Frugality in Practice: Home-Based Physical Fitness

Lately, I've been making rumblings about getting in shape again. I want to get fit slowly. The trick is figuring out how to do it. It took a lot of reading and a lot of trial and error to take control of my finances, but I've finally achieved a healthy attitude toward money. Now I hope to do the same with physical fitness. But where to start?

One approach would be to just throw money at the problem. I've been looking at fitness clubs, for example; they offer great exercise equipment and motivational classes all in one facility. But they cost more than a frugal fellow like me wants to pay. (Yes, I've looked into the YMCA and local community centers — there's nothing nearby.)

I've also been fighting the urge to purchase a new bicycle. The Redline 925 makes me drool, but do I really want to spend $800 on bike? What's wrong with the bike I already own?

I was heading for a major expenditure if I didn't formulate a plan, so I sat down and made a list of the free or low-cost fitness alternatives at my disposal. I was surprised to discover how much exercise equipment I already own:

  • We purchased a NordicTrack ski machine over ten years ago. It has received very little use during its lifetime.
  • I have a bare-bones weight set that I'm storing for a friend.
  • Last fall, some neighbors down the street were giving away exercise equipment they no longer used. They gave me a stationary cycle and a “health-rider”, both of which I dragged up the hill to our house. They've sat unused in storage ever since.
  • While working with my wellness coach last spring, I was fitted for (and purchased) a good pair of running shoes.
  • I own two bicycles. The first is a 1997 Bianchi Volpe touring bike that I purchased ten years ago. I rode it for a couple thousand miles during 1998-1999, but since then it's been neglected. I've also fixed up an old mountain bike that my cousin gave me to use as a “commuter” of sorts. I use it to run errands.
  • We have a variety of sports equipment: several soccer balls, baseball gloves, golf clubs, racquetball stuff, a frisbee, and a jump-rope.
  • We own Dance Dance Revolution for the Wii.
  • I have a good pair of hiking boots and miles of great trails all around.

When I look at the list of fitness equipment I already have, it seems ludicrous to pay money to join a gym. I already have a gym. Sure, I don't have a treadmill or an elliptical machine or a fancy weight set, but I have plenty to get me started. I've already paid for this equipment — I might as well get some use from it!

It also seems crazy to purchase a new bike. I have two bikes! What would I do with a third that I cannot do already? Instead, I pulled my touring bike out of storage. It was in sad shape, so I paid the local bike shop a couple hundred dollars to give it an overhaul. Spending this money hurt, but if it's enough to get me back on the road to physical fitness, it's well worth the cost. Good health pays dividends in the long run.

And you know what? It's fantastic to be back on the road. Over the past week, I've put in about 40 miles. That's not a lot, but it's a start. It's like saving your first $40 in an emergency fund. You save a little at a time, and eventually you have $2,000 set aside. By the end of the summer, I hope to have biked 2,000 miles. (Or more!)


I look like the biggest dork in the world. But I'm on my bike!

For more on this subject:

Oh yeah — I've signed up at We Endure, a social training log that lets you track your progress in a variety of endurance sports (such as cycling, running, and swimming). Here's my profile. I've also created a Get Fit Slowly group that you're welcome to join (even if you don't read Get Fit Slowly). The more the merrier!

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Amber
Amber
12 years ago

We’re terribly lucky that our city has a fitness center- only about five minutes from my house. Right now I’m spending $15 a month on it, but I think having someone to help me choose my exercise and nutrition plan, as well as someone to be accountable to (she does check-ins) is going to be invaluable in this journey to getting healthy.

Good job getting going on your own!

JerichoHill
JerichoHill
12 years ago

We came to the same conclusion. Picot has her Nordic track ski machine and I have a weight bench. We have DDR for the PS2 but are looking much more forward to Wii Fitness.

