5 Inexpensive Workouts

Don't let high gym prices keep you from getting into the best shape of your life. We've got five great exercise ideas that work your body hard, but go easy on your wallet.

The key to designing a great workout is to focus on the three pillars of fitness: cardio, strength, and flexibility. There are countless free or inexpensive ways to meet all three fitness needs. You may need to make a few small initial investments, but after that, you're free to exercise.

1. Walking is nature's original cardiovascular fitness plan. All you need is a good pair of walking shoes and a safe place to do it.

  • If you're new to exercise, start with a 30-minute walking loop or walk 15 minutes away from your house (or car), then 15 minutes back.
  • More advanced walkers should go for either a timed walk (for example, a 60-minute walk) or a specific distance, (for example, three miles). Then, add more time, a faster pace, more hills, or a longer distance every week.
  • When you're ready for more, set a walking goal like a completing a 5K or walking to work several times a week.
  • Add a few sets of sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups, squats, and lunges to meet your strength training needs and finish up with some stretching for flexibility.

2. Workout DVDs offer a complete workout in your living room. Most include a warm-up, 20 to 45 minutes of cardio/strength exercise, a cool down, and stretching. There are hundreds on the market and your local library has dozens you can borrow. Ask friends to lend you their favorites and try out several before buying your own.

3. DIY Circuit training requires just a few supplies, and you can create your own weight-training system. Invest in 3-, 5-, and 10-pound hand weights (keep an eye out at yard sales), resistance bands, an inflatable exercise ball, a jump rope, and an exercise mat. Search online and print out a variety of upper and lower body and core (abdominal) exercises, including lunges, squats, and on-the-ball moves. Cut and paste these exercises onto index cards. Mix and match 15 (or more) cards per workout along with five 3-5 minute sessions of jogging or jumping rope. Use different cards and equipment on different days and move quickly from one exercise to the next. Keep moving for an hour and finish up with stretching.

4. Go to the park and get there by jogging or walking, then do several sets of:

  • Pull-ups on the monkey bars
  • Step-ups on park benches
  • Active play on the swings and playground equipment
  • Lunges, squats, and stretches

You can also check out your local Parks and Recreation site for inexpensive community exercise classes, basketball games, and lap swimming hours.  

5. Recess time. Search online for grown-up recess leagues and activities like dodge ball, kickball, baseball, and other classic kid games. If your city hasn't formed a "recess" league yet, create your own. Gather your friends and get outside to play.