Be sure to check out our previous discussions within this Guide to Budgeting mini-series:
Part Five: Fitting in Exercise
Are you trying to get fit but you “can’t afford” a gym? No problem! The beauty of exercise is that it can cost as little (nothing) or as much (thousands of dollars) as you want.
1) Body weight: While a yoga mat is handy for performing most body weight exercises, you don’t even need one of those. All you need is a bit of soft rug (you can even throw down a soft blanket or sweatshirt on the floor, or use the grass outside). Body weight exercises are any kind of exercise that use just your body weight to increase strength. This includes crunches, push ups, calf raises, leg raises, squats, lunges, triceps dips, and more!
I’m a big believer in body weight strength training. If we can push and pull our own bodies around, we learn them much better and become better acquainted with our personal physical capabilities. Body weight exercises often require balance and stability work, and the entire body tends to be engaged. When we use workout machines, we isolate specific muscles. I like body weight exercises because the whole body is getting a good workout. And it’s free. You don’t even need shoes if you’re doing it indoors!
The outdoors can be handy, too. Playgrounds aren’t just for little kids: use the monkey bars for pull-ups and chin-ups if you don’t have access to a bar at your house.
2) Walking/running. For this, you’ll want to invest in good quality shoes. I spend pretty much all of my time on my feet; when I’m not outside walking, I’m standing up in front of a computer and such. This means that my feet really take a beating. They are not pretty, but they have amazing endurance and don’t tire easily. I’ll take that over aesthetics any day (especially with regards to feet. Who cares what your feet look like? But I digress).
Try on lots of different shoes and make sure that you own several pairs so that you can switch them up. Shoes wear down easily if you use them a lot, and that means that if you tend to lean towards one side, the sole can get worn down and you won’t be walking straight. Poor posture not only looks bad, but it also could cause serious injury to your back and hips. Using a few different pairs of shoes will help to stabilize your body better.
You could get on a treadmill or an elliptical for your walking/running needs, but frankly, it’s really expensive. And why would you want to hang out on a machine when you could be outside listening to the birds and admiring the view? Cardio is very easy to adapt to a tight budget.
3) Bikes/rollerblades. This is transportation at its finest: you’re getting a quick and effective workout while getting to your destination! The only drawback to this one, that I have found, is that if the weather is crappy, it’s not nearly as much fun.
Although bikes can be expensive, they don’t have to be. Check out garage sales and you can probably find an old road bike for about $20. It might not look amazing, but it will move fast, and it will be a ton of fun. I also advise making friends with some hardcore cyclists so that they can fix your bike if it needs work (far cheaper than going to the bike shop if your friends take a case of beer as payment ;)).
4) Home Gym. Buy yourself a set of dumbbells and a yoga mat and you’re all set. Add a stability ball and pilates bands if you want some extra variety. If you don’t want to pay for dumbbells (which can appear pricey at $30-$50, until you remember that dumbbells don’t wear down: you have them for life), you can always just use soup cans. No soup cans at your place? That’s okay; just use a heavy book or a small lamp (I’m not even kidding when I say that I’ve used books and lamps as “weights” before).
Yoga mats are expensive if you go to a specialty store such as Lululemon, but you’ll get a really good quality item if you go to a store like that. On the other hand, you can go somewhere like Canadian Tire for yoga mats at about $15 a piece, and they will do the job just fine!
Workout DVD’s are handy if that’s “your thing”; I’ve only ever found one workout DVD that I really enjoyed (the 30-Day Shred). You can also find plenty of free workout videos online. Check out YouTube and Yoga Download, or just type “free exercise video” into Google and explore what comes up!
5) Gym membership. My university has a small but newly-revamped gym that is free for all students. Find out if they have a similar program at your university or at your place of work (some office buildings- usually bigger corporations- have a program like this). Take advantage of what you can; many gym memberships have student, senior, or family discounts.
The YMCA is very reasonably priced and I had a wonderful experience with the one near my place. I cancelled my membership these last few years because I had access to the free gym at my university, but I have a feeling I’ll be getting another membership with the Y in the fall (because I’ll no longer be a student).
6) Community classes. I keep meaning to go to the community centres in my neighbourhood to try out their cheap (and sometimes free) classes, but I have yet to get around to it. However, these are a great way to meet people and to try out new forms of exercise, such as belly dancing and kickboxing, for super cheap.
I also suggest taking advantage of deals which have a week or 10 days of unlimited classes for x amount of dollars; many yoga studios have these kinds of deals so that you can check out their studio and decide if it’s something you want to keep doing.
What are your tricks to staying fit on a budget?
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