How to Get in Shape on a Budget

Fitness is one of those areas where you can spend literally as much money as you have. There are gyms that cost $10 a month, and there are gyms—sorry, boutique fitness studios— that will cost you $50 or more per workout . There is a similar wide range of open prices for clothing, apps, home equipment, and everything else. So where can you save money without sacrificing a good workout? Almost everywhere, it turns out.

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How to save money on sportswear

You can work out in the best technical wicking fabrics and/or distressed leggings, or you can work out in torn old sweatpants. Your lungs and muscles don’t know the difference.

There are a few elements and features that might be worth paying more for. One of them is a sports bra: if you have breasts and plan to do high-impact exercises (running and jumping), choosing a bra is very important. Truly supportive plus size bras tend to be expensive. But if you’re just starting to exercise and buying a bra puts you off, then any regular, comfortable bra is usually good enough for low-impact activities like cycling and weight lifting.

When it comes to shirts and shorts, cheap items are fine if they are comfortable for you. Some people hate the feel of sweaty cotton, so if that’s you, you can shell out for moisture-wicking fabrics, although you can buy off-brand items for quite a bit. If you don’t care about the fabric, you can just wear whatever t-shirts you already have. Pro tip: I buy black tank tops from the men’s section of Target ($4 each) and they are my most comfortable workout tops.

Leggings and compression shorts are another area where you can get better quality by paying more, but that doesn’t mean you can’t bargain. Mid-range brands like GRRL and Senita make quality pieces that are durable and don’t see through, but I’ve also heard great things about Amazon’s cheap leggings. (A good place to find recommendations on the latter and find sales on the former: r/xxfitness Style Style Saturday Themes .)

How to save money on running shoes

There is a wide range of footwear suitable for exercise, depending on the type of exercise you are doing. That is if you need shoes at all.

For yoga, barre, Pilates, some types of kettlebell and “functional” training, shoes are not needed at all. Socks with a grippy bottom are recommended for barre activities, but you can get by with regular socks. And others in this category are often done barefoot. (Check with the gym to see if shoes are required or recommended.)

For running, it is important that your shoes are comfortable while you run. Yes, sneakers can be insanely expensive, and they wear out so quickly that they’re almost disposable . But a cheap pair of sneakers is a good place to start, and some shoes last a lot longer than you’d expect. (In my experience, pricier shoes tend to be made with fancy foam that wears out faster, making budget shoes an even better choice than the price might suggest.)

For weight lifting and general fitness, flat shoes like Converse or Vans (or their equivalents from other brands) are suitable, which are versatile and cheap. Again, you may already have a pair.

High heel weightlifting shoes are another type of shoe that is way more expensive than it has a right to be. On the other hand, you don’t need them (you can wear flat shoes and squat with heel plates), and if you buy a pair, they will last a long time.

How to save money on a gym membership

It’s annoying as hell to go shopping for gym memberships. Some gyms don’t tell you the price in advance; others will, but then it turns out there are hidden fees, or you’ll have to upgrade to a higher level to get the “perks” that seem to be part of the basic membership.

But yes, the cheap gyms are worth it. We have a message about the compromises you make when you join one of these gyms with a $10 or $15 monthly membership. Basically, you won’t usually have access to a barbell, so your dreams of being a competitive weightlifter or powerlifter will have to be put on hold. But if you just want to get strong and fit, you can do it with dumbbells and machines at Planet Fitness, Crunch, and the like.

For more options, consider expanding your search to community fitness centers . Your town may have a gym available for free or cheap to residents, and a nearby town may have one whose fee for non-residents is still a good deal.

How to save money on workout apps and gadgets

It’s almost a trick question. You don’t need any of this. You can run without a smartwatch . You can record your miles, weight lifted, and any other metrics you want to track on a paper notebook . You can remind yourself that it doesn’t really matter how many calories the fitness tracker thinks you’ve burned .

I used a bunch of different apps and gadgets, mainly because I tested them at work; and I still write everything down in a paper notebook and leave all my watches and trackers at home.

How to train for free

Should you buy home exercise equipment?

Some home gym items are definitely worth it on their own. Some fairly heavy weights will fill the gap that jogging and bodyweight exercises tend to leave. Several pairs of dumbbells or several kettlebells are a great idea. If you can scrape together the money for a squat rack, barbell, and kettlebells, you can do a lot with it.

But beware the temptation to build an entire home gym. I speak from experience: before the pandemic, I had a rusty barbell and several different weights. Now I have a squat rack and an embarrassing amount of kettlebells, and I can no longer park my car in the garage. I love all my heavy iron kids, but they don’t save money.

A home gym is a good option for those who are willing to work out with a limited amount of stuff — say, a few kettlebells — and who are confident they will be happy with it in the long run. Invest in a pair of adjustable competition kettlebells and maybe a spin bike and you’ll have all your fitness needs covered for a long time to come. Or at least until you start to wonder if it would n’t be nice to have a barbell too…


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