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As many of you know, I work out at home exclusively, unless I’m playing racquetball with my friend Kevin.
Non-gym workouts are a great way to save. There are plenty of frugal exercise options and cheap ways to work out without a gym being involved.
Why I do it this way
I don’t like going to the gym. Getting there takes extra energy, and as someone with chronic fatigue, I need every drop I have to make sure I get through my workouts. Plus needing to drive to the gym is just one more mini-obstacle that can dissuade me from working out.
So instead, I work out at home. I have a set time that I work out each day. This is important. When you treat it as an appointment — albeit an unpleasant one — you’re much less likely to talk yourself out of it. (I know this is easier said than done for parents, but hopefully your spouse — or for single parents, maybe the oldest kid? — can run interference for 30-60 minutes to give you some alone time.)
Honestly, I can’t imagine going back to a gym. I love working out at home. There’s no one to see me look goofy as I do exercise moves (and I do look goofy). There’s no amazingly fit women around to make me feel bad about my few extra pounds. And again, there’s no energy drained by leaving the house.
So here’s what I’ve used in the past to lose (many of) my extra pounds — and a few other frugal exercise options I think would be helpful too:
Leslie Sansone videos
My personal favorite (in the sense that I still hate them but they work for me) are the Leslie Sansone “walking” videos on YouTube. I put “walking” in quotes here because… Well, that’s what it deserves.
Yes, one of the four basic steps is walking. The rest are side steps, knee lifts and kicks. In other words, she’s tricking you into step aerobics, minus the step. So… I guess you’d just call that floor aerobics? Just straight-up aerobics?
Personally, I just call it evil. But it’s an evil that works for me.
While there are DVDs and Amazon streaming video you can also buy, YouTube has a one-mile walk video (20 mins), a two-mile walk video (30 mins) and five different three-mile walk videos (42-45 mins).
I’ve worked my way up to the three-mile ones. But I think most people should start out on the two-mile one. I don’t really recommend the one-mile one all that much because, due to the brevity of the workout, the pace starts off pretty intensely.
The two-mile video, on the other hand, eases you into the higher tempos (the music sets your pace). So even if you think you can only do one mile, I’d still suggest using the two-mile video and just quitting halfway through. She announces when you hit one-mile, so there’s no guesswork involved there.
One note: The two-mile video uses one- and two-pound handweights. You can just skip these if you don’t have them. Or fill up two 20-oz water bottles for 1.3 lbs of weight (if you don’t want to invest in hand weights right away).
I should note that, since I’ve been doing these videos for so long, I had to invest in some ankle weights to increase the difficulty. Still, those were under $20 if memory serves, and you won’t need them for quite some time — if ever.
So yeah, Leslie Sansone videos are my top suggestion for cheap workouts.
Another YouTube favorite is Xhit. While I believe there are some videos with exercises that are actually aerobic — note that I didn’t say aerobics, just aerobic — most of the videos on this channel are simply for muscle-building.
Some do require weights. Others are resistance: squats, leg lifts and all other manner of unpleasantness that nevertheless get results.
The ab videos are great — that being a relative term, of course — because there are ones as short as five minutes. I think there may even be a three-minute ab video but I couldn’t find it with a quick review of the channel.
Arm and leg videos (these are separate, the videos are usually pretty focused) generally range from eight to 12 minutes. This means that they’re pretty easy to fit into your day — which makes it hard to rationalize not doing.
I mean, obviously many of us are talented enough to still rationalize it away, but it’s at least hard to use the “I don’t have time” reason. Making Xhit yet another good way to get in a frugal workout. And cheap exercise is what many of us are after, right?
Other YouTube videos
While I haven’t tried them out, I know there are plenty of pilates, yoga, aerobics, etc. videos on the app. Be careful whose videos you follow, of course, but I’m sure there are plenty of videos led by real instructors.
So I’m just saying that in general, You Tube is a great source for frugal exercise.
Videos from the library
Admittedly, this isn’t one I’ve tried. But I do know that many public libraries have DVDs to rent, including workout videos. In fact, your online library may have streaming video, including workouts.
This would be a great way to test out a video before buying it on DVD or through Amazon Video.
Videos in general
Once you know what videos (or at least what types) work for you, look into buying them cheaply.
One way is to get Amazon gift cards through Swagbucks and use those to buy streaming video (or DVDs) on the site. Or get Target or Walmart GCs with Swagbucks, since both stores sell workout DVDs.
Another would be to check out secondhand stores for DVDs. There are physical stores, of course. Zia Records is big here in Phoenix. But there are plenty of places to get cheap used DVDS online: Second Spin, FYE, eBay and Alibris. (Those last two have the benefit of being on Mr. Rebates).
Yes, there is an initial outlay with this option (unless you use Swagbucks gift cards), but the cost is quickly amortized. So at-home videos are a great way to get frugal exercise.
