I am SO EXCITED about this month’s Reader Suggestions because it tackles a topic that comes up over and over again as folks try to slim down their monthly spending: EXERCISE! Paying to exercise is something many of us do without even considering the impact on our budget because it’s for a good cause. And yes, exercise is good! But it’s not something you have to pay for. Much like the #1 fave frugal topic–food–it’s easy to ignore that gym membership line item in a monthly budget simply because it’s ultimately a “good” thing. But just like food, there are ways to get at the same end for less.
Before we go any farther, I want to point out that sometimes, paying to exercise really is the best decision and I’m all about spending on your priorities. If a gym/CrossFit/yoga membership is one of your highest priorities and you don’t have an option for frugalizing it? Then stick with it and know that you are spending on what matters to you. But, there are a surprisingly large number of ways to exercise for free, as the droves of Frugalwoods readers who responded to this month’s question demonstrated!
Welcome to my monthly Reader Suggestions feature! Every month I post a question to our Frugalwoods Facebook group and share the best responses here. The questions are topics I’ve received multiple queries on and my hope is that by leveraging the braintrust of Frugalwoods nation, you’ll find helpful advice and insight. Join the Frugalwoods Facebook group to participate in next month’s Reader Suggestions!
How I’ve Exercised for Free
Over the years I’ve found a number of different ways to exercise for free, some of which have been more successful than others. Here’s a rundown of what has worked for me:
1) Barter and trade
This is my very favorite example of free exercise: the barter and trade method! Back when we lived in the city, I volunteered at the front desk of my yoga studio in exchange for free classes. I LOVED doing this as it netted me free yoga classes and also made me part of the yoga studio community. I made friends, I did yoga, and all was right with the world.
Once my kiddos are older, I’m hoping to find a similar arrangement at a studio here in Vermont. The barter-and-trade method isn’t just for yoga studios–it’s a model employed at many gyms and studios and I’ve heard from readers all around the world who’ve successfully struck up a similar arrangement with their exercise studio. Can’t hurt to ask!
2) The great outdoors
Walking, hiking, snowshoeing, chasing children around, gardening (aka trying to keep children from pulling up plants/stomping on plants/eating the vegetables), are all (mostly) free! Pre-kid and pre-homestead, Mr. Frugalwoods and I went hiking as many weekends as possible. We’d spend glorious Saturdays summiting mountains for the price of gas for the car and admission to a national or state park, which was usually less than $5. When we were city-bound for a weekend, we’d take epic walks around town with Frugal Hound and enjoy the bustling sights. Pro frugal tip for city walking: don’t take any money or credit cards with you–then you won’t be tempted to duck into a coffee shop or pop into a store!
Now that we live rurally, we’re able to hike right outside our front door, which we try to do every day. If you’re wondering how to get out and about during the cold, cold wintertime (if your wintertime happens to be cold, that is), take a gander at these two posts for motivation: How We Recreate In Winter: The Gear, The Mindset, and The Baby Sled and Reader Suggestions Of Frugal And Fun Winter Activities.
3) Commuting by foot or bike
I never successfully managed this, but Mr. FW biked to work every day (even in the wintertime) back when we lived in the city. An ideal way to save money on commuting, get exercise, decrease pollution, and enjoy your commute all at once!
4) Daily life
Don’t discount all the opportunities to move your body that are built into daily life. Cleaning the house, hefting/chasing kids around, toting laundry up the stairs, walking the dog… the list goes on! We also have a bunch of outdoor chores–like chopping wood–that keep us active, but there’s no need to live on a homestead in order to take advantage of chores-as-exercise. Some days this is all the exercise I get and I figure it’s better than nothing.
5) Via the internet
Everyone’s favorite resource for everything has tons of free workout videos, tips, and guidelines! I personally enjoy the site Do Yoga With Me, which offers a bunch of free yoga videos at different levels, styles, and durations.
How Frugalwoods Readers Exercise Frugally
I’m always astounded at the creativity and diversity of your answers to our monthly Reader Suggestions feature and I learned a ton this month!
Due to your exuberant outpouring of ideas, I couldn’t include everyone’s response. However, you’re in luck because you can peruse the full conversation on our Frugalwoods Facebook page. And if you’d like to weigh in on next month’s topic, join the Frugalwoods Facebook page.
I divided your suggestions into the following categories:
- Exercising For Free
- Chores/Daily Tasks As Exercise
- Get Paid To Exercise/Trade For Exercise
- Exercising For Cheap (many of these suggestions relate to building a home gym, which could’ve been a category all its own!)
