In an ideal world, we would all wake up to the sounds of birds chirping and head out for an early bout of exercise before skipping merrily to work.
Unfortunately, reality can get in the way of that. So can your finances.
In fact, reality appears to get in the way for the vast majority of us. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise (which includes walking briskly, doubles tennis etc.) or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise (running, swimming laps etc.) and “moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity at least two days per week for additional health benefits”.
However, only 21.7% of adults actually meet these guidelines.
There are a range of reasons for why we are on the couch instead of on our feet, but it is clearly a widespread issue.
At the same time, gyms are hugely expensive.
Gyms rely on you not going to the gym
We’ve all heard the argument: “If I don’t pay for the gym, I’ll never exercise!”
I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news but, for the vast majority of people, this is simply not true. Just take a look at the following figures (source):
- The average monthly cost of a gym membership is $58, equating to $696 per year.
- The average amount of each gym membership that goes to waste due to underutilisation is $39 per month or $468 annually.
- The percentage of people with gym memberships that never use them is 67%.
Want more proof? If everyone actually went to the gym at a frequency equivalent to how much they pay, there would be no gyms. They would go out of business as they’re not actually able to handle all of the people who sign up for a membership.
For example, Planet Fitness charges between $10 and $20 per month and has about 6,500 members per gym on average.
However, most of its gyms can only hold around 300 people. The company can do this because it knows that most members won’t show up.
It can certainly be very easy to feel like you can’t get fit on a budget. We’re told that we need to get on board the latest fitness bandwagon for the low, low price of your monthly mortgage repayment.
However, here’s another option: get fit for absolutely nothing!
A financial model based on non-attendance
It has been well established that gyms maintain profitability by targeting customers who are the least likely to show up.
For example, the layout of gyms (or “health clubs”) is done in such a way so that they look like coffee shops or juice bars, with the scary (yet often most effective) equipment being tucked away in the back.
Once you see it and it terrifies you because, newsflash, you’re actually about to have to work your butt off, it’s too late; they have your money!
A 2005 study indicated that people significantly overestimate their gym attendance and regularly sign up for membership contracts that involve them paying far more than they should based on their exercise frequency. It found that “consumers who choose a monthly membership […] pay on average 70% more than they would under a pay-as-you-go contract for the same number of visits”.
That is, based on how often people go to the gym compared to how much they spend on a membership, they could be saving 70% of their membership fees.
The authors largely attribute this trend to “persuasion by health club employees”. It is not a coincidence that the study noted that “profit-maximising firms” could learn from such behaviour and that these conclusions “are also consistent with findings on consumer behavior in the credit card industry”.
In simple terms: signing up for a gym membership is equivalent to signing up for a credit card.
Fortunately, there is a simple answer: spend nothing and get the same outcome.
The only equipment you’ll need
So, some minor upfront investment is required.
However, as you would also have to buy these things if you were actually going to a gym – in addition to extortionate membership fees – I would argue that they don’t count from a financial perspective.
They will also make working out easier and, in some cases, safer for you.
While spending some money here is unavoidable, these items will last you for years – and cost far less than the medical bills that will start to build up if you’re one of the 78.3% of people not exercising enough.
Here’s what you’ll need.
I acknowledge that the cost of a phone can be more than a “minor” expense, but you presumably have one already, so let’s move on.
If you’re like me and you can’t stand the repeated bounce of a headphone cord on your chest, I would strongly recommend these wireless Bluetooth headphones. The sound and battery life have been superb and they are also very light and comfortable. As a bonus, they come with an armband!
Waist Belt and/or Armband
For carrying life’s necessities, I cannot speak highly enough about the FlipBelt. It is extremely comfortable, comes in nine different colours (consider getting one of the neon colours if you plan to exercise outside at night) and, best of all, it carries everything you could need without feeling bulky.
In addition to your phone, it can hold your keys, your bank and identification cards, some money and even a special water bottle that is made to fit right into it.
