How to Work Out without a Gym Membership

One of the benefits I’m losing as I transition out of graduate school is free access to my university’s gym.  Apparently the graduate school no longer completely pays for the gym membership for students in their seventh years and above.  I could buy the membership for $120 per six months, but that price is too rich for my blood as I tend to prefer to work out at/near home anyway and the cost per use would probably be quite high.  However, I’ve never been without free access to a gym before, so I wanted to make sure I would be able to complete a variety of different types of workouts outside of a gym.  Of course, while I am funemployed keeping our costs low is a priority, so my non-gym activities can’t be as expensive as my gym membership option (i.e. we won’t buy any big equipment).


no gym membership



My frugal workout plan for the near-term is to:


1) Complete a Couch-to-5k program (3 workouts per week).

Running (or jogging or walking, whatever you are up for!) outdoors can be a wonderful workout.  I find it mentally difficult to push myself cardiovascularly while running, which is why I like to follow training plans.   Once I get myself into shape enough to jog a few miles continuously again using C25k, I think I’ll set some speed goals and shift the runs toward shorter and higher-intensity intervals. Cost: Decent running shoes.


2) Play tennis 1-2 times per week.

Tennis is the only sport Kyle and I overlap on so we really enjoy playing together (though he always beats me!).  Kyle only works out through playing sports and I think it’s certainly more fun.  This would not be a cheap sport if we had to join a tennis club, but we have access to free outdoor courts at our university and in our city and already own all the equipment we need.  Cost: Racquets, balls, and possibly court time.


3) Use my body weight and light weights to work out at home (1-2 workouts per week).

I’ve experimented with a bunch of different light weights workouts over the years and have found two free ones that I think give good results for the amount of time invested. (Of course there are many other free ones available as well.) They don’t require big equipment or even much space.  One is Strength Training for Busy People from and the other is Jonathan Bailor’s eccentric workout plan.  The eccentric workout is designed to be so intense that you can complete it only once per week so I will probably alternate between the two.  I also really like the workouts in 101 Ways to Work Out with Weights – especially because they are categorized by the amount of time it would take to complete the workout, and they range from 5 minutes to over half an hour.  Cost: Nothing if you use your bodyweight alone, or a few tens of dollars for light weights.  I own a few pairs of these hand weights already and will probably add to my collection on the heavier side. (This section contains affiliate links – thanks for choosing to use them!)


4) Push myself through workout videos (1+ times per week).

I know it’s kind of cheesy but I actually do like Jillian Michaels videos.  The two I used to do consistently were 30 Day Shred and No More Trouble Zones so that’s what I’ll return to once the weather prevents me from running or playing tennis as consistently.  30 Day Shred is great because it’s less than 30 minutes long and is essentially interval training through alternating compounds weights, cardio, and abs segments.  No More Trouble Zones uses light weights to work large to small muscle groups.  I was thinking of doing Insanity or a similar video program but 1) the up-front cost is large, even for used versions, and 2) I want to get outside and play sports and not be stuck inside every day for my workouts.  I might get a copy later once it gets cold enough that I don’t want to be outside.  Cost: Varies between totally free on YouTube/other websites to rather costly for the complete programs.  Single Jillian Michaels DVDs are priced at less than $10 on Amazon are also available through Amazon Prime or Instant Video. (This section contains affiliate links – thanks for choosing to use them!)


Other free/low-cost/one-time-cost workout ideas for outside the gym are:

  • sports (leagues)
  • biking
  • swimming
  • yoga
  • video games like Dance Dance Revolution
  • park courses


I think if money were no object I would just outfit a home gym with a treadmill, a bike, and heavy weights, but that’s rather far in the future!


I just want to disclaim here that I’ve done enough research to know that my ideal workouts would consist of heavy weight training and (high intensity) interval training on a treadmill, stationary bike, or rowing machine.  But I also know myself well enough to admit that I don’t really like taking the time to work out in gyms (driving, parking, walking, changing clothes), I am intimidated by unfamiliar lifts, and that a non-ideal workout is better than no workout.  So I am satisfied to try out my current plan until we move, at which time I may choose to buy a gym membership.


Do you have a gym membership and if so what kinds of workouts do you do there?  What are your preferred ways to work out outside of the gym?  Do you stick to low-cost workouts or have you bought expensive equipment or have high recurring costs?