Of course, an easy way to build some muscle at home is to buy some dumbbells and get to pumping some iron.
I couldn’t find any great guides to dumbbell exercises online via a quick search. But there are the basics that you either already know or can quickly look up online: bicep curl, tricep kickback, lateral raises, etc. But if you’re online anyway, why not just check out those Xhit videos I mentioned before?
Or choose just about any fitness magazine issue and there will almost assuredly be some suggested exercises in there. If you get bored with that one workout and want variety, get a cheap subscription to a fitness magazine via sites like Magazines.com or Magazine Store (both of which are on Mr. Rebates). In my experience, just about every issue seems to have a new routine.
Dumbbells can be found pretty affordably at stores like Target, Sears, Walmart or Amazon. (As I may have already mentioned, as an Amazon affiliate I get a small commission for orders placed through my link.) Or go to secondhand sports equipment stores like Play It Again. Thrift stores may even have workout items, so it never hurts to check.
The caveat here is that, while one set of dumbbells is affordable, you’ll probably need different weights. — either for different exercises or to increase difficulty as your muscles get stronger.
So another option for cheap workouts is…
If you don’t want to buy dumbbells or are concerned about joint issues, consider resistance bands.
These come in loop form, as long strips or as tubes with handles. (Again, as an Amazon affiliate I get a small commission on purchases made through my links.) One benefit of bands is that most seem to come in sets, so you can increase resistance as your muscles get stronger without investing more money.
In short, resistance bands are a great (and — even with the initial purchase — affordable) way to exercise frugally.
The old faithful(s)
If you’re not interested in videos and don’t have weights, then there’s always the basic resistance exercises that we all know and hate:
- Squats (So much ugh)
- Lunges (Owwww!)
- Push-ups (Modified ones count, right?)
- Tricep dips off a chair or sofa (The only one of these that doesn’t suck)
- Calf raises (Okay, the only other one that doesn’t suck)
- Burpees (Never done these, never will. I guarantee I’d fall.)
- Crunches (Burning! Burning! Abs on fire!)
- Planks (Is it over yet? Is it over yet? Gah, how has it only been 10 seconds?!)
And unpleasant though these may be, “free” is the ultimate frugal workout.
Walking (without a video)
The pro here is that it’s easy enough to wander outside and start walking. The con: You have to be mindful of your pace keep a brisk pace to get much of an aerobic workout. Though obviously any activity is good, for noteworthy fat-burning, you need your heart rate up.
Most places people live will have sidewalks (assuming they’re not iced up in winter). If no sidewalks are available, check out local parks which often have paths. Again, assuming they’re not covered in snow and ice.
If they are… Well, my mom walks indoors during Alaska winters. I’m sure going in circles in her living room isn’t ideal, but with some good music or someone to talk to on the phone, it’s apparently not so bad.
And of course if you become a truly dedicated walker, you can always invest in a treadmill. There are plenty of good sales out there, or check out Play It Again or any other used sporting goods stores near you. That type of store is probably also a good place to try if you want to buy a stationary bike or elliptical machine, if those are what you currently use at the gym.
But my advice is to only buy a machine if you’re already in a routine. Buying exercise machines in the hopes that it’ll make you work out often doesn’t work — or doesn’t work for long. Then you have the guilt of having sunk good money into something that’s going unused. And guilt can make you avoid looking at, let alone using, the thing at all.
Personally, I don’t get it. Seriously. I did jog (very slowly) a few times a week for a couple of years. It sucked. Big time. And it’s definitely not great for your knees long-term.
But hey, it might be just the thing for you. Especially since, as I can attest, even just jogging (as opposed to full-on running) is a great way to get your heart pumping.
So it’s something to consider. Just make sure you have on quality running shoes. Your later-life knees will thank you. (Check out Big 5 for good deals on shoes for walking, running, etc.)
This probably requires some of the most upfront investment, especially if you buy new. A decent bike from Walmart, Target, etc will run $70-120. Not cheap by any stretch.
But you can once again check Play It Again and other secondhand sporting goods stores, Craigslist/OfferUp and even pawn shops. I have a friend who went into a pawn shop and bargains down them down to about $30 or $40 for a bike in there.
Biking is, of course, great exercise. Not only does it tone your legs, it quickly gets your heart rate up for some substantial calorie-burning.
Of course, biking isn’t a year-round exercise in most places. Snow and ice on the roads will create an obstacle in the winter. But it’s still a good spring, summer and fall activity, which is a good chunk of the year.
The buddy system
Don’t forget that it’s often helpful to enlist a workout partner.
First of all, having someone to chat with will make that walk a lot more fun. But of course the main benefit is that it’s harder to avoid exercise if it inconveniences someone other than yourself. In other words, you’re more likely to actually work out.
Do you use a gym? If not, how do you stay active frugally (or how have you done it in the past)?