There are slightly cheaper running belts available but, to be frank, I am lazy as sin. If there was any chance that my belt would cause me any discomfort, I know that I would use that as an excuse not to exercise.
Also, I have poured enough sweat into this thing to fill a river (…sorry about that mental image) and the material is as good as the day I bought it, so I’m more than satisfied with the quality.
During those times when I exercise inside (humidity and I are not friends), meaning that I don’t need to carry my life’s possessions, I prefer to wear an armband instead of the FlipBelt.
I use a Belkin armband, which is very comfortable and has lasted perfectly through a number of sweat sessions. Just make sure that your phone will fit – if it doesn’t in the particular one to which I linked above, there are dozens of other options from the same company at that link for almost every sized phone imaginable.
As mentioned above, I am inherently lazy (the first step is acceptance, right?). If there is an excuse for not exercising, I will take it with outstretched arms. Because I know this about myself, I need to eliminate any possible issues that I can come up with before they arise.
On a related point, my left knee is an attention seeking bastard. If I forget that it exists and go for a run, it will add a little niggle just to make sure that I notice it. Not enough to make me seek medical attention (and please note that I am not a doctor so please take care, especially when you are just starting out) but enough for that little evil voice to tell me that the sofa is a better option than a run today.
As such, good shoes are an absolute necessity. I first bought some cheap running shoes on sale when I was just starting out and had to stop when I could barely walk three weeks later.
I would therefore strongly recommend going to a running store to explain what you need (i.e. do you plan to go running, do strength training etc.) and also so they can review your gait to see if you have any problems that the right shoes may correct.
In my case, my feet roll out which is what was causing the abovementioned knee issues. Since being fitted, the niggling knee pain has been practically eliminated.
I have these New Balance running shoes, which have been excellent at forcing my foot to strike correctly and are also much lighter than some other brands I tried.
That said, these may not necessarily be right for you, so please do get fitted by a professional. The fitting itself should be free – just keep an eye on whether they are trying to up-sell you too aggressively.
5 Easy Options to Get Fit For Free – Starting Today
As I hope has been established already, the idea that we need to pay to get fit is a very clever, very untrue marketing ploy.
Not only are there tons of free fitness options, they are as good as or even better than the paid exercise options.
One reason is because they offer far more flexibility. You can choose to work out whenever suits you, not only according to the gym’s specific schedule.
Simply lace up your shoes, turn on the app, and off you go – no travelling across town to get to the gym, no having to stuff your office clothes into a bag so they get creased, no forgetting your hairbrush so that it looks like a cat died on your head that morning.
Just get up, get active, and continue your day.
Sounds too easy? Did I also mention that they’re all free?
If you have never run before or have not run for some time
Couch to 5K (or “C25K”) is your answer.
This is an excellent program for beginner runners that consists of a very manageable run-walk plan, which slowly increases the amount of running over time. In nine weeks, you will go from running for 60 seconds to running for half an hour straight.
I did it; it hurt and it wasn’t always particularly fun, but I was so proud of myself for finishing the program. Given that I am now training for a half-marathon, it really works in ramping up your fitness in a manageable way.
There’s an app for that
I used the free app RunDouble (Android; iOS). It has voice prompts for when you should start and stop running, including for the warm-up and cool down walking periods. It also clearly shows your progress over each running session, which is a great motivational tool for showing how well you are improving.
If you would prefer having a voice to “coach” you through each session, try One You Couch to 5K (Android; iOS). This was developed by the UK’s National Health Service and provides a choice of four (supposedly famous?) trainers to keep you motivated during each session.
I would also recommend looking into the C25K subreddit.
If you haven’t used Reddit before, it may look a bit messy at first, but this is a great community of people posting every day about their progress in this program as well as their struggles.
Reading that other people are in the same boat as you can be really inspirational, especially through some of the more difficult stages of the program (I’m looking at you, week 5).
If you are already running
There are a range of free apps designed to track your running and serve as motivation, which are all widely considered as being excellent. This means that you absolutely should not be paying for an app for this purpose, given the quality of the free ones that are available.
