The prospect of getting your body into gear can be intimidating enough without also considering the impact it might have on your bank account. The rapidly rising cost of trendy boutique workouts and flashy gym memberships doesn't make it any easier.
But it's also not an either/or situation. Trust us when we say that it's not just possible to get in the best shape of your life without so much as setting foot in a gym—you can also do it at no cost whatsoever. Intrigued? Skeptical? Hear us out.
These days, the world exists conveniently at our fingertips, fitness included. Think about your goals (Want to start running more? Learn how to meditate? Try a Vinyasa flow at home?) and start researching—of the hundreds of free apps available, there's bound to be a handful that work for you (and there's zero financial risk if something doesn't). Some of our personal favorites:
C25K: The original Couch to 5K program is designed to ease anyone into running over an eight-week period, via a slow progression from walking to jogging in very doable intervals. More than 15,000 five-star reviews can't be wrong. (And seriously, if it could make this Byrdie editor learn to like running after a lifetime of despising cardio, we figure the success rate has to be pretty damn high.)
My Fitness Pal: On any fitness journey, knowledge is power—even if you're just logging for a few days, it's extremely valuable to get a general idea of how many calories you're taking in versus how many you burn. (It surprises a lot of people!) MFP is the most seamless and convenient logging program we've tried, thanks to a highly extensive food database, the ability to import and calculate recipes from the web, and various ways to personalize your goals. Plus, it automatically syncs up with your iPhone to log your steps for the day, giving you a more accurate calorie bank.
Strava: Those with a competitive streak will love Strava, which allows you to track and compare your running (and cycling) times against friends and other app users. Plus, the GPS technology lets you accurately monitor your mileage and favorite routes.
You've heard it before, but it's not just about this specific tip—it's the general idea to stop taking certain shortcuts. Heading to a friend's house 10 blocks away? Walk, don't Uber. Need to restock on groceries? Think about the arm workout you'll get by carrying (rather than driving) them home. The secret to being fit without it feeling like a chore is slowly making your entire lifestyle more active, rather than just carving out a chunk of time every day to work out.
On that note, it's time to start looking at everything (everything) as an opportunity to be active. That's not just a water bottle—it's also a dumbbell. Your bed or couch doubles as a bench for tricep dips. Prop your laptop on some books or a box, et voilà! Standing desk. And it's not just about equipment: Ask your co-worker if they'd be up for a walking meeting rather than just sitting in the conference room, for example. You get the idea. (Our only prerequisite: Be safe!)
On the flipside, remember that you already have a built-in gym: You can absolutely strength train and tone virtually everywhere—and torch calories—just by using bodyweight exercises. Planks, push-ups, crunches, sit-ups, lunges, squats, dips, bridges… the list is endless, and it's very easy to find complete workouts that rotate through these exercises online (more on that in a sec). Craving even more convenience? Look into HIIT or Tabata workouts, which require no equipment and only 10 minutes of your time.
There are so many talented trainers and fitness gurus who share workouts on YouTube—the only "cost" to you is that you might have to sit through a 15-second ad. Search your favorite workout, gym, or fitness Instagrammer, and get moving in your living room.
It's simple, it's straightforward, it's effective. And even if you've always thought you hate running, it's totally possible to become a convert. Start slow, either with that C25K app we mentioned or just simply by power-walking your neighborhood. (Skip the treadmill.) Crank up a killer playlist, and just set out to explore your environs. The urge to pick up the pace might just follow—and if and when it does, celebrate every last yard as a victory.
The real way to make fitness a lasting part of your life: Transform your view of it as a necessary evil to your "me time"—your way to unwind. It's easier said than done, but again, baby steps. Next time your hit your 3 p.m. wall at work, go outside and walk around the block instead of making a beeline for the coffee machine. If you're feeling frazzled or jittery, go for a quick jog or do some jumping jacks to expend some energy. Take five minutes before bedtime to stretch, meditate, or wind down with yoga. Make being active your de-stressing ritual.
The flip-side of this is avoiding fitness burnout, too. Don't do a hardcore workout every day. Learn the difference between feeling lazy or unmotivated and actual exhaustion. Make living a more active lifestyle the priority over actual, regimented workouts, especially if you're just starting out. And most importantly, give it time.
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This editor-approved fitness brand offers budget-friendly gear and apparel (and it's available at Target!).
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What are some of your favorite tips for staying in shape without spending money? Tell us in the comments below!