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Don't Spend Money to Be Fit. Here's How to Exercise on a Budget

You can prioritize your health on a budget. Here's how.

Taylor Leamey Senior Writer
Taylor Leamey writes about all things wellness, specializing in mental health, sleep and nutrition coverage. She has invested hundreds of hours into studying and researching sleep and holds a Certified Sleep Science Coach certification from the Spencer Institute. Not to mention the years she spent studying mental health fundamentals while earning her bachelor's degrees in both Psychology and Sociology. She is also a Certified Stress Management Coach.
Expertise Bachelor of Science, Psychology and Sociology Credentials
  • Certified Sleep Science Coach, Certified Stress Management Coach
Taylor Leamey
5 min read
Woman doing yoga on a mat in her living room.
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There's a lot of pressure to buy things. With fitness influencers, targeted social media ads and marketing from all the biggest brands, sometimes it can feel like you must purchase the latest and greatest products to succeed. 

That can be pretty discouraging, especially if you can't work it into your budget. Committing to regular exercise is already hard enough; adding financial stress can make it feel impossible. 

Here's the truth: You don't need to break the bank to cultivate your wellness. You can exercise without spending any money at all. How much money you have in your bank account doesn't have to stop you from meeting your fitness goals. 

Try these free exercise strategies 

Sometimes there is no money to spare outside of basic necessities. And that's OK. That doesn't mean that exercise is off the table for you. Investing in your fitness doesn't have to cost a thing. Let's discuss how walking, bodyweight exercises and fitness videos are top ways to exercise on a budget. 

Walk (or run)

Walking is a great place to begin if you're wondering where to start your fitness journey. 

It's a free exercise that many favor for a very good reason. Walking is one of the best low-impact activities you can do for your body. A brisk walk can help you build endurance, strengthen your heart and boost your mood. You can do it anywhere; it doesn't have to be on a treadmill. Walking outside has the added benefit of elevating your mental health. Research has found that being in nature can relieve symptoms of depression

Running is a free way to level up your cardio workout. It doesn't have to be a marathon. Only 10 minutes of running each day significantly reduces your risk of developing heart disease in the future. 

Bodyweight exercises

You can get a good workout without any equipment -- all you need is your body weight. Some people may think that using calisthenics, also known as bodyweight exercises, are what you do if you're afraid of lifting weights. That's not true. Bodyweight exercises are not easy; if you've done a plank, you know that all too well. They are a valid form of exercise that you can use to increase your heart rate and help maintain your health. They're convenient and can activate stabilizing muscles that help you reduce the risk of injury.

They don't cost a thing, and you can do them anywhere. They also never go out of style. Calisthenics are designed to be a type of exercise you do forever. You can start with beginner movements and slowly opt for more advanced techniques as you build strength and endurance.

Common bodyweight exercises to use:

  • Push-ups
  • Planks
  • Squats
  • Russian twists
  • Burpees

Remember that bodyweight exercises will take longer to see gains in specific muscle group strength compared to lifting weights. However, bodyweight exercises can improve flexibility and protect you from injury in a way that weight lifting cannot. With proper repetition, bodyweight exercises work.

Three women doing plank exercises outside
Catherine Falls Commercial/Getty Images

Try exercise videos

Exercise videos are a great way to cut costs while still getting a good workout. (Is anyone else picturing Jane Fonda jumping around with leg warmers on?) While we've come a long way since the days of exercise tapes, the concept of guided workouts at home has endured. Everything is streaming nowadays, and you have more options than ever before. 

YouTube is a great resource to exercise at home, with many channels targeting different exercise types like yoga, Pilates and full-body workouts. Online fitness classes are available to stream through TV apps like Prime Video and Netflix

Low-cost ways to exercise on a budget

Even though you don't have to buy every new fitness product out there, you may still want to spend money on meeting your fitness goals. Working out at home, joining a sports team or training with friends are more ways to exercise on a budget. 

Create a home gym

Someone might not want to work out at a gym for several reasons. Whether it's the monthly cost or anxiety, creating a home gym can be the solution. Not only can you successfully exercise at home, but you can meet serious fitness goals without investing in expensive equipment. 

There are inexpensive fitness essentials that will give you just as great of a workout as high-end gear. And once you buy them, you don't need to buy them again. Creating a home gym is a one-time cost that can last you a lifetime. 

Low-cost equipment for your home gym can include:

  • Dumbbells
  • Resistance bands
  • Jump ropes
  • Kettlebells 
  • Yoga mat

Your gym doesn't have to stop there. Adding larger machines to your home gym is possible without spending a lot. Look for used machines at second-hand stores like Play It Again Sports or garage sales. Just do me a favor and skip the home machines that won't actually work for you -- like the Shake Weight or ThighMaster. Stick to the basics that have proven to work. 

Young woman using her phone during a break in her home gym.
nensuria/Getty Images

Use local resources

Don't underestimate the power of community resources when exercising on a budget. Many local gyms or YMCAs may offer financial assistance to cut the cost of membership. You can also use discount websites like Groupon to search for deals on fitness classes.

Alternatively, you can look for team or group activities like walking clubs or recreational sports in your area. Most of the time, those activities are free or low-cost. Sometimes all you have to pay for is the cost of your equipment. 

It's good to seek these options if you crave social interaction. Not only do you have the accountability of others to ensure you stick with your goals, but you can cash in on the unexpected health benefits of friendship. Studies have found that having companionship can decrease your risk of depression and high blood pressure.

Check your employer's benefits

Some companies offer their employees health benefits like discounts or reimbursements for gym membership fees or fitness classes. Others may offer discounts on fitness equipment and subscriptions. Not every company will have this opportunity, but it's worth looking into your plan to check. Personal insurance plans can also have these benefits. 

Weight train with a partner

For those with a gym membership who want to take their workout to the next level without coughing up the cash, consider training with a friend. It's a simple solution to a big problem -- personal trainers are expensive. At an average price range of $70 to $100 a session, it's out of reach for many people. 

Finding a partner or group of friends committed to exercising can give you the accountability a personal trainer would provide. The only downside of this option is that personal trainers have a lot of knowledge that your friends may not. However, you can supplement this with personal research of exercises to do in any session. All it takes is a little structure on your part to save money.

Alternatively, you could try an online trainer, which is more affordable than in-person. Or, hire an in-person trainer for a group setting.

Two women doing abdominal exercises with a medicine ball in a gym
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Too long; didn't read?

You don't have to spend a lot of money to be healthy, regardless of what you see in the media. The trendy fitness wear doesn't make you any better at lifting weights, no matter how cute you look. They're nice to have but not a necessity to exercise. It's possible to meet fitness goals like building muscle, losing fat and strengthening your heart without breaking the bank. Don't just pick one strategy from this list; collect as many as possible to meet your goals.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.