Gyms & Classes Are Expensive. These Workout Hacks Aren’t

A person holds a yoga pose on a blue mat overlooking a lake. Working out consistently doesn't have to be expensive.

Finding ways to work out for free or even on the cheap might seem intimidating, especially when so much of fitness culture seems tied to buying memberships, cool clothes, or personal training sessions. Sometimes, that expensive #fitlife might seem to define fitness. But it doesn't have to. These nine free workout hacks can help you exercise effectively on a budget.

There are a lot of reasons why people do spend money on gym memberships, of course. Access to equipment is one reason, and finding some semblance of community is another. It can be super difficult to gather up the motivation to bang out some burpees in your living room when you might feel isolated from the kind of fitness atmosphere and accountability that can come with working out at a gym. There are still ways, though, to get that sense of community, accountability, and even personalized exercise attention without spending any money.

While there is a lot of workout equipment you can get on the (relative) cheap, sometimes even a somewhat inexpensive gym membership is too much to pay for. It's important to remember there's no rule that says that fitness is built solely in gyms, and you can definitely be as creative and playful as you want in creating a consistent workout plan that works for you.

Working out in a fun and engaging way shouldn't be something that you can only access if you've got extra cash to spend. Whether you already love working out and are looking for more ways to get your sweat on, or if you're relatively new to exercise, you can access so many benefits of gymming without a financial investment. With these nine ideas, you won't even have to wait for your next paycheck to get going.


Grab A Friend


One of my favorite things to do with my best friend is just walk and walk, for miles and miles. It doesn't matter where we're going (though we do have a set of bookstores we'll inevitably wind up at at some point). She's not the fitness type at all, but our hours of strolling through Manhattan together is definitely something that gets your muscles moving. The cool part is that it never feels like we were working out, just like we are spending time together.

This sense of togetherness can be extra helpful for working out, according to a 2019 study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. The study found that working out with a coach or a buddy can help increase the mental health benefits of your workout. So grabbing a partner can help start you off on a great fitness routine.


Use Your Bodyweight

You don't need a gym or any fancy equipment to make sure you're getting in all the physical activity you want. Don't worry, though, if you hear "bodyweight exercises" and think about pushups and burpees. There are tons of great bodyweight workouts that require nothing but you and your own creativity. You can combine anything from planks to lunges, jumping jacks to bodyweight squats, to create an equipment-free workout, whether you're in or out of a gym.

The most amazing thing about working out with nothing but your own bodyweight is that you control all the variables, so you can make sure the movement fits what your body needs right now. For example, if you want to try some pushups, but aren't at that level yet, no problem! Bracing your hands on an inclined surface (like a wall or the edge of your couch) can go a long way towards building pushup strength and being part of a great workout.


Head To YouTube

If you want to work out for free but aren't sure what kind of movements you should be doing, YouTube is a great place to find free fitness guide and workout videos that will guide you through a whole array of different exercise styles. And remember that there's never any right way to do YouTube fitness. If you're having fun with a particular kickboxing video, for example, but you need a breather, no problem: pause it, drink, breathe, and press play again only when you want. And if you started a HIIT video but turns out it's not for you, that's OK: on to the next one!


Get To The Park

Whether it's running trails or a basketball court that you're looking for, parks are often loaded with ways for you to get in a free workout. Want to try your hand at pull-ups? Head to the monkey bars on off-hours when the kiddos won't be playing, and you've got yourself a solid session. (Even if you can't do a pull-up, just practicing hanging from the bars is both good fun and excellent for your grip strength and shoulder stability.) Some parks even have free equipment that works like analog versions of an elliptical, or a series of benches set up for core work like decline leg lifts.

The community aspect of park workouts can be lovely, too. Developing a jogging practice around the same time every day, for example, can give you a great way to nod pleasant hellos at fellow runners without actually having to fully interact. Which is perfect if you're me and looking for both free and free-from-required-interaction workouts.


Take A Hike

Joshua Resnick_Shutterstock

Sometimes, a park is just a park (and just parks are great!). But sometimes, you might find yourself hankering for a park complete with hiking trails. And you can define "hike" however you want to. It doesn't have to be a difficult terrain or get into super high elevation for your hike to be a valid way to get your exercise in. Be aware that sometimes, parking at trailheads can cost money, but there are usually side roads nearby that you can legally park at for no cost. Bring water and your love for the outdoors, and you've got yourself not just a workout, but a beautiful experience.



Volunteering might seem like an odd way to get a workout in, but if you've ever given a few hours of your time to take care of the children of parents who come to Pride, then you'll know that certain kinds of volunteering can require quite a bit of movement. Maybe it's volunteering at your local botanical garden, or giving walking tours of a nearby history museum. Whatever it is, don't knock volunteering as a great way to get your body moving.


Use Free Trials To Figure Out The Best Use Of Your Money

When my friend moved to a new city with no job, he had a brilliant idea: until he could save up enough to justify spending any money on a gym membership, he sampled all the gyms in the area for free. Some gyms only had three-day free memberships, while others had up to 10 or 14 free days before you have to commit to anything financially. This let him figure out exactly what he wanted in a gym environment before committing, which is what the trial is for, after all. Some gyms might even offer a complimentary personal training session as part of a free trial, which you can use as time to ask your trainer questions (“What’s the benefit of this specific exercise?” or “Why is this number of reps helpful to my goals?”) that can enhance your at-home workouts.

You can do this lots of places if you're not ready (financially or otherwise) to commit to one gym or class yet. It's not uncommon to find a spin class with a $40 per class price tag in any major city, but some of these places will very often offer a free intro class or two.

Of course, you want to use this hack in moderation and in good faith. As a personal trainer, I know that when potential clients do this repeatedly, it eats into my paycheck. But if you're upfront with me as your trainer about wanting to learn a lot but not buy, then I'm more likely to consider it time well spent. Even if you're not able or willing to actually join a gym any time soon, getting into a fitness space can be a wonderful way to learn something new and recharge your desire to get exercising.


If your budget is too tight to justify paying to work out, there are plenty of ways to make fitness and general physical activity a more accessible option for your wallet. These strategies can add a lot of creativity and fun to your workout routine, which you can definitely rock out without paying a dime.