Two of the top resolutions each year are to get in shape and save money. They make a good pair, because those gym memberships, weights and DVDs can start gathering dust quickly if you don’t keep moving.
If you already belong to a gym, maximize what you’re getting out of it so you won’t feel the urge to look for other, more expensive, options. Find out if your gym fee includes classes, says Kelly James-Enger, an ACE-certified trainer in Downers Grove, Illinois. Classes may inspire you to use different muscles and work harder. Take one you’ve never tried before, says James-Enger.
Paying for services you aren’t using is the biggest waste of money. Finding an exercise buddy makes it more likely you’ll actually go. “Even the most unpleasant club or fitness tasks are more enjoyable when you do it with someone else. That’s why the classes are so popular,” says David Volk, author of the “Cheap Bastard’s Guide to Seattle.” “I can do this myself and be miserable, or do it with my friends and be miserable, while poking fun at the ugly outfits and those who are slow.”
Here are five frugal ways to get the exercise you need without breaking the bank.
Personal training can bring excellent results, but it’s also expensive, averaging $50 an hour, according to the National Strength and Conditioning Association. But you can get some of the benefits without enrolling in regular sessions. Sign up for a trial and ask the trainer to create a workout you can do on your own, says James-Enger. “As long as you have some experience lifting weights and have good form, it’s a great way to ‘tune up’ your regular routine without committing to weeks of sessions.”
Some gyms provide your first personal training session for free as an incentive to sign up for more. This is a great option “if you’re willing to go through the time-share-style session,” says Volk. Or get a group together to split the costs of a group training session. “Anytime you involve a group, you’re going to save some money.”
If personal training is your preferred method for motivation and results, find a trainer who has a relationship with a gym. “Sometimes personal trainers have deals with a gym where you get the membership through the personal trainer, so you’re paying the trainer but gym membership is included in that,” says Volk.
Whether you want to work out at home or at a gym, staying accountable and inspired is key.
There are several free websites and apps that let you access exercise programs, track exercise and goals, connect through community forums and log your food, says Pamela Ferrell Gonzalez, director of client services at EngagementHealth in Chicago. She recommends MyFitnessPal.com, MapMyFitness.com, Moves-App.com and SparkPeople.com.
You can enter exercise data in these programs yourself, but to increase accuracy, you should use a wearable device, she says. She’s referring to technology like a Fitbit, which syncs with a computer or app. “People think they’re walking more than they are,” she says, so devices that automatically report activity levels are better. Don’t have one? Download a free pedometer app to your phone instead.
Many employers now offer incentives to motivate employees to exercise more. Employers then hire companies to run these programs, which can include group competitions, individual challenges and participation goals. “We know that only 15 percent of people are intrinsically motivated to follow through,” she says. “The rest of the population needs something else.”
Start your own competition by comparing daily Fitbit steps with friends. Or use SparkPeople’s message boards to find like-minded people to share successes and challenges, she says. It’s easy to find a group there that fits your needs.
Exercise DVDs make a big splash in January, promising hot bodies and fun workouts. Before you buy, try borrowing DVDs from the library. “Depending on the library, you get a two- or three-week (free) trial,” says Volk. If your library doesn’t have it in stock, a lot of librarians take suggestions, he says. With a Netflix subscription, you can try various exercise DVDs as part of your monthly fee. “If you like it, you can go to Half Price Books, Overstock.com, eBay or Amazon, and see if it’s available there. There’s something to be gained from the video if you can stick with it.”
If you buy a DVD, try swapping it with a friend who has different ones to keep your workout fresh, says James-Enger. “Every four to six weeks you should try something new, regardless,” she says.
Now with YouTube, you have access to thousands of free exercise videos, says James-Enger. And there are video podcasts or apps with exercise routines, as well. “Of course, then you’re exercising while looking at a really small screen, unless you’re on an iPad,” says Volk.
For a larger screen, those with cable television service often can find channels offering free workout programs at various times of the day. If you don’t have cable, on-demand streaming services like WorkoutsOnDemand.com offer exercise videos for around $10 to $15 a month. That’s much cheaper than most gym memberships.
Community recreation centers, YMCAs and adult education programs typically offer good fitness class bargains, says James-Enger, and they can be a great way to try a new class without spending a lot of money. “Some dance studios and yoga studios will also offer a free class to first-time attendees, so don’t be afraid to ask about it,” she says.
Adult schools started in the 1930s as a way to provide low-cost educational and entertainment opportunities, including fitness, says Erica Webber, director of the Westfield Adult School in New Jersey. Some schools provide fitness options, like Zumba, line dancing and volleyball classes, taught at a high school gym or recreation center.
Most people don’t think of taking exercise classes at the stores where they buy workout clothes. But stores like Lululemon, Athleta and Nike have free and regularly scheduled fitness classes at some locations, says Volk. At Lululemon, with at least one class scheduled a week per location, “you can go and do the yoga thing for free, and get some pointers as you go,” he says.
If you’re not ready to commit to a gym membership, look for an open gym program, says Volk. “You pay a fee each time you go,” he says. “You’re not obligated to a membership, and they have a lot of classes.”
If you’re committed to the great outdoors and can deal with the weather, sign up with a running group. “Start with local running stores to look for running and walking groups,” says James-Enger. Also check meet-up groups and local runners clubs for more options. Search for “runner’s club” and your city online. “These running groups often offer several ‘pace’ options for runs,” she says, so you should find a group with runners who average the same speed as you, like a seven-minute mile for faster runners, or a 10-minute mile for slower runners. Or, look for people training for a long race such as a marathon, since runners often have informal training groups and welcome others.
The key is to find a group that fits your needs. “There are a lot of running groups and they have different attitudes,” says Volk. “Some are not hard-core, and sometimes they’ll end at a bakery or have a potluck. It’s more casual.”
But it’s not just runners who meet up to exercise together. Some bike shops organize rides, and you can find cycling clubs online, as well. You can search online for hiking groups in your area, with hikes open to the public or through membership groups like the Sierra Club. Some groups are even advertised on Craigslist, says Volk.