There’s an app for that
I personally use Nike+ Run Club (Android; iOS) as I’m a big fan of its training plans. The ‘Achievements’ they give you at different stages (e.g. training three times in one week, running your fastest mile or kilometre etc.) also really do work as great motivation.
Need some more motivation?
Nike+ Run Club does free training sessions in hundreds of cities around the world. The sessions that I have attended were led by some amazingly friendly and motivated trainers who will guide you through a range of different sessions. For example, some are speed work while others cover set distances.
It’s important to remember that no one there is a pro and they don’t care if you’re the slowest there (I may or may not speak from experience).
It’s very cliched, but as long as you’re getting out there and having a go, they are extremely supportive.
You don’t need to be using the Nike+ Run Club app to be able to attend. And did I mention that it’s free?
Here is a link to the US page but as it is available all over the world, simply navigate to your own country’s page to see when sessions are available in your city.
Parkrun is also a great concept held in cities all over the world.
It’s a free, weekly, timed 5km run (kids can also attend and run 2km if they want) every Saturday or sometimes Sunday held in places like local parks and beaches. All you have to do is register once and then turn up whenever you want.
As described on their website: “It doesn’t matter how fast you go. It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing. What matters is taking part.”
Easy, free, and highly recommended!
Firstly, a few notes about strength training:
Everyone needs to do it
The older you get, the more important it becomes. Protecting bone health, preserving muscle mass, improving balance and coordination, and reducing the risk of disease (osteoporosis, arthritis, diabetes etc.) are, I’m sure you’d agree, fairly important benefits.
Strength exercises are better than cardio for losing weight
Sure, cardio burns more calories during the actual exercise. However, in a study published in
The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, women who completed an hour-long strength-training workout burned an average of 100 more calories in the 24 hours afterwards than those who skipped the weights. As such, the more muscle you have, the more fat is burned.
You will be more attractive
We’ve gotten all the health stuff out of the way, but let’s be honest about the real reason we’re doing this: to look good. You know it, I know it, it’s fine.
Guys: You will look ripped. Enough said.
Ladies: This is how you get toned. You will not grow excessive amounts of muscle. It is next to impossible unless you are specifically working towards that outcome.
Also, all of those women you check out on Instagram? They don’t have great bodies because of weight loss. They have great bodies because of strength training. This article shows the difference well.
(NB. That article is safe for work as there is no nudity, but there is a lot of butt so…maybe check who’s near your screen before you open it.)
You get to eat more
Another thing to keep in mind with strength training, especially for people who are used to counting calories for weight loss, is that you will need to eat enough to build muscle. This may require eating more than you are used to.
There are plenty of online guides explaining what you should eat based on your gender, fitness regime, and weight needs, but eating sufficient amounts of protein is particularly important. This allows you to repair and rebuild the tissues of your body, including damaged muscle fibers after a workout, to ensure that your muscles can continue to grow.
Chicken and turkey breast as well as certain types of fish, beans, and nuts are all great for this and, fortunately, can all be relatively cheap to buy.
Another great option is protein powder. While many see this as being only for bodybuilders, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
One of the main ingredients found in most protein powders, whey, is a group of proteins that helps you recover faster because of its specific characteristics.
The 30 minutes or so after a workout is the best time for your muscles to start recovering. It has been found that a post-workout snack of both whey and carbohydrates gives your body what it needs to repair muscle fibers and rebuild glycogen stores.
Fortunately, because it’s delicious and because I sometimes regress to being a two year old, I use Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein Powder in the flavour Extreme Milk Chocolate which, when mixed with skim milk, tastes like chocolate milk.
If you would like more information on why whey protein is so good for you, including due to its effect on muscle repair, have a look here. This particular brand of whey protein powder is consistently ranked as the most effective protein powder by health and fitness websites (such as this one). Arguably more importantly: it doesn’t taste like chocolate sand.