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39 Responses to "How to Work Out without a Gym Membership"

  1. Good idea Emily! What I do when I am in a tight budget is just jogging and playing basketball. My dad has some equipment at home like dumbbells so I just use that and I watch some yoga and body-weight exercises on youtube. I have been thinking to play tennis because it’s really good for forearms and biceps..
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    1. Emily says:

      Kyle likes playing pickup basketball as well, though he hasn’t recently. YouTube is a great resource for free workouts – I’ve found some dance and yoga routines there that I like. Kyle wants to strengthen his forearms as well so that’s part of the reason we’ve been playing frequently recently.

  2. ervinshiznit says:

    Planet Fitness is $10/month, with no commitment, so that’s pretty good compared to most gym memberships. Of course, it’s still not free =P

    I like cycling. To do this you want a good road bike, which aren’t cheap, but can be found on Craigslist for substantially cheaper.

    1. Emily says:

      That is a good deal, especially with no contract! But I know I have to make working out really convenient so if I have to commute to a gym that’s a big downside. Do you use Planet Fitness instead of your university gym?

      A bike is a big one-time expense but if you use it for commuting as well as exercise it can really decrease your costs! I haven’t owned a bike since college because Durham is not very bike-friendly (though getting more so) but I hope I can ride one more often in our next city.

      1. ervinshiznit says:

        I use my university gym. I just thought I’d mention Planet Fitness because its so cheap.
        As a side note, Planet Fitness’s business model is hilarious. They make the membership fee so cheap that people will say oh hey I’ll sign up, it’s so cheap! But then most people don’t ever go, partly because when it’s so cheap it doesn’t feel like much of a loss when they don’t.

        I was lucky enough to be handed down a good road bike from my dad =P.

        1. Emily says:

          Yeah, I figured that was their model as that’s the size of charge that people would tend to ignore! It’s funny to think of what would happen if every member decided to go regularly.

  3. Great ideas here! Mr. Frugalwoods and I both did the Couch-to-5K program a few years ago and then bumped up to the 5K-10K program. I highly recommend it; we both loved it. I don’t pay for a gym membership either and my primary exercise is through free yoga classes that I receive in exchange for volunteering as the receptionist for my yoga class. It’s a nominal time commitment for free yoga! I know that my studio is not unique in this exchange program, so it might be something you could explore if you’re interested. We also have a weight bench at home that we bought on Craigslist–great way to get in plenty of strength training. P.S. I also like Jillian Michaels videos!!
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    1. Emily says:

      Wow, that’s a great method of getting free classes! I’m not super into taking classes (even when they were part of my gym membership!) even though they are great workouts because of the downtime that comes with attending. I’m sure others will be able to use that tip, though.

      I think I will buy some very basic heavy weights in the future, but probably not until we stop moving cities.

      I’m glad I’m not alone in liking JM workouts! I’m a bit ashamed to admit it but it’s the next best thing to taking a class, I think. 🙂

  4. Sara says:

    PSA: Planet Fitness makes it very difficult to cancel a membership and their cleanliness really depends on the franchise owner’s interest. Our local one is disgusting.

    For YouTube I really like Fitness Blender and PopSugar videos. Yoga download is $30 per year with a Groupon if you like yoga. I dislike Blogilates videos because the instructor grates on my nerves, but I’m a huge minority in that opinion! The one piece of equipment I bought is a CycleOps, and it turns my road bike into a stationary bike. I like it a lot, but only use it in the garage or on a cement floor because of the vibrations. It’s good for winter riding but you might not get enough snow to make it a cost-effective purchase.

    1. Emily says:

      Thanks for the PSA! I’ve only ever been in well-kept gyms and definitely wouldn’t put up with a dirty one.

      Thanks for those YouTube recommendations. That’s a clever bit of equipment – if I had a bike I would probably get it, too, for HIIT!

  5. Mrs PoP says:

    We are moderately spendy on our gym workouts, shelling out for a gym membership for both of us to a chain that has locations near our home and both of our offices (oh the convenience!) and buying passes for yoga classes at a nice yoga studio for me on top of that. But we feel like we get a pretty good value out of them, and we augment them with lots of inexpensive biking and running, so it balances out to a certain degree.

    Could we get our workouts in for less? Probably. But there are other intangibles that go along with the gym memberships that make it worthwhile for now.
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    1. Emily says:

      I’m not here to slam spending money on fitness. 🙂 I think of it as an investment in my health for sure. But if I can get some good workouts in without a gym during my funemployment I’m definitely going that route.

      That is quite convenient that you can go to multiple gym locations. I hadn’t thought of that but it would definitely make me more likely to join if there are convenient to both home and work/commute.

