Frugal Fitness: 6 Best Places to Work Out On a Budget

I did not realize how good I had it as an undergrad until I attempted to sign up for my first post-college expense…a gym membership.  In a big city that is obsessed with being physically fit,  I felt a pressure to join a gym, believing it was a rite of passage into adulthood. Excited to thrust myself into this new chapter of my life, I agreed to take a tour of a big box gym in the city.

Best Places to Work Out on a Budget

Little did I know that I would have to shell out a lot more money than expected to pay for the hidden fees associated with membership. Here is the breakdown of what I would have owed for my first year of membership:

  • One time initiation fee: $50
  • Annual lock fee: $30
  • Monthly locker room fee: $5
  • Monthly membership fee: $50
  • Grand total: $740

The salesman dragged on and on with his rehearsed speech about the “great” deal I was getting, but once I realized how expensive it actually was I walked out and I have never looked back. I decided to get a little creative with my fitness and it turns out that there are a lot of frugal ways to stay in shape, vary your workout routine, and meet some great people. Here are some of my favorite places to work out on a budget.

The Great Outdoors

Going out for a hike is a great way to burn some calories on the cheap. The fresh air and sunlight is great for the body and especially the skin (but don’t forget your sunscreen).  Just remember when you’re in nature to bring a compass (there’s an app for that don’t worry) so you can find your way back to the entrance.

The great thing about nature is that it’s all around us and a lot of local parks have paved paths that measure the distance and map out a loop at the front of the entrance.  I know that hitting one of these paths after work ensures I hit my daily activity tracker goals!

Running Clubs

Stop by your local athletic store and ask about running clubs.  You will be surprised to find most of them have informal running groups that meet at least once a week (sometimes even more).  Since they provide these clubs free of charge, they will likely ask you for some sort of a donation, like an old pair of running shoes.

The clubs tend to choose previously mapped out trails and neighborhoods to keep runners safe since they generally meet early in the morning or late at night.  I learned so much about my neighborhood exploring it with the club and even found a new cafe we all visit afterwards!

Fitness Clubs With Free Trial Periods

Almost all gyms and boutique fitness clubs have a free trial period, which is a great way to test out the facilities and the vibe. Use this to your advantage and  try out as many different places as you like. Usually you will have to listen to a five minute sales pitch before being allowed to try out a class or the gym, but after that you’re free to explore.

If you do fall in love with a specific class or facility and you feel the expense is worth it someone will be happy to sign you up. If variety is important to you, register for a classpass which allows you the  flexibility to mix and match workout routines by giving you access to several fitness studios.  I am a huge fan of this. I like to do a cycling class on Mondays, crossfit class on Tuesday, and run on the track on Thursday. If you want to keep exploring your options check out places like Groupon for deals.

Community Centers

We all pay taxes (hopefully) and some of that money goes to funding local projects like outdoor basketball courts or public swimming pools. Check online for local community centers to see what amenities they have such as a weight room, pool or track.

This is a great way to meet people in your neighborhood and learn more about community based activities.  My local community center has a free pickup basketball league and offers judo classes on Wednesday and Friday. KAPOW!

Your Own Home Gym

If you’re an on-the-go person and don’t think you have time to make it to a class then a good alternative is to set up your own gym.  Purchasing used or discounted gym equipment online is a great way to set up an inexpensive home gym. I was able to purchase 200 pounds of weights for what just one dumbbell would have cost at my local fitness store. Now that you have a gym it’s really important to have a plan and stick with it so your new weights don’t turn into door stands.

Public Swimming Places

If you live near a body of water there is nothing more exciting than swimming outside.  Just check the signs for sea creatures (especially sharks) and make sure it’s not near a waste dump (learn from my mistake).  A few essential pieces of equipment to bring are  goggles, swim cap and a wet suit.  These accessories can keep you warm but also burn a hole in your wallet so keep an eye out for online deals for these types of products.

Final Frugal Thought

Physical fitness should be fun and once you find something you enjoy it stops becoming work. If a formal fitness routine is not your style, then you might try finding some great deals on sporting goods and start your own rec team.

Take some time to explore all these recommendations to see what you like and incorporate them into your frugal fitness routine. Now go ahead and have that extra dessert!

Author: Ben

Ben joined BLINQ in late 2013. Originally from the windy city of Chicago he has quickly made DC his new home. If you’re looking for a great outdoor activity that won’t break the bank he’s a pro at finding deals. When he is not biking around local neighborhoods you can find him in the kitchen whipping up a healthy meal!

13 thoughts on “Frugal Fitness: 6 Best Places to Work Out On a Budget

  1. AvatarLinda Manns Linneman

    Going to a gym can be very expensive. I really appreciate you sharing your ideas

  2. AvatarAmber Ludwig

    THE GREAT OUTDOORS!!! YES!! We should all appreciate this gorgeous world and use it!! I love hiking and running on hiking trails for a workout! So fun and so peaceful!

  3. AvatarJo-Ann Brightman

    These are all good tips for less expensive ways to stay in shape.

  4. AvatarDianna Davis

    Great tips! I use our local football field except on Fridays ans Saturdays when there is to much practice going on for the kids. everything is there — Thanks for your ideas!

  5. AvatarSarh S

    All great tips! I have never paid for a gym membership, there is just no way! I take many walks per week with my kids and last year we were walking about 10 miles/week (my two youngest were in the stroller) and I felt amazing!

  6. AvatarKaty

    Although the trappings of the gym nearest to us (saunas, lovely pools and social events) draw my attention a few times a year, we’ve saved tons of money by working out at our park, community center and using the hills and trails outside! One tip I have is that our neighborhood has a workout room, pools and tennis courts. We rent here, but the homeowners fees pay for upkeep. We love the pools and tennis courts and when the weather is bad or we want to use weights or machines the workout room is perfect!

  7. AvatarCharlotte

    Don’t forget about November Project! It’s a great (free) organization operating in most big cities that works well for early-risers.

  8. AvatarCheryl Rahkonen

    I also checked out a gym and it is expensive. Also, I had to add the price of gas to go to the gym. It is 30 miles round trip and even if I only went 3 days a week it adds $20 a week to the price. I opted to buy a treadmill and some exercise equipment and I exercise at home.


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