A while ago, I joined a gym. I admit that I was swayed by all of the shiny equipment and the promise of a cheap introductory promotional rate.
Being a gym member has its advantages. The gym I signed up for stayed open 24 hours and had tons of equipment and classes. However, the promotional rate soon ended and I couldn’t afford to pay the regular rate every month, nor did I want to because I knew that I could still get a good workout for free, or at least close to it, elsewhere.
Believe it or not, you too can cancel your gym membership and still get a good workout. I’ve listed a number of inexpensive and free alternatives to joining a gym here to help you stay in shape on a budget.
How to Work Out without a Gym
Running burns a lot of calories, gives you great leg muscles, and best of all, you can do it just about anywhere. Most parks have running and jogging trails and many high schools let people use their track after hours for free. You can also run along the street, but you need to be cautious when cars pass.
Run first thing in the morning, before you get ready to go to work. If you leave it until later, you may be too tired to follow through with your daily exercise regimen.
2. Walking Club
Walking is a less intense workout than running, but the exercise still gives you good cardiovascular and calorie-burning benefits.
Join a walking club so you have people to work out with and help motivate you. You can start your own walking club with friends and family, or join an existing one. Walking clubs often post ads around local community centers and on park bulletin boards. You can also find walking partners on Craigslist.
Walk during your lunch break if at all possible, and take longer walks on the weekends. Give your workout more intensity by increasing your pace and by running up and down a set of steps. Try to accelerate your heart rate, and then keep it up for at least 20 minutes during your walk.
3. Community Recreation Centers
Community recreation centers have cheap monthly membership fees, and some even offer free memberships to local residents. Community recreation centers have workout equipment, indoor pools, basketball courts, and running trails, and many offer facilities you can use and classes you can take for additional fees. I pay $9 a month for unlimited membership and one weekly yoga class at my community center.
Pro Tip: Check out your local YMCA as an alternative to the gym.
4. Public Courts
Take advantage of good weather with nighttime tennis games or Saturday morning basketball games. Many parks have public basketball, tennis, and volleyball courts open to the public. Typically, you have to provide your own equipment, but you can use the courts for free. Playing sports at a local park offers participants a fun way to exercise with friends or family.
5. Join a Team
Most cities have local amateur sports teams you can join for a modest fee. My city offers everything from softball to ultimate frisbee. Most teams allow anyone to sign up, and you play an average of one game per week through the regular season. You may need to purchase your own equipment, but you’ll have a great time playing with the team.
Pro Tip: Find used sporting equipment shopping at thrift stores and resale stores like Play It Again Sports.
6. Exercise Videos and TV Shows
You can buy exercise videos in discount stores and online. They cover every type of workout available from step aerobics, to Tae Bo, to yoga.
With videos, you can exercise in the privacy of your own home whenever you have free time. To stay motivated and to get the most out of your workout, ask a friend or family member to join you. Exercise in the morning to get extra energy for the day and the satisfaction of knowing you’ve already completed your exercise regimen.
Pro Tip: Many public libraries have workout videos you can rent for free. You can also find free workout videos online; YouTube has many exercise videos available. You can also find and record exercise shows on TV or watch them on demand.
7. At-Home Exercise Equipment
I recently purchased a stationary bike for my house after learning that bicycling is one of the best indoor at-home exercises. I love using my stationary bike on rainy days, or when I just don’t have time for a long workout.
You can buy almost every type of equipment you’d find at a gym online and in resale stores. Many of these types of exercise equipment fold up so you can store them under your bed or in a closet. To stay motivated, keep a good book next to your stationary bike, and only allow yourself to read the book while you ride your bike.
Pro Tip: Check garage sales, classified ads, and Craigslist for used exercise equipment.
Swimming burns calories without causing damage to your joints, and you don’t need an Olympic-sized pool to swim laps. Many neighborhoods offer a community pool for their residents. In addition, community centers and parks and recreation departments also offer underwater or deep water aerobics classes.
You can bicycle your way to a great workout while you do other things. I take my bike whenever I need to run a quick errand. I burn calories and knock out my to-do list at the same time. You can also take your bike on park trails. My local park has a paved trail for bikes and an off-road dirt trail, all free to use.
Pro Tip: If you live close enough, consider biking to work. You can enjoy daily exercise, save money on gas, and help the environment at the same time.
10. Play with Your Kids or Pets
Kids and dogs have boundless energy. I recently spent the day at the park with my friend’s 5-year-old and my hyperactive dog. I got a better work out in an hour at the park than I ever did at the gym. Plus, spending time with kids and pets is a lot more fun than running on a treadmill.
Pro Tip: Make your time at the park even more of a workout by adding some fun activities to the mix. For example, challenge kids to race from the top of a hill to the bottom, or to run from the swings to the see-saw.
11. Disc Golf
Disc golf has become increasingly popular over the years, and many public parks have disc golf courses. If you pick a long, hilly course, and keep the pace of the game moving, this fun workout can easily become an aerobic exercise.
Pro Tip: Find disc golf courses in your area by searching online on the PDGA disc golf course directory.
12. Increase Your Walk Times
Increase the amount of time you spend walking every day to stay in shape. Instead of spending another dull lunch in a cafeteria, pop on your sneakers and take a quick walk around your office building during your lunch hour. On the weekend, walk to your favorite bookstore or to the grocery store to burn even more calories.
13. Parks and Recreation Department Classes
Depending on where you live, the local parks & recreation department may offer a full schedule of dance classes, exercise classes, and team sports at a discounted rate. Take full advantage of the discounts by experimenting with different classes, which might include ballet, belly dancing, pilates, tap dancing, and yoga.
You can also learn to play a new sport, like fencing or rugby, and join a sports team through your local parks & recreation department.
With all the great ways to get a free workout, you really don’t need a gym membership. Even the most basic gym memberships cost $50 or more a month, which adds up over time. Instead, look for creative ways to exercise on your own, or with friends and family.
When you take dance classes or join a sports team, you can burn calories, learn something new, and meet new people at the same time. Consider joining a community center or taking fun exercise classes through your local parks & recreation department. When you make exercise fun, it becomes something to look forward to, instead of being a dull routine.
Did you cancel your gym membership in favor of other ways to work out? What were some of the advantages and disadvantages that you experienced?