      1. Mrs. PoP says:

        “I’m not here to slam spending money on fitness.”

        I didn’t intend to insinuate that in the least. =) Sorry if you took it that way.
        Mrs. PoP recently posted..Reader Question – Food Spending Rules of Thumb

        1. Emily says:

          No problemo just wanted to be sure!

  6. I’m a big fan of at home workouts! I used to have a gym membership a few years ago but since then have stuck with home workouts. I like walking (and occasionally running… need to get back into that!) and doing Tone it Up videos & Yoga with Adrienne videos! Both are free channels on youtube and the trainers are hilarious- makes me actually enjoy (kinda) working out 🙂
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    1. Emily says:

      Thanks for those suggestions – I will have to check them out!

  7. I have used the Couch to 5K free app on my phone and it was awesome. I never got to the 5k, but I got great workouts in between. I have also tried other free apps like map my walk and map my ride and I do free work out videos that are available on Amazon Prime. Recently me and hubby did a Bollywood work out. It was fun!
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    1. Emily says:

      Those are all great suggestions, and the Bollywood workout sounds amazing! I’ll have to look for one.

  8. Aldo @ MDN says:

    We only pay for the rock-climbing gym and even that, we only go on Mondays when it’s two for one. We used to go rock climbing twice a week, but haven’t done so in a while. We try to do some type of workout three times a week. Rock climbing on Monday and then we either play tennis, jog, or do a quick workout at home.

    It’s a little different in the winter. We do join a gym for the winter but our gym is only $10 a month without a contract so it works out pretty good.
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    1. Emily says:

      Sounds like you’ve sought out the most frugal solution to be able to participate in the activity that you love. I think I’d be much more inclined to join a gym in the winter as well, and I probably will after our move.

  9. I need to do one of those couch to 5k programs. I’ve been so busy with work and freelancing that my exercise has gone down the tubes.
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    1. Emily says:

      That was the story of the last six months of my life, but no more!

      1. Glad to hear it! I guess it really just takes a decision.
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  10. Jean says:

    Sounds like you’ve thought it through well. Ed and I used to have a home gym and liked it a lot. A few years ago we started missing the social aspect of a neighborhood gym – I work in a home office or am on a plane, so kinda isolating – so we sold the equipment and joined a local gym. But, you can definitely stay healthy and strong from home.

    When I’m traveling I use the book You Are Your Own Gym on my phones kindle app – body weight exercises can definitely work.

    Great article to get people thinking.
    Jean recently posted..Interview: Reinventing Retirement’s Deb Gilbert

    1. Emily says:

      Do you interact with people at the gym now or is it enough to just have them around?

      Great suggestion! I will look that book up. I love bodyweight exercises.

  11. I have actually been thinking in the opposite direction of this…in getting gym membership. Mostly so I could take up swimming and relieve some of the pressure on my feet and knees that come from running too much. I guess I could swim in the community lake but think the locals might not look to kindly on that. 🙂
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    1. Emily says:

      Haha, yeah if you want to swim there may not an alternative to joining a gym, depending on where you live. I never once went in my university’s pool so for me that wasn’t a loss in this process. Thankfully, I am not in danger of running too much! I think if I were joining a gym to do one specific activity like swimming I would look hard at the cost per use.

  12. I’ve found a handful of good apps on my phone that offer great workouts. You mentioned one – couch to 5k. I think though that the key to succeeding in these types of programs is the social aspect of them. Without the social part, it is easy to slack off.
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    1. Emily says:

      I have another bodyweight intervals workout app that I tried out, but I’m not too smartphone-oriented yet! I prefer a large page/screen. 🙂 I haven’t used the social aspect of C25k but I have enjoyed accountability for this sort of thing on my personal blog, so I know about its power!

  13. There are tons of great workout apps that are totally free. I started Couch to 5k awhile back and quit but now I’m starting up again and adamant that I will finish this time! I also like to watch Blogilates on youtube, she has great workout videos!

    1. Emily says:

      I’ve never checked out Blogilates but I’ve heard of it so many times I’ll have to! What other free apps/channels do you like?

  14. I am IN LOVE with Couch to 5K. It’s an amazing program that is perfect for raising endurance and getting back in shape. I love how it gets harder each week, but only in levels you can endure.

    1. Emily says:

      I agree. As soon as I feel okay getting through one plan after three days the run interval length jumps up what feels like so much! But week after week I can get through it so I guess it’s well-designed.

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