If you are trying to limit your calorie intake, you can drink it with water instead. Many reviews online rate that option highly, although I personally prefer the taste of it with milk.
Breaking news: strength is built through resistance training!
Well, resistance training is any form of training in which you’re working against some type of force that “resists” your movement.
Lifting weights is one form, but why do that when you’re carrying a free option around with you right now?
Bodyweight fitness is simply using your body as the resistance. Push-ups and pull-ups are great examples.
It is highly effective and not only is it free, but you can train anywhere.
In addition, as you improve, it is very easy to adjust your form to make each exercise more difficult, so that you continue to improve further.
This clearly costs less than, say, having to buy heavier dumbbells.
What do I need?
While it would be great to have a bar as shown in the picture to perform rows, there are alternative options that are just as effective. Check out some examples of these in this video.
For example, most routines include rows.
You may wish to try the table suggestion in that video, while some of you may even decide to take the plunge and purchase rings.
These are the cheapest on Amazon at the time of writing and while the reviews appear to be great, I don’t have any personal experience with this product.
I can confirm, however, that exercising with rings is amazing for your fitness, especially your arm and core strength. Also, you get to pretend to be an Olympic gymnast.
As an alternative free option, wait until the 40 second mark in that video (or jump to it here) to see how you can use bedsheets and a door to do this exercise for free.
Another way to avoid paying anything is to go to a local park and use the equipment there.
This website lists over 4,000 locations around the world that have outdoor equipment which is perfect for bodyweight exercises. And all for free.
I know some people are hesitant to exercise outside where other people can see them, but let me be clear: in the nicest possible way, they do not give a crap about you.
Now that everyone’s self-esteem is appropriately shattered, let’s move on.
But what do I do?
There are a range of routines available online.
This one for women and this one for men are both easy to follow but, to be frank, there is no reason why men and women need different routines. On average, men weigh more than women and thus any bodyweight fitness routine automatically has men using more weight for their strength exercises.
A routine that I would thoroughly recommend is the Reddit r/bodyweightfitness Recommended Routine. There is an extensive explanation of this here but it may be easier to watch this video which covers the same information.
If you still have some questions after reading/watching that, a long list of FAQs on this is available for your viewing pleasure.
There’s an app for that
The app is truly excellent. It walks you through the routine, including showing easier and harder options depending on how you are progressing. There are also videos showing how to do each step. For that reason, I would recommend putting your phone next to you while doing this routine rather than keeping it in an armband.
Before you attempt this the first time, I would recommend reading or watching the abovementioned explanation well to make sure that you have a good grasp of it.
If you do not fully understand how to do one of the steps or would just like some further information on it, simply search the name of the specific exercise in YouTube. You’re guaranteed to find the information you need that way, including further demonstrations on how to do them (and mistakes to avoid so that you don’t injure yourself).
Some people dismiss pilates as being a weak or easy form of exercise. They couldn’t be more mistaken.
Pilates is actually a form of bodyweight exercise and, similar to the routine outlined above, can easily be made more difficult with some slight adjustments to your movements.
Unfortunately, since pilates became Hollywood’s choice of exercise, it tends to be priced accordingly.
In my younger, less fiscally responsible days, I used to go to classes that cost $24 for one hour. Considering that it is recommended that we do strength exercises at least two days per week, that’s almost $200 per month out the door if you do the absolute minimum.
No, thank you.
Fortunately, there are free options. YouTube to the rescue!
app video for that
Searching “pilates” on YouTube produces more than 2,800,000 results. While you are more than welcome to go through as many of these as you like, I would very much recommend the videos produced by Blogilates
It is amazing that these are free, as they are truly of a professional quality. The certified instructor, Cassey Ho, is great at explaining each move, and the music is excellent at getting you pumped up for the work out.
Do you only have a few minutes to squeeze in a work out? Have a look at one (or a few in a row) of her 5 minute series.
Have a particular body area on which you would like to work? Simply make your selection on this page and find a video that works for you.
