How to Get in Shape While Spending No Money


I know what it means to live on a budget. Heck, I live in a one-room barn with unfinished concrete floors (true story), and a kitchen I built myself out of cinderblocks (again, true story -- who would make something like that up?). And yet, I’ve somehow figured out how to afford a healthy lifestyle, so don’t tell me it costs too much to get in shape.

You don’t need to drop thousands on a personal trainer, gym membership, or exercise equipment. Working out doesn’t have to cost a thing. You just need to follow a few basic rules to build the body of your dreams. 

Let’s talk about running...

Have I lost you already? I get it. Running's the worst. Except that it's actually kind of the best. It costs absolutely nothing, but delivers one of the most effective cardiovascular workouts around. And all you need is yourself, your shoes, and, admittedly, mental fortitude.

If it's that last part you struggle with, don't worry. Even if you're not a runner -- if you actually hate running -- you can still harness the sport's benefits with walk/run interval training. Simply head outside for a 30-minute jaunt, and after two minutes of walking, add 30 to 60 seconds of running... and repeat. Even if you despise running, you can't tell me you don't have the mental wherewithal to suck it up for just 30 seconds.


Make some room

One of the nice things about gyms is they provide a designated space for exercise. You know when you walk through those doors, it’s time to get to work.

Home workouts are a little different because you’re practically guaranteed to be surrounded by “urgent” distractions like your child’s forgotten homework or your overflowing laundry hamper.

You can recreate the gym sanctuary at home by setting aside a space for exercise. The space can be anywhere -- your living room, a guest room, backyard, or garage -- but it needs to be allocated for exercise and only exercise. You and everyone you live with need to know that when you enter that space, you’re in a workout zone, where whining children, urgent work calls, and hyperactive dogs simply don’t exist. 

Make workout time inescapable

Every week, sit down and write out your workout schedule, then post it everywhere: your Google calendar, your fridge, your desk, and on the wall in your workout space. Everyone in your life should know exactly when your workouts are scheduled, and they should be told that interrupting you during your workout could result in serious bodily injury or possible death. 

Workouts don’t need to take place at the same time every day, so pay attention to your household’s general schedule and take advantage of times when you’re less likely to experience interruptions. Early mornings, late nights, and kids’ nap times work well. 

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Actually turn off your phone (silent and airplane mode don’t count)

Emails, texts, and calls are guaranteed exercise destroyers. You may not want to admit it, but you’re as bad as Pavlov’s dog; when your phone dings, you’re conditioned to respond. The world won’t crumble and the apocalypse won’t commence simply because you shut your phone off for half an hour. Turn it off and exercise distraction-free -- you might even discover you like feeling untethered from the almighty smartphone.

MacGyver your weight sessions

Don’t assume you need a whole new workout wardrobe, fancy kicks, or the next “As Seen on TV” ab trimmer to get in the best shape of your life. These are lies fitness marketers sell with a price tag adding up to more than a billion dollars a year.

All you need is your body and a few household items: a sturdy chair, a few paper plates, and maybe a small dog or baby. I’m not kidding; babies and dogs make great substitutes for medicine balls as long, provided you don’t throw them.

Perform bodyweight exercises like squats, pushups, burpees, and jumping jacks in a circuit. Add step ups on a sturdy chair, sliding lunges, or reverse crunches with your feet on paper plates, and pretty much any exercise while holding a baby or a dog (shoulder press, chest press, plié squats, and biceps curls). The added weight (and squirmy nature of living creatures) will enhance your strength, balance, and coordination.

Make a plan, and stick to it

Whether you work out at a gym or at home, following a plan is one of the best ways to guarantee success. Look online for free bodyweight workouts or those that require minimal equipment. Search for 4-week, 8-week, or 12-week plans put together by certified trainers that gradually build intensity and make it possible to gauge results. In some cases you may have to subscribe to an email list to receive the lengthier programs, but it’s a small price to pay (as in, zero dollars and possibly some great emails) to receive a high-quality program put together by a legit trainer.

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Laura Williams is an exercise physiologist and writer who pays surprisingly little to stay in shape. Learn all her frugal tips on Twitter @girlsgonesporty.