Fitness On The Cheap - Working Out At Home

fitness on the cheap working out at home

david leonhardtToday's post was contributed by David Leonhardt. When not exercising, David Leonhardt is often writing. He runs a ghost writing service for blogs, books, press releases and almost everything except pet autobiographies (pets don’t have much money to pay for ghost writing). Please give David a warm welcome, enjoy, and please share his post. Thanks very much David!

Getting fit doesn’t have to be expensive.  Yes, gym memberships and ski season passes, along with all the clothes, equipment and consumables that go along with them, can add up.

But fitness doesn’t have to involve outings.  You can get fit right at home, and you can do so with minimal equipment. 

Work-out Clothing

Perhaps the biggest savings is on clothing.  When you exercise out of the home, you will feel obliged to wear fancy clothes, whether it is the ski suit on the slopes or the workout clothes for the gym. 

Out in public, people tend to be very image-conscious, which is not helpful to one’s wallet.  When you work out at home, you can sweat up an old t-shirt and old shorts or sweat pants.  Unless you are a model in an ad for some diet program, you don’t need to look fancy exercising at home.

Work-out Equipment

One of the biggest myths about working out at home is that you need some kind of fancy equipment.  Like an elliptical or a stationary bike or such.  Without one of these machines, surely there is no way to keep a steady exercise routine, right?

Wrong.  For a complete workout, some equipment is necessary.  Ironically, this is mostly true for upper body work-outs, whereas these machines tend to focus on lower body workouts.  I will get to this later.

The corollary to this, which is another of the biggest myths I have heard, is that if you do get a treadmill or a stationary bike, you will keep to a solid exercise routine.  I have known far too many people who have spent the big bucks for one of these fancy machines, only to discover how efficient they are at gathering dust.

What really determines whether you will work out is the extent to which your will and determination to be fit wins out or loses to your inclination to be lazy.  That is all.  Fancy machines are nice, but nine times out of ten they will have no effect on whether you exercise or not.

So if you want to work out on the cheap – at home – here are a few ideas.


Try stretching.  I don’t mean as a prelude to something else, but stretch for the sake of stretching.  Do some research on the best stretches, but invest at least ten minutes every morning in stretching.  This will kick-start your metabolism for the day and make you more limber (and more likely to move) for the day.

Best of all stretching is something that suits all ages and pretty much any physical condition.  And if you keep stretching, you can become more flexible over time.  My girls, who have been dancing for years, are always amazed that this 50-year-old man can do the “Y”, when many of the pre-teen girls in their dance classes struggle with it.

working out at home

Work the Legs

Legs are the easiest to work out for free.  Lunges take no equipment.  Stepping up and down on the bottom stair takes no equipment.  Jogging on the spot takes no equipment.  Going for a walk takes no equipment. 

Buying a trampoline…well, OK – that costs $1000 or so (but with two kids, it was worth the investment). 

Lying on your back and cycling in the air while you watch TV takes no equipment.  Only the TV, which is optional.

Free weights

The best upper body workouts are with free weights, such as dumbbells.  Unlike exercise machines, your muscles have to work not just to lift the weights and control the speed and force on the way down, but also have to maintain balance and trajectory.  This forces more muscles to work. 

If you work your way up to 30-pound or 35-pound weights, you might fork out $200-$300 on weights, but these will last easily for a decade.  Honestly, I get a great workout using 10-25 pound weights.

But weight!  (Yes, I spelled it that way on purpose.) You can get free weights for free.  Go to the grocery store and find laundry detergent bottles of various sizes.  These make great weights.  And you use the consumables inside, so there is no net cost to you.  Just make sure the bottles have easy to hold handles.

About five years ago, I bought one additional piece of equipment that cost me just over $100, if memory serves me right.  A simple bench.  There are a few free weight routines I frequently do on this bench.

Chin up, everybody

I installed a heavy chin-up bar in the doorway to the basement.  I understand a lot of people don’t like doing chin-ups because they find them very hard.  I have found the challenge very motivational and adds variety to my work-outs. 

The bar won’t cost too much, but you will want to invest in sponges.  Small dish-cleaning sponges without soap in them.  This prevents your hands from getting callused.  Typically a pair of sponges should last 10-20 chin-up sessions.

In addition to regular chin-ups, try turning your hands the other way when you grab the bar.  Much more challenging.

