Fitness For Free (Or Close To It)

Maybe it?s a cultural thing here in America that whenever we need to strike out in a new direction we impulsively believe that it requires spending money to make it happen (see the National Debt for tangible confirmation). That might actually be necessary in some cases, but fitness is really more about motivation than it is about gym memberships or fitness equipment. We should at least start out by looking for fitness for free. Yet many people join health clubs or buy expensive fitness equipment precisely to give them that motivation.

I believe that thinking is putting the horse before the cart. Shouldn?t we first prove that we have the motivation and energy?and can make time in our schedules–before spending any money?

Here?s a fundamental fitness reality: before there was exercise equipment, there was plain, old exercise. Exercise equipment (and the gyms they occupy) is higher level stuff; before moving onto them?and the money they cost?first prove that you?re committed to plain, old exercise.

Establish a pattern before paying for ANYTHING

For a lot of people, working out falls somewhere between going to the dentist and serving on jury duty on the List of Desirable Activities, so it?s easy enough to see why we look for props to help motivate us to do it. A gym membership or a shiny piece of equipment, set up in a special place in the family room, can serve as a reminder of our commitment?of our financial investment–in our plan to get fit and healthy.

But why make a monetary investment at all? You?re already investing your time and your energy and that should be enough. In fact, if you can?t find the time or energy, no amount of money spent is likely get you where you want to go. (Fundamental fitness reality #2: exercise is repetitious and therefore boring; adding equipment to it merely delays but doesn?t change that outcome.)

The same is true of dieting. It?s beyond pointless to make an investment in a costly program like Weight Watchers or Nutrisystem before demonstrating that we at least have the ability to do something as basic as cut down on the amount we eat.

Fitness Freebies and near-Freebies

If you agree that action needs to precede acquisition in the quest for fitness, what?s the next step? No one exercise regimen is right for everyone, but here are some suggestions that will get you started and cost you nothing:

Walking. This is the most basic form of exercise and anyone can do it. You don?t need any training or special equipment, other than a decent pair of tennis shoes and you probably already have those. If you can?t at least walk regularly, any attempt at a more exotic form of exercise is probably doomed to fail.

Jogging. This is basically walking but with speed, with the one difference being that it may require somewhat better footwear since it?s more taxing on the feet. But you don?t need to start out jogging; you can build up to it by walking. Once you establish a walking routine, jogging is a logical extension. In fact short of competitive running, it?s an end game in itself and requires no complicated or expensive equipment, let alone a gym membership.

Biking. Even if you haven?t been a regular when it comes to exercise, there?s a better than 50% chance that you have a perfectly good bicycle gathering dust somewhere in your home. And if you don?t, there?s an equal chance that someone in your neighborhood or family has one that they?d be perfectly happy to part with for a few dollars.

Swimming. Many people live in apartment complexes or in swim and tennis neighborhoods where pools are part of the homeowners association (HOA) package. But it?s a fact that the majority of people never (or hardly ever) use them. If you have this feature in your neighborhood, take full advantage of it. After all, swimming is great exercise and you?re paying for it anyway!

Neighborhood fitness rooms. Many swim and tennis neighborhoods?as well as apartment complexes?also have fitness rooms, and they typically draw even less participation than the pools. If you have one, take full advantage of it, especially if you?re thinking about joining a fitness club. Work out at the neighborhood fitness room until you outgrow it, by then your commitment will be real.

Free fitness videos. You?re probably familiar with YouTube for the music videos and movie, TV and news clips, but the site is also loaded with how-to videos, including exercise videos. And best of all, they?re all F-R-E-E, FREE! Check them out before you pay for any video or infomercial program. You can find fitness videos that don?t require any equipment simply by typing ?fitness without equipment? in the search bar. You can also get more specific by entering ?back (or chest, or arm, or ab, or leg) exercises without equipment?. Affirmation hint: the makers of those videos have already figured out that it?s exercise?and not exercise equipment?that makes for good fitness.

When you?re ready, invest in some good second hand workout equipment

There?s a flip side to our own lack of motivation to work out that plays in our favor: other people are in the same boat! Because of that, you may be able to get their fitness equipment for a fraction of what they paid for it.

If you?ve established that you have the motivation to work out, and you?re doing it regularly, there are ways to buy equipment without paying the steep prices for new ones. Fitness clubs and hotels with fitness rooms usually have top quality equipment that they trade out periodically for the latest versions. Contact them and see if you can get a deal.

Check the classified section of local websites or newspapers to find people selling used equipment in your area. Craigslist is showing well over 200 ads for used fitness equipment in my area?ten to one at least half of it has hardly ever been used. And the price is negotiable on every bit of it!

Check out new equipment on manufacturer websites or at sporting goods stores, get all the information you can on the best equipment and the various options they have. Once you know what?s out there, what it costs brand new and some of the competing brands, you?ll be fully equipped to know a good deal when you see it. Don?t be timid about making low ball offers; even if the equipment they?re selling is top of the line, you may be the only serious prospect they have.

Save the money you?d spend on a gym membership or fitness equipment until you establish that you?re serious about working out. Only when working out becomes a regular part of your life over an extended period will spending money for it be a true investment. Otherwise, you’re probably just paying for high priced props!

Have you ever joined a gym or purchased fitness equipment that you hardly used? Can you offer other ways to exercise or to get motivated to exercise that won?t cost a lot of money?