What do I need?
While absolutely not necessary, I would recommend using a mat to avoid slipping and hurting yourself.
Some people try to talk about the virtues of different types of mats but, in my experience, they all pretty much do the same thing. Just ensure that the reviews of the one you choose mention that it’s sufficiently non-slip and non-“crumbly”, indicating potentially poor quality that won’t hold-up during sweat sessions.
This one is really good value and appears to have great reviews, so have a look and see what you think.
While yoga, in terms of the specific exercises, is very different from pilates, they share a number of attributes. Namely, they are both often (and entirely incorrectly) dismissed as being “easy” or “weak” and they are both very effective forms of bodyweight exercises.
As with pilates, yoga classes can certainly range the full spectrum of prices and, like pilates, spending money on yoga is completely unnecessary.
Again, YouTube is the key. Just searching “yoga” produces an insane 17,200,000 results, so let me save you some time.
app video for that
Yoga with Adriene is an excellent series that will meet all your yoga needs. Adriene is a certified yoga instructor and she is so well-renowned that her online videos were the most searched workout on Google for 2015.
I guess 2.6 million YouTube subscribers and over 200 million views for her videos can’t be wrong.
I thoroughly recommend her playlist of 30-35 minute routines, which I try to sneak in before work on days that I’m feeling particularly motivated.
She also has tons of other amazingly high quality videos sorted into playlists according to your needs, including a great one for beginners if you are just getting started with yoga.
As with pilates, I would recommend using a mat for your general comfort (those knees!) as well as to avoid injuries from slipping over. Please see the pilates section above for some recommendations.
Strength, endurance and mobility?
(I swear I am not receiving a single cent from Nike, but they have just really upped their game with their free workout options!)
Would you like to work on your strength, endurance, and mobility in the same app?
Are you at an intermediate or advanced level, or perhaps you are only just starting out?
Do you only have 15 minutes free or maybe you can squeeze in a 30 or even a 45 minute workout?
Really, this app is the full package. With over 160 free exercises, it ensures that workouts are fun and well explained, with a really perky (yet somehow not annoying!) trainer for each one pushing you on.
There is also a great option to have customised plans prepared for you based on how frequently you can exercise, what your focus is, and your level of fitness.
This app gets you sweating but yet, despite being damn hard work, it is one of the few where I don’t find myself watching the clock and begging it to go faster.
Honestly, just give it a go. The worst that can happen is that you delete the app. I don’t think you will though.
But I really like group training!
You know what? So do I.
Knowing that you have a friend waiting to meet you is great motivation for not rolling over in bed when your alarm goes off before a workout.
However, just because you’ve discovered how to exercise for free does not mean that you have to give up exercising in groups.
Some options are:
Meet at someone’s house. Set up one of the workouts on the TV and do it all together there. The deal can be that the person who provided the house doesn’t have to provide the post-workout snack…or post-workout wine, depending on your needs (no judging).
(Depending on your work situation (and how much you like your colleagues – an important factor), this could also be done in the workplace. I used to work in an office where a group of about ten of us would get together at lunch once a week in a spare meeting room and do a yoga session using one of the video conference screens. I fully acknowledge though that this isn’t an option for everyone)
Meet at a park. You can either follow a workout on your phone or have one of you act as the “instructor” by showing the others what to do.
Meet up and go for a run together. Straightforward but effective.
If you have stuck with me this long, well done! You’ve taken the first steps down the road towards getting fit for free!
When there are so many great options that don’t cost a cent, it’s clear that a wallet-draining gym membership is absolutely unnecessary.
And we all know that saving as much money as possible is critical to our financial health – and if it helps our physical health along the way, great!
Better yet, these options are far more convenient, being able to be done either at home or when you schedule it, not during the tiny window of time that you have to race to the gym or the two mornings per week that your favourite instructor is available.
Let me know in the comments below if there’s another form of exercise that you love (or would love to try!) but that seems a bit pricey – and let’s see if we can find a way to do it for free!