There are certainly other ways to exercise for free, but these categories seemed to capture the vast majority of your suggestions. Thank you to everyone who weighed in! Get it? “Weighed” in? I’m hilarious.
Exercising For Free
Tracey reports, “I run, walk to work every day, swim in the ocean, do yoga videos online from YouTube, and do Pilates at work all for free.”
Brenna shared, “On my lunch hours at work I’ll run the stairs and do some pushups and things in the stairwell. It’s very hard work! I’m lucky in that there’s a small but dedicated group of people visibly doing active things on their lunch hours so I’m not alone in this although I do often encounter people using the stairs for their intended purpose. My workplace also has a staff change room which also comes in handy for cycling to work. Two birds with one stone there, a commute and some exercise!”
Kyra does, “Hula hooping (make your own or buy inexpensive adult size ones on Etsy). Burns up to 400 calories an hour and it’s fun! Also, yoga videos (check out Buti Yoga) on YouTube and bodyweight fitness (Reddit has a great community).”
Krista wrote, “The app Zombies Run 5k is free, as is The Walk. Both are exercise/story games.”
Katie recommends, “Parkrun! It’s completely free and slowly taking off in America (in UK, where I am it’s everywhere).”
Sarah shared, “A friend gave my partner and I an older model treadmill… so I set it up in the living room! Now if I’m watching television after work etc, I walk through an episode, sit for an episode. Guilt free relaxation.”
Dieta wrote, “YouTube workout videos . I’ve done Pilates, prenatal cardio, mommy-and-me work outs… free and convenient.”
Joanna does, “Healthy Habits Happy Moms workouts on YouTube! I do them 3-4 times a week. They are great full body workouts named for famous women.”
Sarah prefers, “Hiking! Trails are almost always free!”
Lesley wrote, “I only recently found out that where I live in England in Towerhamlets the borough runs an ‘Exercise for Free’ program with classes in the various parks with qualified coaches. Also our Church is running free Chinese dance classes for over 60s so people can ‘age gracefully.’ Haven’t tried that yet but it sounds lovely and a bit different.”
Gudrun likes, “Plain old walking, usually an hour on weekdays. Also gardening. Hiking and biking sometimes.”
Amélie does, “Yoga using YouTube’s Yoga with Adrienne or body weight strength/HIIT training using any free 7 mins app, YouTube or following trainers like Kayla Itsines, Tone it Up or Kelsey wells on Fb or Insta, as they always give so many free workout ideas. Add in power walking and you’ve got strength, cardio & flexibility.”
Jen shared, “I have had such a hard time getting motivated to do exercise at home! For me it was about finding the right combination of time and motivation. Running for running’s sake is dreadfully boring for me. Finally I found the distraction of listening to a podcast on a nice day made it pleasant. After dozens of failed attempts to get up early to workout I knew that would be a no-go. January I challenged myself to follow a yoga challenge and do their videos (free) every night. That’s when I realized that was the key for me: I dedicated only 15 minutes every night. Then, some nights I felt like I could do more, and now it’s a habit. I do as much hiking with my kids as possible, which also means having one of them in a carrier a lot of the time. We joined Hike It Baby and have met a lot of other great friends and kids. We also have a few parks in our city with workout stops: i.e. there is a designated loop that has workout stops with instructions along the way. Sometimes I will meet a mom friend to go do this together with our kids and maybe have a picnic afterwards. I love going for bike rides on nice mornings when my husband is home to be with the kids.”
Angela wrote, “High intensity interval training! It requires only a timer/stop watch (ie. use your phone). If you need ideas for what exercises to do, you can google (from totally open sources) in order to make a list of ones that suit your goals and specific needs or watch a free youtube video for your level and needs if you need a ‘coach’ encouraging you. You can select the activities according to your needs, too (ie. don’t do jumping jacks if you need to avoid high impact activities, choose lunges/planks or running on the spot instead). HIIT exercise is not just financially efficient, it is also *time* efficient as you will be huffing, puffing and SOAR after 20 or 30 minutes, and it covers your need for cardio and really pushing your muscles ALL AT ONCE… and it grows with you, as you can easily increase difficultly as you get stronger and fitter.”
Kendra reports, “Thankfully, my health insurance plan covers gym membership. I have multiple, from the YMCA because it’s close to my home, to the big box center a block from my work, and a yoga studio. Since I’m already paying for the insurance, it’s worth it to use these free perks, as the cost of all of these memberships, if I paid for them, would be more than my out-of-pocket for my healthcare plan.”
