Getting in shape doesn’t have to empty your bank account. Heck, Rocky only needed a slab of beef, a snow-capped mountain and a barn full of farm equipment to prepare for his fight against Ivan Drago and look at how well that turned out for him. With a few strategic equipment purchases (resistance bands!), some handy smartphone apps and free YouTube channels, plus a bit of imagination, you too can get healthy while keeping your billfold plump.
One thing you won’t need is a gym membership. Unless you require specialized facilities that you can’t find elsewhere, why are you going to spend $100-plus a month to use workout equipment that other people sweat on? There are plenty of low-cost and no-cost alternatives available if you know where to look.
Workout apps and services
Just a few square feet of clear floor space is plenty of room to perform push-ups, sit-ups and a variety of other calisthenics. Add any of the myriad bodyweight workout routine apps available on Google Play and the Apple App store and you can start getting shredded in the privacy of your own home. At least there you’ll actually know where the hairdryer has been.
I’m partial to Sworkit on Android. This free app offers circuit training routines with easy-to-follow visual explanations of each movement for both strength and cardio sessions that use only your body weight. You can set pre-selected workouts for five to 60 minutes, focusing on specific muscle groups or the whole body. And if you pay for the $4 full version, you can create and save routines of your own design. You Are Your Own Gym ($5) offers many of the same services but on both Android and iOS. I’m not super hot on Sworkit’s yoga section — I find it hard to get into a flow when using it — but that’s where the free app Yoga for Beginners (available on Android) comes in. Designed specifically for people getting back into yoga, the app offers three classes each of Vinyasa, Hatha and Restorative yoga, all with clear and concise instructions and form demonstrations so you’re not left guessing and potentially hurting yourself in the process.
Or, if you’d prefer to take a break from looking at your phone while you exercise but still want some instruction and guidance, YouTube is chock full of workout routines from some of the biggest names in personal fitness today. Whether you’re blasting through circuits with Joanna Soh, strengthening your core with MadFit, flowing through yoga poses with Adrienne or performing pilates with Blogilates, there’s an exercise video that can help you reach your fitness goals. These accounts are run by established and accredited fitness personalities with years of experience and extensive follower accounts, so you can feel assured you’re taking workout advice from someone who actually knows what they’re doing.
I’ve personally used Yoga with Adrienne on and off for years and found it to be very close to what you’d find at the local yoga studio. She explains not only how to perform each movement but also how those movements fit into the larger practice. The pacing is slow enough to not rush you from form to form but not so slow that you get bored waiting to move to the next one.
These are all perfectly fine options assuming you’re a motivated self-starter. However, if you feel you need a bit more external motivation to get off the couch, Daily Burn could be right for you. This streaming service offers thousands of workout videos covering everything from yoga and barre to high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and pilates, across ability levels. These videos stream through Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Firestick and Chromecast as well as through the company’s mobile apps. There’s new content added daily in the form of a 30-minute “Daily Burn 365” video, which goes live every morning at 9am ET (and is available on demand after that). Additionally, the site offers a calorie counter, weight and workout tracking and weekly fitness goals to keep you motivated. The service costs around $13 a month, but that’s a steal compared to what you’d pay for a gym membership and group classes.
Maybe you’d like to get a bit of fresh air with your exercise (or just don’t want your living room to smell like stale sweat when you’re done). There is still no need to blow a wad of cash on CrossFit lessons. Check your city’s Parks and Rec department for listings of local open spaces, as well as free or low-cost classes and volunteering opportunities. The Calisthenics Parks organization maintains a similar database of publicly accessible fitness stations, trail runs and outdoor exercise areas all over the world.
If you’re looking for group classes or just a workout buddy, the FitLink community can put you in touch with running clubs and personal trainers, as well as help you develop your own workout routines for the next time you exercise solo. Also take a stroll through your local Eventbrite — it routinely offers a variety of group health and wellness classes.
Get your soon-to-be-fit butt down to the local park, public pool, dog run or playground. As long as the children’s area isn’t swarming with kids and toddlers, which you can easily avoid by going in the early morning or late afternoon, you should have the run of the place. Those chin-up stands and monkey bars that kicked your ass during the President’s Challenge are just as difficult as you remember them, if not more so, now that you’re pushing an adult’s weight around. As the video below from Art of Manliness demonstrates, there are plenty of challenging bodyweight exercises you can do in a playground.
Once you’ve settled on a workout regimen, it’s time to get equipped. Luckily, you won’t need much. If you’re giving yoga a shot, sure, you could set down a beach towel or work on the bare floor, or you could get this sweat resistant yoga mat from Amazon ($16) so you’re not turning your living room floor into a slip-n-slide the moment you get your chakras flowing. You can’t go wrong with a set of generic gym towels ($22 for a 12-pack), plus they double as stretching aids and are cheap enough that you can afford to lose some in the bottom of your gear bag. And if you’re just starting out with the practice and aren’t yet as flexible as you’d like to be, pick up a pair of foam support blocks for $11.
A set of resistance bands, like these from Serious Steel ($110), can also prove helpful if you’re looking to improve muscle tone and mobility. There are full sets on Amazon, but nothing says you can’t buy them piecemeal at $10 a pop and just pick up more as needed as you get stronger. Plus, even at a hundred bucks, they’re still a third of the cost of many adjustable dumbbell sets.
Should you want something a bit more robust than a set of people-sized rubber bands, take a look at the BodyBoss Home Gym 2.0 ($179). It combines a folding platform with resistance bands and sturdy handles that mimic the feel of bars and dumbbells. From squats to curls to cardio, the BodyBoss offers more than 300 separate exercises as well as hundreds of instructional videos. Yet, when it’s fully folded, the BodyBoss is small enough to fit in a suitcase so you can even take it with you when traveling.
Are you working out at home and have access to a spare doorway? Then you’re in luck because you can easily convert that doorway into a pull-up station with this upper body workout bar from Iron Gym ($30). Depending on how you hang it on the frame, it can also serve as a push-up stand or sit-up anchor. Or, if you want to get fancy, check out Monkii Bars 2 ($199). These suspension straps can attach to practically anything — door frames, tree branches, playground equipment and what have you — and leverage your own body weight as resistance on more than 300 exercises. Working in conjunction with the iOS/Android app, you can follow along with both time- and rep-based routines; track progress; and gain access to new, free workouts delivered to your inbox every Friday.
Should you choose to train in the great outdoors, you’ll do well to pick up a few extra pieces of equipment. Workout gloves, like this set from Trideer ($14), are a must. You don’t know where those monkey bars have been. You’ll also need to stay hydrated, so be sure to pack a water bottle. Kleen Kanteen offers stainless steel bottles ($15-plus) that are practically indestructible under normal conditions. I picked one up in 2011 and it’s still my daily carry. Or if you want a lightweight plastic option, Nalgene has a BPA-free widemouth bottle for just $10.
If you’re planning to exploit your local playground or schoolyard as a training area, you might as well go all out and get yourself a rainbow-colored beaded jump rope ($7-plus), you know, like from elementary school. Skipping rope is a great way to develop your coordination, cardio and stamina. And if you’d prefer to not just skip to your lou, give Jump Rope Training from Crossrope a try. Available on both Android and iOS (and syncable with both Google Fit and Apple Health), this instructional app works with the company’s Infinity Rope system ($88-plus). Those ropes enable more accurate workout tracking but can get pretty pricey. Even so, the app is free, and you can easily follow along even if you don’t have $88 for the smart ropes.
Finally, you’re going to need a bag to tote this stuff around in. A lightweight drawstring bag, like this one from BeeGreen is just $10, but is large enough to carry everything you’ll need for the session.