work out for free

The Frugal Fitness Guide: How to Work Out for Free

This summer, lose calories, not money.
July 2, 2019
8 mins read

Motivating yourself to exercise is difficult enough on its own, but with steep prices for gym memberships and classes, the prospect can be even more daunting. If you’re strapped for cash, you’re going to have to compromise — but compromise doesn’t have to suck. Here’s how you can work out for free and save your money for the million other expenses in your life.

Finding Free Trials/Introductory Classes

The internet is your friend; free stuff can be just a Google search away, and with just a few keyboard strokes, you can look up nearby gyms. (Granted, this works better for people living in more urban regions, but unless you live in the middle of nowhere, you’re bound to find a few.) If you look a little further into these websites, you’ll likely find several offers for trial runs or introductory classes, which will let you work out for free.

If you live in a populous enough area, you could potentially ride the freebie wave for several weeks’ worth of workouts. Just this month, I took full advantage of a yoga studio that promoted a free week of yoga for new students. For seven days, I had an unlimited pass to classes that would have normally cost $20 apiece. And there are plenty of other options available, such as traditional gyms, martial arts studios and even Jazzercise centers.

Fair warning: make sure you understand the terms and conditions, and be wary of services that ask for your card information before giving you a “free” trial, or you might unknowingly end up promising a monthly subscription that will charge you as soon as the grace period ends.

Exercising Outside

Free samples are nice, but they aren’t a renewable resource, and, eventually, you’ll have exhausted the finite amount of offerings near you. Luckily, humans have existed for far longer than gyms and weight rooms have been around, so if you want to work out for free, the possibilities are nearly endless.

The most obvious options are running or walking; they’re perfectly free, and encourage you to get out of the house and explore your surroundings. You can drive to a scenic location, like a park or beach, and embark on a nature expedition, or you can just find a hill and sprint up and down it. To up the ante, bring something heavy to carry, like weights.

Do you have access to a pool? Swimming laps is a great calorie-burning activity that protects your joints from wear and tear. Is there a public park near you? Do some research; there could be a track to do some interval training. Got any friends? With just a ball or a Frisbee (and some healthy competition), you can transform any afternoon into a great hangout and a great workout.

Exercising at Home With or Without Equipment

What if none of those options are available to you? Or maybe your friends are just lame. Not to worry; you can always try working out from the comfort of your own home — and you won’t have to worry about seeing other people, if you like your privacy. If you choose to purchase equipment, set a budget and be realistic about how much you’ll actually use it. For a basic starter kit, I’d recommend a yoga mat, a few dumbbells and some resistance bands.

But you’re here to work out for free, not just for less. It’s time for some frugal innovation. Books or water bottles of various sizes can become weights, an old towel can transform into a yoga mat and any long strap (like a belt) can add resistance and stretch to your workout.

If you don’t want to integrate props into your exercise routine, you still have an abundance of options because, technically, all you really need to work out your body is enough space to move around and the energy to do so. Once you have sufficient room, all you have to do is learn how to move.

Taking Advantage of YouTube

So, now you have a location and as much equipment as you’d prefer. But you can’t work out for free if you don’t know what you’re doing, and if you’re like me (that is to say, not a personal trainer), it can be difficult to come up with an effective routine on your own. Why not steal someone else’s? You’ll find countless websites and videos online about fitness.

If you’re interested in workout videos, YouTube is a great resource for free, archived content. Start a playlist of videos that you like, so you can always come back to them; you can mix and match a variety of channels and styles, follow multi-video programs or design your own schedule.

There are so many different fitness YouTubers that it’d be surprising not to find at least one that caters to your tastes. My personal favorite is Yoga with Adriene; there are hundreds of yoga videos, of various lengths, with poses that focus on everything from reducing anxiety to strengthening your body. Whether you’re a newbie seeking a 15-minute morning session, or a pro who wants an intense, hourlong workout, Adriene has a yoga routine for you.

YouTube player

If yoga isn’t quite the thing for you, there’s plenty of other options out there. Blogilates combines lifestyle tips with regular, pilates-centric workouts, which includes a body-toning bootcamp playlist I’ve been following. Her sculpting routines will kill you, in the best way possible, and grant you an awesome challenge.

If you’re looking for something more than yoga or pilates, FitnessBlender has more than a thousand high-intensity interval training routines that will get you in shape in no time. While some videos are centered around a prop, like a kettlebell and even a puppy, most of their videos require no equipment. Their routines are for people who get bored easily, and they provide strenuous workouts without any repeats, which makes for a much more interesting exercise experience.

Making Exercising More Fun

Unfortunately, no matter how much fun a video promises your workout will be, the novelty will inevitably wear off, especially if you aren’t leaving the house. One day, you’ll realize that you could sit and watch an entertaining YouTube video just as easily as you could pull up your workout playlist. But if you break your streak, it’ll be that much harder to start exercising again, so this fatigue must be avoided at all costs.

Just like in a relationship, you need to keep things interesting; you should reintroduce novelty to your routine to keep yourself motivated. This might simply mean varying your weekly workout schedule. Rather than exhausting all the free trials in your area right away, you can space the courses out to keep things spicy for longer. If all your workouts take place in your living room, find the time to get outside on the weekends.

Don’t be afraid to play around with different types of exercise; maybe you could find something niche, like Zumba, and spend a week practicing it, or try experimenting with martial arts and self-defense. Balance these novelties with your regular training, but keep things fresh. Don’t become complacent, and you won’t become bored. As long as you put forth the effort to motivate yourself, you can work out for free indefinitely and still reap all the benefits you would get from a paid program.

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