Jennifer said, “To cut back on expenses I got rid of my gym membership a few years ago and instead do free Yoga With Adriene videos on YouTube, go walking or hiking (mostly in Spring, Summer or Fall), or do low weight/bodyweight exercises from Tone It Up, YouTube or Pinterest!”
Rebecca said, “Joined the local MRTT (moms run this town). I can find someone to run with almost every time, every day, any distance. I’ve made lots of friends too! Just need shoes every few months. I get my running clothes from thrift stores.”
Siera wrote, “Walking our dogs a few miles every day; hiking a few times a month; biking (not free if you have to buy a new bike, but I’ve had my mountain bike since I was 12 years old and keep it well-maintained); yoga and the “7 minute workout,” both of which can be done at home with Youtube videos, using very few pieces of equipment – just your own body weight, a wall and a chair! My husband plays basketball once or twice a week with local community groups that are either free (preferably!) or not too expensive (his parents often pay the basketball fee for his birthday or Christmas gift). I tried going to the gym in college when it was free for me at the student rec center, but always hated it, which means I began to avoid it. Exercise needs to be enjoyable and built into your daily life to make it sustainable for you – even little things like parking farther away from your destination, taking the stairs, and gardening/ doing yard work helps get us moving more!”
“- YouTube has TONS of workouts – cardio and strength
– body weight exercises (pushups, squats, running man, etc)
– walking/jogging outside
– local community centers and sometimes libraries offer free classes
– free trial periods at various gym or class passes!”
Kate suggests, “Follow Silver Sneakers on Facebook. They offer videos, mostly just a minute or two long, with scads of workout routines for every ability and age level. It’s not just for old people like me. In fact, many of them are too challenging for me and the demonstrators are very young – like 30ish.”
Jackie likes, “Running! I started with the Couch to 5k app and increased my distance from there. Just need some good shoes and inexpensive exercise clothes. My daughter enjoys it too!”
Kenzie recommends, “Darebee.com! ALL free, awesome workouts, and you can donate zero or as much as you would like to their page to help them keep this great service to everyone. There are workout programs for all levels and tastes, from yoga to lifting!!!”
Liz says, “Yoga on YouTube and Spotebi are great options. Spotebi has some paid content – but lots of free options.”
Heather wrote, “I’ve been doing HIIT workouts from YouTube. All I need is internet and a yoga mat, which was about $24. The workouts are kicking my rear and I feel GREAT! I was running but I wasn’t getting the full body workout I wanted. HIIT gives me a lot of cardio, core, arms, legs…I put on a hip hop workout remix (also free on youtube) and I go to it! My favorite is Blender Fitness.
On days that I don’t do HIIT, I have a weight bench and a set of adjustable dumbells from BowFlex. They were a bit of a big expense at first, but they’ve been durable. My husband and I both use them and have had them for at least a decade, so money well spent. I usually find a workout on youtube for toning arms.”
Chores/Daily Tasks As Exercise
Megan reports, “We heat with wood. That old adage, ‘chop your own wood, and it will warm you twice’ is really true. I can be extra inefficient some days, so cutting, splitting, and moving it around is my exercise. When you count work around the homestead as exercise it makes you more forgiving of your inefficiencies!”
Randall wrote, “Yoga and body weight exercises and walk to work and to grocery store. Lots of walking.”
Jessie exercises by, “…taking my kiddos to playgrounds as much as possible and joining in the fun, I go down the slides, chase them around, have monkey bar races.”
Maluna does, “Yoga once, sometimes twice a day, hiking in woods, gardening, taking care of water fowl, cleaning, shoveling snow… it’s all free! Just keep moving!”
Jen says, “My favorite way is to chase my eight year old around and wrestle and tickle with him. We also race the sidewalks and blare music and rock out to it. The other thing I did, since I love to dance, is invest in instructor training so I can teach the dance classes myself.”
Get Paid To Exercise/Trade For Exercise
Lisa relayed, “My husband teaches yoga at our Y which gets us a free membership which includes a lot plus we get a discount too on swim and sports for the kids too..Which really helps out.”
Felicity shared, “I started delivering catalogues. So I now get paid to exercise 😂 Being motivated to exercise is not my strong point so having this as an obligation means I will actually exercise at least a couple of times per week.”
Nancy wrote, “One of my side hustles is working at a gym! I work 2 hour shifts, 6am-8am, 3 days a week and occasional Saturdays. I can workout on my shift, and have a free membership so I can come on my own time. I make a little bit of extra money, make good use of my early mornings, guarantee that I won’t skip the gym, and don’t have to pay for a membership!”