To work your core – and this is really tough – pull yourself up and hold the position, now slowly bring your legs up so they are parallel with the floor and hold them there.  Do this enough, and you’ll have six packs before long.

The bar can also be used with exercise bands, which are not very expensive, to do all sorts of pull-down arm exercises.

A Few More Ideas

Push-ups. Do I have to tell you that push-ups are free?  For extra challenge, place your feet on the bottom stair or a stool.

Sit-ups.  Ditto.

Chair-ups.  Take two chairs and hold yourself up with one hand on each seat.  Lower yourself between them, and then push back up.  Very tough, very good.

More legs.  If you have an exercise band, stand on one leg and move the other sideways up away from you.  This works best if the two legs are attached with a stretchy exercise band, or if the leg you are lifting has a weight attached.

Yoga.  I know nothing about yoga, but it is free.  Buy a mat if you must.

Pilates. Again, I know nothing about Pilates, but you don’t need fancy equipment.

I don’t even want to guess how many free or low-cost ways I am unaware of to exercise at home.


    • Glen @ Monster Piggy Bank

      Glen @ Monster Piggy Bank 02/13/2013 6:23 a.m. #

      I find that you can do most workouts at home rather than paying a heap of money for a gym membership.
      The only downside to doing it at home is that I tend to lack motivation as there are plenty of more interesting things to do.

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 02/13/2013 10:34 a.m. #

        I can always find something more interesting to do :-)

      • David Leonhardt

        David Leonhardt 02/14/2013 9:03 a.m. #

        Yes, indeed. There is plenty more interesting to do at home. Which is why it is worth doing something more interesting while working out. Like watching TV or listening to music. I find I get bored twice as soon when I don't play music. I put on stuff that motivates me. All Fired Up. The Kid Is Hot Tonight. How Do You Do? Her Daddy's Money. I knew The Bride. Et c'est Pas Fini. Macho Man (Don't laugh, it works!). We Built This City.

        Your list of music or shows or videos will be your own, but you get the idea, I'm sure.

    • pauline

      pauline 02/13/2013 6:39 a.m. #

      Great tip about stretching. I try to fit a little work out here and there, running up a flight of stairs or carrying a weight a bit longer than required, it is not a real workout (which I don't like) but still something that adds up.

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 02/13/2013 10:35 a.m. #

        Isn't your swimming a great workout?

      • David Leonhardt

        David Leonhardt 02/13/2013 10:45 a.m. #

        Interesting thing about stretching - if you have weak knees, a good stretching session twice a day can strengthen the muscles around the knees as well as lunges and knee crunches. I don't worry about missing a week of knee crunches anymore (my knees used to really hurt is I did) since I got incredibly regular with my stretching routine.

    • AverageJoe

      AverageJoe 02/13/2013 7:47 a.m. #

      Great tips. I have to remind myself to get up and work out during the day. It's amazing how much energy that gives me, especially during that afternoon blah period. There's a joke, too, that long distance runners don't stretch. It's WAY true, unfortunately. I can't remember the last time I stretched.

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 02/13/2013 10:38 a.m. #

        It is important to take some time out to do some sort of physical activity during the day, but making the time is probably the hardest part.

    • John S @ Frugal Rules

      John S @ Frugal Rules 02/13/2013 8:42 a.m. #

      These are some great tips David! My wife likes to use milk jugs filled with water for free weights and has done so for quite some time. Like you said, there are a bunch of ways you can work out at home on the cheap, you just have to think a little creatively.

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 02/13/2013 10:39 a.m. #

        Yes, milk jugs filled with water is a great way to do free weights.

      • David Leonhardt

        David Leonhardt 02/14/2013 9:04 a.m. #

        Bravo for her!

    • Corina Ramos

      Corina Ramos 02/13/2013 9:44 a.m. #

      Hello David :)

      Great post! I definitely prefer working out at home. I feel I have to lose weight before joining a gym and you're right, my wallet would definitely take a punch because I'm not about to go to a gym with nothing new to wear, LOL!

      All kidding aside, not only does it save you money but when you work out at home you can be more comfortable trying exercises or yoga positions that might not look so good if you did them in public :) I try to do yoga and there are some moves I wouldn't do in public let me tell you!

      Thanks for these suggestions! Hope you're having a great day!

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 02/13/2013 10:40 a.m. #

        As soon as I read your part about yoga I thought of the "downward dog". Not something you want to do in public, although many gals do.