Is DDR Wii good? We’ve read some bad reviews?

notgonnadoit
notgonnadoit
12 years ago

Congrats for the goal! I did just that and have lost a touch over 100 lbs (300 to 200 for a 5’10” guy). Walking is great, and the various cardio ideas you mentioned above. I strongly suggust that you use your weights! Try 2 or 3 times a week. Use light weights. Go read T-nation or Bodybuidling.com for general ideas. Check your yard sales for dumbells (great for solo workouts, easier to use than a bar in many ways). Building muscle though lifting weights will increase your fitness by leaps and bounds as you will add muscle mass. Regardless, congrats… Read more »

Sean
Sean
12 years ago

You’re way more patient and intelligent than I. My now ex-Wife and I had $70,000 in debt (cars, cards, student loans etc) We got on Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover and had paid off about 40k of it. And then I also got the fitness bug and ended up buying a $1,600 triathlon bike. At the time all we had was my wife’s old MTB and I wanted a roadie. My inner 4 year old, as Dave would say, just had to have it. Thankfully though I do manage to put 4-5000 miles a year on it so it does… Read more »

Rob
Rob
12 years ago

You’re exactly correct – you don’t need a fancy weight set or a treadmill at home. You’ve got all you need for cardio training with your bike and your running shoes! On top of that, the basic weight set you mentioned coupled with some body-weight exercises (pushup, squat, lunge, pullup, turkish get-up) will put you in shape without requiring any extra expense for buying heavy pieces of metal!

Howie
Howie
12 years ago

A home gym can be great. I belonged to a gym for the most part of my life since I was 17. Now I’m 26. I learned about this great piece of equipment called a “kettlebell” while I was recovering from knee surgery due to a rugby injury. I bought one while I was recovering and haven’t looked back since. It works everything; strength, endurance, cardio. You can find them at http://dragondoor.com/ My 16kg (35lb) one was only about $80. The upfront amount might turn some off but it’s actually a small investment because you have it forever and you… Read more »

Jarick
Jarick
12 years ago

Since my goal was more long-term committment to staying in shape, I started playing a competitive sport that keeps me active. I have no motivation otherwise. But you’re right, when I do get the urge to go to a gym, I have enough stuff in my house to keep me occupied. Just need the motivation…

Alex McP
Alex McP
12 years ago

I went through a similar thought process regarding my fitness. I had just graduated from college as a varsity athlete (crew and biking) and felt strongly that joining a gym was a waste of time and money. I had a bike, yoga podcasts, running shoes, and some free weights… Couldn’t I just do it on my own? Two things factored in to my decision to join a gym: they offered personal motivation which I couldn’t muster on my own (~1.3 workouts done a week by myself vs. included personalized workouts) and I found one that offered things I couldn’t do… Read more »

J.D.
J.D.
12 years ago

@JerichoHill

We love DDR Wii. I’ve seen bad reviews, too, and just don’t understand. It’s a great game. But I’ve never played DDR in any other incarnation, so maybe there’s something I’m missing. We have great fun. The menu system sucks, though. It’s terrible. And the game doesn’t retain settings when you turn it off, which seems odd. But we love it.

Lauren Muney, wellness + facilitation coach
Lauren Muney, wellness + facilitation coach
12 years ago

Yay! Congrats for still feeling excited! One last detail: the most productive “equipment” for getting fit is the desire to BE fit. All other ‘tools’ are simply extra. You can lose weight by simply walking. However, you will lose weight (and get muscle – which is needed for health AND maintaining higher metabolism) by doing MANY activities. If you like an activity, you will do it [more]. If you hate it, you won’t. I always coach towards what the clients enjoys FIRST: that’s why we got you the running shoes – your feet hurt even walking in your old shoes,… Read more »

claymeadow
claymeadow
12 years ago

yes, you do look like a dork… 🙂 anyways, if you want a bike, buy used. the craigslist bike section has a ton of bikes, a lot barely used, in their sports section where I am located, 12345, and I am probably about as rural as you. as for equipment, for now, buy a pair of new balance running sneakers and hit the road. in the future look into a treadmill or elliptical for home but consider that the space it takes up costs money too. my preference is to only live at home, no work and no exercise. go… Read more »

HollyP
HollyP
12 years ago

You look so happy in your photo! My husband has struggled with weight and exercise for years. He had a Nordic Trak collecting dust in the basement, until we were given a second-hand tv. He set up the tv near the Nordic Trak, asked for a pair of wireless headphones for Father’s Day last year, and now works out while he watches tv for an hour every day guilt-free. The tv and headphones were a minor investment, but they really paid off. He’s lost 6 inches off his waist. I have a personal trainer who, until her hearing declined, also… Read more »

LK
LK
12 years ago

We talk off and on about getting DDR; we need *something* to motivate us! I used to kickbox regularly, so I bought a floor-stand bag for home use. I love it, I love kickboxing, but it’s sooo easy to do something else at home instead of change into workout clothes and kickbox for 30-40 minutes in my living room! We have a walking trail near us, but sooo hard to get up in the morning and walk! LOL Plus I have an injured back which makes running/jumping/etc fairly impossible for me to do; even walking 3-4 days in a row… Read more »

Chris
Chris
12 years ago

Totally free exercise:

Walking: At the mall, parks, down the road, etc!