Brianne relayed, “I do free yoga videos on YouTube, and attend free classes in the community (Library, LuluLemon). My most frugal workout tip is to turn your workout into a side hustle and EARN money while working out! Right now I teach mermaid swimming classes with Aquamermaid and it’s so much fun! A few other ideas could be to be a dog walker or deliver for UberEats by bicycle.”
Exercising For Cheap
Sari shared, “I subscribe to Beachbody on Demand. $99 a year. Home workouts! $.27 a day! I’ve found its so much better than the gym also.”
Emily reports, “We stream exercise videos on our fire stick through YouTube. We also use the great outdoors. Lots of walking, hiking, running, biking, etc. As a triathlete the only thing I spend money on is the one day fee to swim indoors at our local aquatic center. It’s $2.14 per visit, which at once a week is lots cheaper than the $400/yr gym membership and we only do that when it’s too cold to open water swim in the lake (October – May).”
Veneta wrote, “There’s a gym that opened up in my neighborhood about three years ago called YouFit. They have a $10/month membership, which offers full access to all cardio equipment, weights, locker room, etc. I think there are now more gyms that offer this option but I haven’t checked since I like mine. I also go for runs when I get a chance but having the option of a gym allows me to work out if it’s raining or too cold outside.”
Christopher shared, “Kept the Gym Membership but work pays for 50% so it is only $50/mo, includes free Yoga for the wife, spin class, and Zumbini for the kids. Well worth it.”
Kendyll wrote, “We found a brand new Total Gym machine for $30 last year. We bought it and set it up for use in our basement. If we aren’t on it, we are out walking or running. My daughter and I will do YouTube videos from the Fitness Marshall and just dance as well.”
Jessica relayed, “Our rec center has a free indoor walking track, and you can bring strollers which is awesome. For awhile I did light weights at home, but I’ve since decided the $20 a month was worth it for the gym. There I have to show up. At home I’m more likely to skip.”
Kandace reports, “Every year or two I buy a workout video or set of workouts from someplace like BeachBody or Jillian Michaels. It’s not free, but it’s cheaper than the gym and much easier to do on my own time. I also invested in a fairly inexpensive elliptical/recumbent bike and rigged it up so I can pedal while working. I have some free weights, which I’ve collected over the years when they’re on sale. You can also get sets online but I never found one that had the right weights.”
Terri has, “…a treadmill that I bought at a garage sale for $5 three years ago. Frugality in motion!!”
Melissa recommends, “Running shoes and the great outdoors! You can also do body weight exercises at home. The basics are free and work all body parts (push-ups, squats, lunges, etc). We do still have a gym membership too, though. Ours is $10 a month and you can bring one person with you for no extra charge, so for $10 a month my SO and I go to the gym together a few days a week.”
Nicole wrote, “Body Pump is my favorite workout, and I was paying $55 each month for a YMCA membership to take part in their Body Pump class. Then I realized that Les Mills, the company who choreographs Body Pump, has an on-demand streaming option for $12.99. I bought $150 of weights and a barbell and have been exercising in the comfort of my home for a few months now!”
Alicia wrote, “I go to Planet Fitness which is only $10/month. It’s pretty basic but has what I need- treadmill, floor mats, weights, etc. I also love Pop Pilates free videos on YouTube and of course going on hikes/walks.”
Ashley suggests, “Join a hiking group! Hike it Baby is wonderful for families with young kids. It cost $10/yr. There are also free groups through meetup.com or those organized by local parks.”
Laura wrote, “We invested in a quality piece of workout equipment, specifically a treadmill, yes it was pricey upfront but unlike a gym membership I actually use the treadmill. I don’t have to go anywhere or find a sitter. I can hop on anytime I have a few free minutes.”
Jenny wrote, “We bought a used treadmill several years back, (There are tons of them out there! Seems like lots of people like to buy treadmills that they never use…) so we have that set up in an extra room in our house. My husband also bought a used weight set that we keep in the same room. YouTube is full of videos you can watch for free. And there are lots of great free apps I use to train for runs. We’ve invested maybe $200 in our home gym equipment, and it’s more than paid for itself.”
Get Creative and Get Moving
The overarching message here is to get creative in how you exercise. Don’t be hemmed in by what you’ve always done and don’t assume you can’t get a great workout for free. I love learning from the Reader Suggestions and this month was no exception, except that reading it did make me feel like a massive sloth, seeing as I gave birth to my second daughter last month and we are still covered in snow up here in Vermont. I am now shamed/motivated into amping up my exercise regimen after reading about all the awesome ways that you people exercise. As with most things in life, there’s a way to frugalize your workout routine and save money while staying in shape!