Fitness on a Budget

Despite reports that our economy is in a post-recession, personal finances remain tight.  With lack of affordability being cited by sedentary Americans as a major reason (along with lack of time) for not being able to exercise regularly, the current state of family budgets doesn’t bode well for those wanting to make fitness a priority.  The reality is being fit need not be a pricey endeavor.  Like everything else we need, when money is tight, we have to set priorities, shop wisely and be creative.

The trick is fitness is not a one-size-fits-all matter.  The type of exercise I enjoy may be the type you hate.  So, buying the least expensive equipment or gym membership without regard to what you enjoy isn’t the best way to go.  The key is to know what type of workouts you are most likely to be motivated to do and then find the least expensive way to make it convenient for you to do it.  The following are some ideas for how you can accomplish just that.

Cardiovascular Exercise

  • Walking or Jogging: If this is your favorite form of cardio exercise, you’re in luck because it’s also one of the cheapest.  All you need is a quality pair of sneakers and a place to amble.  Good quality athletic footwear can be purchased for under $100.  Refrain from wearing them when you’re not working out and they’ll last longer.  Put aside a small amount in your budget for extreme weather days.  Use your rainy day cash to purchase inexpensive day-passes at a local gym to get your workout done on a cardio machine.  If you prefer not to exercise alone but don’t have a workout buddy, get a fitness tracking app for your phone or tablet.  Many of these apps have a social networking feature to give you the experience of exercising with a group.
  • Group Exercise Classes: The reason this is a popular form of exercise is because the social aspect of it helps motivate us to attend regularly and workout harder while we’re there.  There’s no at-home substitute for this.  So, shop around remembering that sometimes the smaller studios are cheaper than a larger gym or club.  Keep in mind the convenience aspect.  If the least expensive studio isn’t near your home or on your route to work, you’ll probably attend a lot less often compared to a studio that may cost a little more but is right near your office.
  • Exercise Caution: Gym/Club Memberships: The statistics show most people don’t get their money’s worth out of these.  If you feel you have no other options for exercise, then shop around for the best deal at a place that is conveniently located to home/work and has what you will use.  Home Cardio Equipment: Even if you have the space for it, it doesn’t mean you’ll use it.  Cardio equipment is great for those who already exercise regularly but has a very poor track record for those who purchase for the purpose of beginning a fitness program.  And it’s expensive.  DVDs/Workout Online Subscriptions:  It’s true these are inexpensive but if you don’t use them they are costly in the end.  Try some free online workouts or rent/borrow exercise DVDs for a month.  If you’re doing these workouts consistently 3 or more times a week for an entire month, then you can feel confident purchasing.

Strength & Flexibility Exercise

While cardiovascular exercise can be tricky to maintain on limited funds, strength and flexibility training can be accomplished at home with minimal expense.  It’s even possible to have everything you need with very limited space.  The price points listed are from Dick’s Sporting Goods website.

Must Have: It is possible to get a full-body strength workout using body weight alone.  Therefore, I contend the only piece of equipment one must have for strength and flexibility fitness at home is:

  • Exercise Mat: If you have carpets at home, a standard thickness mat will work just fine ($20-25).  If you have harder surfaces where you’ll be working out, such as hardwood, get a thicker mat ($25-30).

Good to Have: If you’re serious about incorporating a regular strength training workout into your fitness routine (and you should be), adding options and variety is important to keep it fresh and stave off boredom.  Luckily this can easily be achieved with just a few pieces of external weight resistance equipment:

  • Resistance Tubes: If space or money is especially tight, these versatile tubes give you everything you need.  I recommend a set with 3 to 5 different resistance levels and a door mount feature ($30-35).
  • Free Weights & Medicine Balls: If you have some space and a little more to spend, these are the best choices.  Don’t bother with an entire set of each or both.  They are so versatile that a mix of 3 or 4 free weight pairs ($15-25 ) and medicine balls ($15-25) is all you need for unlimited strength training options.  My recommendation for a set of three: 4 lb medicine ball, pair of 5 lb free weights & pair of 8lb free weights.  If you can afford a fourth option, add a 10 lb medicine ball.

Bonus Items: Have more space and a little more to spend?  These items are great for incorporating balance challenges:

  • Fit Ball: These are sized according to height, so be sure to get the right size for you ($25).
  • Stability Cushion: Place under feet or hands to add challenge to body weight exercises ($40).

I understand from working with my clients how difficult it can be to begin a fitness program.  I know regular exercise won’t be achieved unless one is truly motivated to do so, even if the person has unlimited time and funds.  So, the first barrier to cross is to find what motivates you.  It is only then that you will make the time and, as I hope I’ve been able to show you today, find a away to afford it.  But remember, the cost of not being fit is much greater.


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