Free workout videos from the library.

Playing with your kids at the park.

Shoveling snow. (It’s 4 degrees here today)

Crunches, push-ups…free

Mowing the lawn…

Josh
Josh
12 years ago

I’ll second (or is it third now) weight training to boost fitness and weight loss. A pound of muscle will make you burn 30-40 calories more a day. Add a few pounds of muscle and you’re talking a couple pounds a month burned and you didn’t have to do anything. I read a nice article about weight loss yesterday that had a sample barbell/dumbell no-bench workout, which sounds like what you have. Search “sample basic barbell” here: http://www.baye.com/articles/getting_lean.php Ignore the freak pictures on that page, I’m pretty sure only 1% of the population has the genetics and drive to get… Read more »

April
April
12 years ago

I went the home-workout route a little over a year ago, and today I’m in the best shape of my life (even better than when I was in athletics in high school). After college, I wanted to lose about 20 pounds. I kept thinking I needed a gym or a personal trainer, but I wasn’t very excited about either, so I worked out at home a few times a week, nothing structured, got minimal results. When my mom’s doctor told her she needed to lose some weight to avoid diabetes, that’s when I really developed a workout plan, dragged her… Read more »

Dennis
Dennis
12 years ago

Push-ups are one of the best works out you can do. They are great for the entire upper body and are FREE. If you are like me and hate running but need to do cardio, you can do push-ups, squats, lunges and crunches without taking a break in between. It adds a great cardio element.

Tom
Tom
12 years ago

I bought a street bike in 1999. I used it heavily for two years and competed in several triathlons. Since 2001 I’ve been storing it in my garage and I’ve moved several times. I keep thinking about getting back into cycling.

You have already spent the money to get your bike fixed up but I bet there are guys at a local cycling club or triathlon club that would hook you up for free just ’cause they love the sport and love working on bikes.

pts
pts
12 years ago

A Bianchi Volpe! Excellent bike — well worth the money to get it tuned up and back in shape. Bicycles are a great way to exercise frugality and exercise frugally. When I decided to get back into cycling, I first bought an excellent book by Leonard Zinn called “Zinn and the art of Road Bike Maintenance.” It covers everything you’ll ever need to do to your road bike, and makes even complicated maintenance procedures quite clear. I read through it a couple of times and then started buying parts. My reasoning was that if I built my bike up from… Read more »

Jonathan
Jonathan
12 years ago

I have always enjoyed being a part of a gym even with large monthly fees. I like a clean gym with new equipment. For me it is part of my routine and seeing a lot of people at the gym actually keeps me active. I run around 30-35 miles per week and my secret is podcasts. Great way to pass the time as well as watching a game on one of the tv’s on the machines. I don’t think I would use a home gym equipment. It would be too easy to slack off or cut my workouts short. For… Read more »

Bekah
Bekah
12 years ago

I am planning on joining a gym, simply because I can not stay motivated to work out at home. Lat year a new gym opened in my backyard. Literally: I can see it from my bedroom window and I walk through it’s parking lot on my to and from the subway everyday. A neighborhood group has a deal where you give them a $10 donation (which goes towards various community improvement efforts), and the gym gives you a one year membership discounted to $379. That’s certainly less than I would pay buying even minimum equipment for my home. My health… Read more »

nmh
nmh
12 years ago

If you have netflix they have a pretty large selection of work out videos available for instant viewing. I have found several that I like and rotate. After the kids go to bed I do 15-20 minutes of yoga, or pilates or whatever I’m in the mood for that day. Its been good for me — and another reason to love the unlimited instant viewing!

Covert7
Covert7
12 years ago

Dude, I didn’t know they had a DDR for the Wii!! Why the heck didn’t I know this? Little bit of exercise for the wife and me to enjoy!

Honestly though, have you enjoyed it or is it a “Meh” type game for you? I think it would be nice to get something like this to have fun and get a bit of exercise in. Kinda like Wii Boxing. You play that game a certain way and you will be sweating for sure!

TD
TD
12 years ago

If you get into running, http://www.runningahead.com is a great site to check out. Free logging software and forum for discussing running at all different levels. It is constantly improving and developer is active in the community.

