmill will burn 300 calories. Plus, running or walking briskly on a treadmill for 30 minutes a day, three days a week will help me sleep better, increase my sex drive, lower my cholesterol levels, and give me more energy. The 30 minutes can be done all at once or broken into three 10-minute sessions over the course of the day.
If you don’t already own a treadmill, this will be a hefty investment. In fact, Verywell recommends spending at least $1,000 on a home treadmill. On the plus side, this is a piece of equipment that will last for years to come, and it is certainly cheaper than years and years of gym memberships. On the other hand, $1,000 or more is a lot to fork over at one time. Therefore, you might want to buy a used treadmill instead of a brand-new one. Treadmill Reviews suggests that quality used treadmills are available for $500 or less, which is a much more appealing price point. They recommend checking secondhand stores, online resale sites, and going-out-of-business gyms for deals on used treadmills.
Make Your Own Protein Shakes
Pre-made protein shakes are prep-free, but they aren’t price-free. The cost of a daily bottled protein shake doesn’t take long to add up. I’ve learned, however, that with just a few minutes in the kitchen, I can make my own shakes. Not only is this a cheaper way to satisfy my protein needs, but it means that I can customize exactly what goes into my recipes. I can add my favorite ingredients, avoid recipes with stuff I can’t stand, and make sure my shakes contain only whole foods and no unpronounceable preservatives.
The Kitchn breaks the basic protein shake recipe down into an easy-to-remember formula. It’s 1/3 cup of protein and 3/4 cup of liquid. Good protein sources are raw cashews, almond butter, tofu, and Greek yogurt. A handful of hemp hearts, chia seeds, and whole oats add even more protein to the mix. Hop over to The Kitchn to see specific recipes that they’ve tasted tested for you.
Go the Video Game Route
If your family already has a video game console, you may be able to put it to good use for fitness purposes. Top Ten Reviews says that the Wii, the Wii U, the Xbox Kinect, and the PlayStation Move systems are all compatible with fitness games. The Wii and PlayStation Move consoles have remotes with motion sensors, and the Kinect has a special built-in sensor that tracks your movements. Take your pick of dance games, sports games, and boxing games, all of which can help you burn calories and get more fit. Check out HealthFitnessRevolution for a list of 10 fun fitness video games that you and your whole family will have fun playing. Just make sure that you are actually moving and putting your whole body into the action of the game.
Do a No-Equipment Workout
You can do a full workout with nothing more than your very own body. A no-equipment workout is cheap and it also has the advantage of being entirely portable. Whether you’re at home or traveling, you can squeeze in some physical activity. You can even perform no-equipment exercises in your office during your break period.
Muscle & Fitness has a no-equipment workout on their site that targets muscle groups all over your body through a series of six exercises, including Walking Lunges, Hip Thrusts, and Bodyweight Squats. The goal is to repeat the circuit of exercises as many times as possible in a 20-minute period, so, in addition to requiring no expensive supplies, this plan is also quick. Full disclaimer: The Incline Push-Up part of the routine does require a chair or couch to support your legs. You can find one of those almost anywhere, but if you don’t have anything suitable available, just skip that part of the workout until the next time. Head over to their page to see all the details of this intense workout.
Accountability works; that’s one reason why personal trainers are so effective. Friends are a good source of accountability, too, and, unlike professional trainers, they don’t typically charge for their services. Find a friend who also wants to get fit and commit to keeping each other on track with your goals. You may want to work out together or you might choose to exercise separately and report back to one another on your progress. Sometimes, making healthy choices may feel nearly impossible. That’s when you need a friend to remind you of the big picture of why you’re doing what you’re doing. As Everyday Health points out, this buddy will be the person you can call when you feel ready to toss in the towel on healthy living.
If you really want to hold yourselves to the goals that you set, draw up a fitness contract. Daily Burn recommends writing up a document that outlines your goals and what steps you will use to get there. You can even specify a reward and write it into the contract. You and your fitness pal can both sign the contract and then hold each other accountable for sticking to it.
Make Family Life Work for You
There are some things in life that we have to do, like cleaning and yard work. These chores sometimes feel like drudgery, but the more you do them, the more calories you burn. According to TODAY, a 150-pound person will burn 200 calories during an hour of vacuuming and 180 calories during an hour of scrubbing the bathroom. Half an hour of laundry burns 75 calories, and the same amount of time washing dishes burns 50. Make a plan to do 30 minutes to an hour of vigorous cleaning each day. Your house will look great and your physical shape will benefit too. And, on the days when snow blankets your yard, be thankful for the calories you will burn while clearing your driveway. Did you know that 45 minutes of shoveling uses a whopping 300 calories?
Playing with your kids can also help you slim down and shape up. Some of the things that children enjoy most involve a lot of movement, which is perfect for the mom who needs burn calories. ModernMom reports that half an hour of swimming can burn 400 calories, and half an hour of running during a game of tag can use up 465 calories or more. Other family-friendly fitness activities include playing ball in the yard, taking a walk around the neighborhood, and going on a bike ride. Next time your kids ask you to play, jump right into the fun with full enthusiasm, knowing that you’re doing both your family and your body good.
What do you think? Can you truly get fit without breaking the bank? I sure hope so, since low-cost exercise is most definitely my kind of fitness. From free YouTube videos to bike rides with my family, cheap exercise is the only kind of exercise I know. I’m always looking for new ideas, so comment below to let me know your favorite way to exercise on a budget.