( Photo courtesy of ceiling )

19 Responses to Fitness For Free (Or Close To It)

  1. Kevin,

    There are so many free ways to stay fit and most of them are fun. Swim in the ocean, hike a mountain, climb a rock, run on the beach, walk through the city…the possibilities are endless.

    A while back we wrote this article ( debunking the fallacy that healthy food is expensive.

    It’s easier (and less physically taxing) to blame your physical shape on your financial status than to take responsibility for your food and exercise choices.

    Thanks for the great article,

  2. Hi Betty – thanks for some great points. Diet/healthy eating is part of this topic, but it really rates a post all it’s own. I touched on it briefly here with needing the ability to cut down on eating before paying for a weight loss plan, but that was only scratching the surface.

    I’d recommend that anyone interested in the topic check out the link in Betty’s comment.

  3. It’s all about purpose/incentives. Without a strong desire/reason to do something, it’s all a waste. Focus on the reason for being more healthy long before you commit money to it. People every January think they want to be healthy and figure if they make a monetary commitment then they will. Money is not a reason. Thus, a lot of people fail. I love the advice. Go on walks, hikes, running, swimming there is so much to do involving nature. It’s a lot more enjoyable that way. Then there are neighborhood tracks and fitness/weight rooms. After that there are at home fitness programs. All of these will save you a ton of money over a gym membership.

  4. EOW – I think a lot of times we have an all-or-nothing atttitude about change, so we plunge into a venture thinking that the force of our commitment alone will carry us forward. Where fitness is concerned, maybe the Olympics or pro sports have an undue affect. We look at what pro and olympic athletes do and consider that to be the model. But those are full time athletes with bankrolls behind them and a goal of reaching a level of excellence.

    For us mere mortals, it’s about lifestyle change, implemented gradually so we have time to acclimate. Jumping in with both feet and spending a bunch of money on what is essenteally a long term, slow burn kind of activity is counterproductive on a number of fronts.

    BTW, thanks for the link, it’s got a lot of useful information.

  5. Hmm. I never really did understand why people would spend all that much on money.

    I spend a one time price on a pair of elastics for resistance weight training. But that’s about it when it comes to equipment. No amount of money is a replacement for discipline. 😛

  6. Aury – So true, discipline has to precede financial investment. Maybe that’s why so many New Year’s resolutions fail. There’s commitment in the declaration of change, but it all rises and falls on the follow through.

    It’s really more about habit than equipment or memberships, and habit is the result of discipline.

  7. I think most people feel that when they spend money on a new activity they are getting more involved then if they didn’t spend any money on it.

  8. Steve – Exactly, and they have the unused gym memberships and fitness equipment to prove it!

  9. It will be interesting to watch how the economy will impact gym memberships and sales of fitness equipment. Our guess is that people will find cheaper (but no less effective) alternatives for maintaining fitness as the economy continues its downward spiral.

  10. Steven and Debra – I’d have to guess that the economy is already having an affect, that’s why we’re seeing low cost monthly dues on gym memberships (but I’d guess there’s a catch in there somewhere!).

    Some people are probably adjusting as they review health and fitness within the context of their overall financial situations, but others mays still be wedded to the idea that results are in direct proportion to the money spent.

    At some level the economy may be driving the fitness quest since people are now more concerned with health and appearance. Both matter even more in an environment where the job market has become more competative and health insurance is far from a guarantee.

  11. So True! I see people all the time pay for a gym membership and then never use it to its full potential! Great post!

  12. Yeah, even if you get one of those $10/mo specials, it’s a complete waste of money if you don’t use it.

  13. I think this is absolutely right. Too many people nowadays think they can resolve all problems by paying for a quick fix. It makes a nice change that health and fitness are the exact opposite.

  14. Going for a run or walk is one of the best ways of staying fit and healthy and dosnt cost anything

  15. Chris – so true, yet people who can’t motivate themselves to do something as basic as walking or running will spend money to motivate themselves to do more complicated workouts. I often think the media plays a big role here in that people will pursue the image of an athlete more than the pursuit of basic health improving exercise.

  16. Very true… Getting going is the hardest thing ESPECIALLY when it costs lots of money for a gym membership. Running on the beach in the morning is definitely my favorite exercise. The only I would mention as well is supplementation to keep you going. Stronger Longer Workout is something I use to kinda stay motivated. Helps me get out there moving and then recover after.

    Anyway 🙂 Keep up the good work!


  17. I TOTALLY agree. In fact, if more people would get out of the gym and exercise outside we would have a much skinnier country. The fact that we make exercise a daily chore at the gym is making us hate exercise as much as we hate waking up for work on a Monday morning. I would take an trail run any day over a session on the elliptical.

  18. FLC – I think one of the biggest problems here is the reluctance of finding ways to work out if there’s no gym membership or fancy equipment sitting in the garage, basement or spare room. Anyone can walk, jog, ride a bike or do pushups on the floor. If you can’t do those, you may not be ready for a gym anyway.

  19. When searching for at home exercise equipment beware of the fake promises made for certain pieces of equipment you see advertised on the TV (you know the ones I mean). A huge clue that the equipment isn’t going to assist you is any claims along the lines of “Lose a dress size in a week” or “So simple you can do it in front of the TV without raising a sweat”. Don’t listen! Burning off weight (fat) is going to require some hard work on your part and anyone who tells you different doesn’t live on this planet and should be ignored.

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