TosaJen
TosaJen
12 years ago

I can get myself to do the boring inside exercise stuff only if I have a goal that I’m looking forward to: trail running! cross-country skiing! cycling! skating!

I also like to buy “toys” to make working out more tolerable and less boring. I do it the same way I buy all the other stuff, though — want it for a while, research it for a while, find it (or something cheaper that does the job well enough) at a good price, pounce! Toys are great, so long as you use them!

J.D.
J.D.
12 years ago

Dude, I didn’t know they had a DDR for the Wii!! Why the heck didn’t I know this? Little bit of exercise for the wife and me to enjoy! Honestly though, have you enjoyed it or is it a “Meh”-type game for you?

Heh. Kris and I love DDR-Wii. It’s a great way to unwind, and it’s also a great way to get some exercise. The funny thing is, you don’t even realize you’re exercising until you quit and you’re covered in sweat.

Tootie
Tootie
12 years ago

There’s always running! All you need is a pair of running shoes, and you can be on your way.

Good luck!

Covert7
Covert7
12 years ago

Ok thanks for the info JD. Gonna see if we can find enough spare change to pick up a copy. Thanks again!

Jeffeb3
Jeffeb3
12 years ago

WHa?!?! You can run without a treadmill?

I like your get fit lowly technique. Try to focus less on the gimmicks, and more on the way you feel after you exercise. Gym clothes, bags, memberships, fancy equipment, heart rate monitors, electronic logs, fancy bikes, they are all great, but what you really want, what you really need is to be in shape. The spending causes guilt, which causes low pride, which causes less exercise.

Jessica
Jessica
12 years ago

I found myself looking for a little more structure, and ended up finding great exercise and yoga class podcasts on iTunes for free. It’s great for spicing up my routine when I get bored.

Robert Nagle
Robert Nagle
12 years ago

One thing you forgot is exercise videos. Here’s a list of exercise videos I wrote reviews of.

You have minimum equipment requirements. Light weights, a step thingie, a big rubber ball. The vids cost less than $10. (I usually rent them first through Netflix and then buy used copies of whatever I want to keep). You have professional trainers and eye candy, plus, you can turn down the sound and catch up on podcasts!

Judy
Judy
12 years ago

Here is a great diet website that is free. Cut and paste http://www.sparkpeople.com/ . It has it all. Community, support networking customized diet programs, customized exercise programs, goal setting programs and charting for progress and success. AND ITS FREE. Now all I need is the willpower to log in everyday.

Daren R
Daren R
12 years ago

If you want a workout program with almost no cost (all you need is a place to do pullups) and very little time, check out simplefit.org. I’ve been on the program for several weeks and I’ve lost weight and put on muscle.

Stephanie
Stephanie
12 years ago

Aerobics DVDs are also much cheaper than taking a class, and if you find one you like and can stick to, you’re set for days when the weather isn’t conducive to outdoor exercise.

Atomic Bombshell
Atomic Bombshell
12 years ago

As I was reading the article I was thinking, “That Bianchi is radical! I hope he gets it fixed up and hits the tarmac!” and sure enough you did. Congratulations on getting out on the bike. I kid you not, cycling has changed my life. HAVE FUN!!!

Jeremy Hall
Jeremy Hall
12 years ago

I’d like to put in a good word for the simple exercises that don’t require any equipment at all. The old fashioned push-ups, sit-ups and walking do amazing things if you simply to them. Sure, they may not be as attractive as using some fancy equipment, but they do the job. Weights and other devices are great to take you to the “next level” of fitness, but most of us just need to get to that first level of fitness before we worry about anything else!

Jesse Englert
Jesse Englert
12 years ago

Checkout http://www.mycyclinglog.com to track your rides and distance. You can use it to set your 2000 miles goal and the site will graph your progress. Also, you can embed some of your training data in your blog so we can hold you accountable!

Daniel
Daniel
12 years ago

Congrats on getting in shape. I occasionally lurk over at gfs. 1st off, I hope you are also saving for Wii Fit. From everything I’ve heard and read, it’s awesome! 2nd, my wife and I visit http://www.crossfit.com it’s a great program that you can do on your own. We started out joining a crossfit gym (for about $240/month!!!) we got comfortable with the excercises and started following along online because they give you a free daily workout. It is awesome, and it’s what all the armed services do to get in shape.

Keep up the good work!

Holly
Holly
12 years ago

Don’t forget your public library! I get tons of different yoga videos and rotate them, to supplement my twice-weekly classes. So for my at-home practice, all I’ve had to pay for is my yoga mat, which was about $10.

