Save money AND stay healthy – 7 cheap ways to get fit this year

Man and woman exercising to keep fit

It’s possible after the excess of Christmas that the bank balance may look a little worrisome. It’s also possible that you may be thinking about getting back into shape. So why not address both with my little guide to getting fit this year for free, or at least on the cheap:

1. Workout at home using YouTube

So long as you are comfortable jumping around like a lunatic in your living room / garage / basement, you should definitely consider using a free workout video on YouTube.

This being YouTube, there is a lot of content out there and little editorial guidance. Typing “fitness video” in to the search bar will yield some good results for sure, but you will need to sift through many 2 minute “hot tips for fat loss”, meal planners and similar useless clips, when all you want is someone to tell you WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR BODY FOR 20 MINUTES.

No, no, no, no, NO!

This is where my video reviews section steps in to showcase the best content and none of the dross. It’s at a relatively early stage so I have prioritised my favourites and I will continue to update it as often as I can. A great place to start is Fitness Blender, with hundreds of free workouts to choose from.

If you have limited or no equipment, look out for “bodyweight only” workouts. You will get more out of your exercise session with a little equipment however, so check out the garage gym blog post for some ideas (don’t go and buy all the stuff, just have a think about what gives you the biggest bang for your buck).

2. Create your own workout routine

If the idea of a workout video feels too restrictive, try creating your own. Or, better still do a randomly generated workout.

Random numbers. Better than the latest Davina Maccall DVD.

HIIT cards are a great way to mix up your exercise. The premise is simple: turn over a card, and do the exercise featured. If you really, really want Amazon to take your money, you can pay for similar cards such as these. For those wishing to dip their toes, I’ve created a free set of cards on the website if you subscribe the email list. All you need is a printer and a pair of scissors. If subscribing isn’t really your thing, you can always grab the free swag and unsubscribe straight away. I might sulk for a few days, but I will get over it eventually.

Free HIIT cards
Print, cut, sweat.

If you are serious about getting back into shape, you could do worse than enlisting a couple of sessions from a local personal trainer. Yes it costs money, but it can pay dividends in the future. Ask them to create a workout specifically for your needs. Write it down and stick it on your wall.

3. Go for a run

Almost anyone can go outdoors for a run. So what stops people? Motivation.

For the newbie, the NHS’s Couch to 5k app and podcast series is a good place to start. If you run more regularly, try outrunning zombies with the popular Zombies, Run! app. Since most exercise is 99% motivation, try the best motivation of all and run as part of a group. Parkrun is the obvious front runner here, and welcomes all ability levels.

You could even combine Zombies, Run! with Parkrun and pretend your fellow runners are a plague of the undead. After the Christmas period is over this won’t be difficult to imagine with some of the recently inebriated participants.

Shrewsbury Parkrun, 9am Saturday.

4. Use your phone

It turns out there is something slightly stranger than working out in front of a TV screen, and that is working out in front of a smartphone screen.

A great place to start is one of the many 7 minute workout apps. Based on an article from a health and fitness journal, you do 12 exercises in a 7 minute period at a high intensity. If you are just starting out on your fitness journey, it is a very good option as it won’t take much time out of your schedule.

There are plenty of freemium / premium subscription services such as Zova , Sworkit , Sweat and Aaptiv that will happily take your money every month in exchange for access to workout videos and programs. Most will offer a free trial period to entice you, so it is worth shopping around to see what is right for you.

If you want to take it to the next level and can tolerate a certain level of mortal peril, you could try out a Crossfit-style workout of the day (WOD) app such as WOD Deck Of Cards or Trifecta.

See the App Reviews section for more.

5. Outdoor gyms

There was a time when going to the park meant jumpers for goalposts, running away from feral dogs and finding funny water balloons on the floor.

Now it means all that and do much more, with many local authorities installing outdoor gym equipment near playgrounds for the grown ups to play on.

Outdoor park gym
Child not included.

Outdoor gyms are popping up all over the place, yet it is common to see them unused. One reason may be that some of the apparatus look distinctly weird or downright useless. There are, however, a few hacks you can follow that will make a regular visit worthwhile, from changing your mindset to an rather unusual use for the lat pulldown machine. I’ve assembled a guide to taking your outdoor gym workout to the next level in this blog post.

6. Cycle to work / school

The ultimate expression of frugal fitness, cycling to work is not new but many still eschew it for the bus / car / taxi.

If he can do it, so can you.

The benefits of cycling to are well documented, from the obvious financial savings, to those that are harder to quantify, such as the effect on your mood and ability to focus. One of my favourite recommended blogs on the subject is “Get Rich With…Bikes” from Mr Money Moustache.

I know a number of people who would like to cycle more, but don’t feel confident enough to do so. The three most common barriers I hear are: a) it’s dark in winter; b) it’s too cold in winter and c) I don’t feel safe on the roads. I will attempt to address each of these in turn.

To combat the darkness, I would recommend using a high powered front light, rather than a piddly LED. The upfront cost is higher, but they tend to be more robust; you are more likely to look after them; plus they will ACTUALLY LIGHT YOUR WAY, highlighting potholes and other obstacles rather than simply alert other road users to your presence. You may also feel more inclined to recharge a USB light (e.g. using your laptop / PC / socket) than you would be to change the fiddly sodding battery in an LED light. The potential benefit of this, i.e. your personal safety, is incalculable.

If cycling in the cold winter months is a little off-putting, try wearing a skullcap underneath your helmet. This has revolutionised my winter commute and transformed me into an all-weather cycling badass, albeit of the delicate office worker variety. The one I use is by SealSkinz, which is one of my favourite purchases of all time, since it has effectively paid for itself. Put simply, without it I would have taken more expensive transport options. Look out for ones with little holes next to the ear so that you don’t accidentally block out the traffic noise.

The only way to increase confidence on the roads is practice. When I first commuted using my bike (10 miles from Islington to Canary Wharf), I did a practise run at the weekend. Not only did this boost my confidence, I learned a few quieter routes and found cycle lanes I didn’t realise existed.

7. Create and practise new habits

The best…actually only…New Year’s resolution we have ever kept in our household is to bring our own lunch to work. That was 3 years ago, and somehow it has stuck with us, saving a whopping £2,000 per year (and that is a conservative estimate). It’s difficult to pinpoint how this habit persisted where others fell, but perhaps having 2 people commit to the same goal kept us honest. That, and the crippling cost of sushi in London (£7.99 for some raw fish, anyone?).

Stop! My bank balance can’t take it any more.

Take the stairs. Nothing says dedication more than arriving at an important meeting a panting sweaty mess. Mrs SF has reported much success removing heels and walking up the corporate stairwell in tights.

You don’t need to hit the gym full pelt from day one. I recently heard a case of someone who started going to the gym for just 5 MINUTES every day, with the sole intention to ingrain the habit rather than get fit from day one and and built it up from there*.

Links and further reading:

Fitness Blender: https://www.fitnessblender.com/

Stack 52 Interval Workout Game: https://amzn.to/2H4QF8V

Parkrun: https://www.parkrun.com/ and http://www.parkrun.org.uk/

ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal: https://journals.lww.com/acsm-healthfitness/Fulltext/2013/05000/HIGH_INTENSITY_CIRCUIT_TRAINING_USING_BODY_WEIGHT_.5.aspx

*Listen to the Mad Fientist podcast interview with James Clear:
https://pca.st/episode/db419c66-2d83-466b-bfdb-22f7d622e910

Get Rich With…Bikes: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2011/04/18/get-rich-with-bikes/

SealSkinz Windproof Skull Cap: https://amzn.to/2VE9cMq

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