Top Tips for Exercising on a Budget

See also: The Importance of Exercise

For many people, starting an exercise regime is synonymous with joining a gym or sports club. However, this can be expensive. Setting aside that you may have to sign up for a minimum period—a year is not unusual—even the monthly subscription may be beyond many people’s budgets, especially during a cost-of-living crisis or recession.

However, living on a budget does not mean that you have to stop exercising altogether. There are many options for exercise that are cheap or even free. Several of these may also be better if you are constrained by pandemic-based regulations about social distancing and meeting other people, or you simply wish to avoid crowded spaces during flu season.

1. Head for the hills—or at least your local park

There are many activities and forms of exercise that you can do outdoors for free, including running, walking, yoga, cycling on- and off-road, and body circuit sessions.

If you are uncertain about where to go, look at free apps like Strava. Many of these have functions like ‘heat maps’, so you can see where other people have gone running, walking or cycling locally. You may also be able to access other people’s saved routes.

TOP TIP! Look for company to boost your motivation

If you don’t like exercising by yourself, or you find it harder to motivate yourself without company, ask around locally to see if any of your friends would like to join you. You may well find that there are several groups of runners or walkers out and about.

You may also be able to track down local groups that allow you to join organised runs or walks for a very small fee.

2. Try wild swimming

If you like swimming but prefer to avoid your local pool, consider taking up wild swimming.

This is swimming outdoors in a natural setting, such as a river, sea or lake. You can find suitable locations by searching online for something like ‘wild swimming near me’, or using apps like Strava that show where other people may have swum.

However, be aware that not every location highlighted will be suitable for you. For example, there may be strong currents that make some places only suitable for experienced swimmers (see box).

WARNING! Wild swimming is not for everyone, and it can also be dangerous

There are various risks associated with wild swimming.

You are in a natural setting. There may be weeds, mud, and animals or birds that can cause problems. Even just the temperature of the water can be an issue.

You should NEVER go alone. Always take a friend with you, even if they just sit on the bank and watch to make sure you are safe.

You may also want to invest in a ‘tow float’, an inflatable float that attaches to your waist on a band, and which will keep you afloat if you hold onto it. They are also brightly coloured, so will also make you more visible if you get into difficulties.

The water may be cold. Get in slowly at first to let your body acclimatise. Consider wearing a wetsuit if in doubt. Don’t try to swim too far, especially when it’s cold. Cold saps your energy, and will mean that you can swim much less far than you might be able to do in a heated pool.

Where there is a current (for example, a river), always swim upstream first so that you can float back down if necessary. If you plan to swim downstream, check that there is somewhere you can get out if necessary.

3. Use your municipal facilities

Many cities and other local government bodies provide gyms and swimming pools that are significantly cheaper to use than the private equivalent.

These are often subsidised to ensure that everyone has access to exercise facilities. They may not be beautiful or new, but they are usually functional and clean. You also don’t need a paid membership, and can just pay for your session. However, if you go often, you may find paid membership is actually cheaper than pay-as-you-go.

Some may even offer specific sessions at very low prices or even free, as an incentive to get people exercising. These sessions may not be at very convenient times, but if you work from home and can take time out during your working day, then this may be a great option.

The municipal facilities may also have exercise classes that are subsidised. They may need pre-booking, but are often pay-as-you-go, so you can try one out and see if it’s for you.

4. Set up space at home to exercise

You don’t actually need a gym or much equipment to exercise effectively.

You can, of course, spend lots of money on home gym equipment such as turbo trainers, or treadmills. However, these are not at all necessary for effective exercising at home.

You can do some basic exercises such as press-ups, burpees, step-ups, and squats in a very small space. These can be done with just your body weight, or you can add some small weights like a kettlebell for strength training. Flexibility training like yoga also needs very limited equipment. You can even walk up and down stairs, either at home or at work.

For more about different types of exercise, see our page on Types of Exercise.

You can find some additional suggestions for exercise that can be done at home in our guest post on Working Out at Home with Basic Equipment.

You can therefore set up a workout in your kitchen, living room or bedroom—or, if you have a bit more space, in a garage or outdoor space.

5. Harness your commute

One very easy way to get exercise for free (and fit it into a busy schedule) is to build it into your commute.

For example, if you get the bus or train, get off a stop early and walk or run the rest of the way. If you drive, park at the furthest end of the car park, or even off site, and walk in.

You could also consider cycling to work instead of driving or using public transport. You need a bike, but this doesn’t have to be new or expensive: a second-hand one will do the job. Cycling will also save you money, as well as helping you to get fitter. You don’t have to do it every day, and it is perfectly acceptable to be a ‘fair weather cyclist’. Even once a week or once a fortnight will have benefits.

Similarly, if you work above the ground floor, try using the stairs instead of the lift. It all counts as exercise—and it’s all free!

6. Search out discounts and introductory offers

If you don’t mind changing your activity on a regular basis, you can search for introductory offers, or discounts for classes from sites like Groupon.

You may be able to get a month’s worth of classes for a considerable discount. You just have to remember to cancel your subscription before the price increases. The danger here, of course, is that you will get hooked on the classes, and decide that it’s worth paying the price—and perhaps it is, if it keeps you exercising and you enjoy it.

7. Use free or cheap fitness tracking apps

Exercise is often easier if you keep track of what you’re doing, and set yourself goals.

Using free or low price fitness tracking apps can help you to get started. Many even have workouts and training plans that you can download and customise.

Most of these apps are available simply through a smartphone. You don’t have to invest in an expensive smartwatch. However, if you do decide that a smartwatch would be helpful, there are plenty available both new and second-hand that won’t break the bank. This is particularly true if you are prepared to settle for a relatively old model without too many functions.

There is more about this in our page on Using Fitness Trackers to Exercise.