    • Karyn S

      Karyn S 02/13/2013 10:17 a.m. #

      At the same time going to the gym to do your workout can sometimes motivate you to go harder and do better. Clothing I don't care for I put on old clothing when working out.

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 02/13/2013 10:41 a.m. #

        Alot less distractions at the gym than at home too.

    • krantcents

      krantcents 02/13/2013 10:44 a.m. #

      I set up a home gym with weight cage, bench, free weights, dumb bells and treadmill for less than $500 roughly 14 years ago. I also use a bicycle for aerobic activity.

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 02/13/2013 1:57 p.m. #

        I suppose even today a person could do that by looking online for deals on places such as Kijiji.

    • Grayson @ Debt Roundup

      Grayson @ Debt Roundup 02/13/2013 11:29 a.m. #

      I used to have a weight bench in my house, but gave it to a friend and just went with free weights and a pull up bar. I can do many different types of workouts in my room just by using these items and my own body weight.

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 02/13/2013 1:58 p.m. #

        Sounds like a good setup Grayson!

    • Shannon @ The Heavy Purse

      Shannon @ The Heavy Purse 02/13/2013 11:34 a.m. #

      Some great tips! I love to exercise. My assistant used to joke that she could tell when I didn't get my morning exercise! I admit that don't do much at home. I take classes - boot camp, pilates, etc. I enjoy the group camaraderie and being pushed harder. But I know that's not for everyone! You can absolutely get a fantastic workout in your home. The most important thing to me is to get my body moving whether at a gym or at home.

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 02/13/2013 2 p.m. #

        The group support and motivation is important, for sure. Plus, as you get to know people, you actually look forward to going back because it gives you a chance to make new friends and catch up with what's going on with everyone.

    • canadianbudgetbinder

      canadianbudgetbinder 02/13/2013 1:33 p.m. #

      I have a gym set up at home and I do all sorts outside all year long. It doesn't have to cost alot to get fit, one just has to get up, get out and get doing it! great post

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 02/13/2013 2:03 p.m. #

        I remember you mentioning last year that you enjoy going for a run, which again, of course is free.

        Many years ago I had a gym membership and I used it 3 times a week, but I found that just going for 90 minute walks, plus doing some stairs in the park worked wonders, and yes, it was free and a good way to enjoy the outdoors.

    • Justin@TheFrugalPath

      Justin@TheFrugalPath 02/13/2013 5:37 p.m. #

      I'm a big fan of exercising at home. Spending money to run on a treadmill or ride a bicycle at a gym doesn't make sense to me. Give me sit-ups, pushups and jogging around my neighborhood anyday.

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 02/13/2013 8:56 p.m. #

        It can be a lot easier to work out at home, especially if you are self-motivated. My husband tries to remember to do push ups everyday too.

    • Laurie

      Laurie 02/14/2013 5:45 a.m. #

      Love this post! Our old farmhouse is much too small to house fitness equipment, so we do all of our indoor exercising using the types of exercises David talks about. And I have to say that stretching has been a huge health benefit for me. It really is a great way to keep in shape.

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 02/16/2013 12:09 p.m. #

        Stretching does make a big difference to a person's overall health. I find doing it first thing in the morning helps because my muscles seem to tighten up even from sleeping.

    • Marie at Family Money

      Marie at Family Money 02/14/2013 1:29 p.m. #

      I've exercised at home in the morning pretty much every day since around 1984. Back then, I could sneak in a half hour or 45 minutes of aerobics and weight training using vinyl records! Later I moved on up to video tapes and now use DVDs. I have 3 sets of weights 1, 5, and 10 pounds; a step and a yoga mat. I get my routines for gifts or at garage sales - just because it isn't the latest and greatest doesn't mean you can't get a good workout!

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 02/16/2013 12:11 p.m. #

        Tapes and DVDs have made it so much easier to work out at home yet follow a routine and not feel completely alone. Great to hear that you have kept it up for so many years Marie!

    • KK @ Student Debt Survivor

      KK @ Student Debt Survivor 02/16/2013 10:32 a.m. #

      I actually sort of prefer to work out at home. I don't like going to the gym and would rather jog on my own or do dvds at home. Much cheaper and more effective (because I'll actually do it) then buying fancy equipment or a gym membership.

      • Sicorra

        Sicorra 02/16/2013 12:12 p.m. #

        Going jogging or going for a good walk\hike is a great, free way to get your exercise.

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