Of course there are tons of other exercise videos at the library too!

Stephen
Stephen
12 years ago

I have an alumnus membership through my university gym at $400/year. I haven’t used it since I sprained my ankle last March. 🙂 Before that, I followed the workouts at http://www.crossfit.com. I like the variety, intensity, flexibility, and brevity of the workouts. In the forum and in articles, they have lots of information on low-cost home fitness and adapting workouts to your existing equipment and fitness level. It helped to have workout partners. Before trying that out, I read the articles at http://exrx.net. In particular, I was surprised to find that research (like http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8028502) supported the idea that shorter, more… Read more »

Jared
Jared
12 years ago

good for you! i like to see people cycling because it’s a great way to get around and exercise. i’m fortunate enough to live in seattle where the city, if not the weather, is pretty bike friendly. and it looks like you live in an area with a fair bit of scenic open road, which makes it all the easier to get out.

and remember, the more you look like a dork, the more likely cars are going to see you and not hit you 🙂

Chris
Chris
12 years ago

Good post JD.

Since the new year started, I’ve been biking regularly on our home exercise bike (3-5 times/week) and getting out of the house on real bike rides and snowshoeing in the Sierras when I can. In terms of strength training, I mostly just do push ups and situps and the occasional pull up. We also have a few resistance bands, and they work okay for arm and shoulder exercises. We don’t have alot of space, so these things seem to work okay for me.

greenfamily
greenfamily
12 years ago

Wow, I came here to post a comment on some additional fitness ideas, and so far almost every one of them has already been covered! What a thorough and committed group of readers you’ve got here! One thing I would like to add, however, is partner DANCE. If you want to burn calories and learn an amazing skill that really makes you feel good about yourself (and wooing your wife or dazzling your husband), check out your local papers and dance studios for group classes (swing, salsa, ballroom, whatever!). If you buy a set of classes (such as 8 weeks)… Read more »

Cara
Cara
12 years ago

Fitness is one area of my life where I spend more money than perhaps I should. I simply cannot push myself hard enough when I work out at home, so the monetary savings of a home gym are not worth the physical “losses.” I have been going to a boxing gym for almost eight years now, for boxing fitness classes. I do that 3-5 times per week; unfortunately, the gym has classes only, it’s not a full gym. I also take a conditioning/yoga class 3 days a week, at a yoga studio; again, they offer classes only. Now I’m considering… Read more »

Fox Cutter
Fox Cutter
12 years ago

Do you have a hand held GPS unit? If so you can add Geocaching (http://www.geocaching.com/) to your list of activities. It’s free, fun and outdoors. I’ve been doing it for years and it’s been a lot of fun. I’ve found caches out in the woods and in parks I never even knew existed. There are a lot of puzzle caches as well. If you don’t have a GPS you can still use Googel maps to find the general location you are looking for, though that’s better for urban caches. Though, in my oppinion, if you’re going hiking in the woods… Read more »

Mike
Mike
12 years ago

Crossfit.com has many different exercises that require little or no equipment.

Troy
Troy
12 years ago

My research and experience have led me to believe that weight training is the MOST important piece of the puzzle for long term fitness. As a previous poster pointed out, 1 lb of muscle will burn 30-40 calories per day just to maintain itself. If burned calories are income then this is passive income. You have to continue to weight train to keep from losing it, but it is working for you 24 hours per day.

Frugal Dad
Frugal Dad
12 years ago

It sounds like you are doing exactly the right things, and I’m inspired by your progress. I’ve become a real lard butt this winter. I had shoulder surgery last year and I’ve basically sat around feeling sorry for myself and gaining weight. I’m hopeful the spring weather will jolt my vibes and get me back outdoors and moving.

Aaron Pinkston
Aaron Pinkston
12 years ago

You look fine on the bike. I heard once there was an inverse relationship between your distance from a bike and how cool you look in gear.

I like bodyweight exercises and running (plus its cheap), but whatever works for you.

Sam
Sam
12 years ago

I signed up for a 6 mo. gym membership (to get ready for our wedding) at the same gym my husband uses. I’m not a gym person so I paid more per month for a shorter membership and I paid for the membership up front and in cash (did not give any access to my bank account or credit card for monthly billing). I did use the gym to prepare to get in shape prior to our wedding but stopped using it shortly after the big day and let my membership lapse. If you are going to go with a… Read more »

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