How To Get Fit On Any Budget

I was talking to someone last night about yesterday’s post. This is a longtime friend of mine, so he read the post and came to me directly to talk about it. His issue was that he didn’t really even know where to start. He’s back in college full-time and his wife is the only one working. Since he’s going to an online school, there’s not really a campus gym available to him, and with money tight, he was curious what he could do.

Yeah, I threw out a few suggestions in that post, but I also thought it might be time for a post I was toying with for a while, and that’s breaking down options based on cost.

Now, bear in mind, this will be a long one and some things may show up in several places, but there will be reasons. This will also not necessarily be an all-inclusive list, so I welcome folks to add to this list.

Without further ado, here we go, from the least expensive to the most expensive.


It’s hard to beat free. Even billionaires like free stuff. The thing is, it’s entirely possible to build muscle and lose weight for free. It may not be ideal, but if you’re broke and desperate, these are some serious options you should consider.

1. Calisthenics

Calisthenics is the term for bodyweight exercises such as pushups, pull-ups, and a whole host of other exercises one can do virtually anywhere. Some people have built some incredible physiques doing nothing but calisthenics and can do some pretty impressive feats of strength.

No, they’re not moving cars necessarily, but they’re doing a pretty good imitation of a flag in a strong wind, and that’s impressive no matter who you are.

2. Yoga

I used to be pretty down on yoga. All the mystical mumbo-jumbo was a real turnoff for me. Then I tried DDP Yoga which is basically all the movements of traditional yoga, but none of the mysticism.

Someone sent me the DDP Yoga DVD, but there are tons of yoga channels on YouTube you can follow and use. YouTube is free, though there are advertisements. Most of these will be in the front part of the video, though, so it’s not the end of the world if they’re there. Besides, the people making the videos have to get something for their efforts, right? Well, that’s how they do it.

Also, if you have Amazon Prime, there are yoga videos there which you can use as part of your monthly/annual fee. So while you’re binge-watching shows like Justified, you also have access to videos that will help you build up some strength, get more flexible, and generally start to feel better about yourself.

Now, you may want to get you a yoga mat, which would add some cost to doing yoga, but they’re not a requirement. They make it more comfortable, but I did yoga with nothing my first time and I survived. You could also get away with a towel on the floor if you had to.

3. Walking

I’m a big fan of focusing on the term “strength” in the phrase “strength and conditioning,” but let’s also be honest. You need the conditioning too. When it comes to conditioning, there’s no cheaper alternative than walking.

Walking is something you do normally, so you already know how to do it and thus won’t need a lot of education on how to do it injury-free, and you can do it around your own neighborhood or a local park.

It’ll be hard to get really conditioned this way, but it costs you absolutely nothing. Couple it with yoga or calisthenics, though, and you’ll have a free and fairly well-rounded program.

4. Rucking

Rucking is like walking…but on steroids.

The term “rucking” is mostly associated with the military, where men and women would make marches wearing a heavy pack. Over time, they would pick up some really good conditioning from these rucks.

Now, we have a lot of veterans and rucking is becoming a way to get in shape. All you need is a backpack and some weight to put into it.

“But I thought this was supposed to be free?” you might ask, and you’d be right to do so.

However, many people already have a backpack and weight can be anything from canned vegetables to water bottles to purpose-made plates for rucking. A lot of that, you already have, which makes it free.

Less Than $30

Most of us can scrounge up $30 for a one-time purchase (monthly payments will be talked about elsewhere). So what can you get for $20 that’s legitimately useful for conditioning?

1. Jump Rope

Fighters and many others have used jump ropes to help get them into tip-top condition. They’re generally inexpensive–though there are high-end ones that aren’t–and are readily available.

While jumping rope isn’t as intuitive as walking, it’s still a solid option for conditioning. I’d advise you to stay away from “speed” ropes if you’re first starting out. They don’t give you a lot of feedback, so you’re far more likely to be tripping over yourself along the way.

2. Sandbags

When money was tight, I needed something to lift. What I did was take a bit of cash down to Home Depot and bought a few 50 lbs bags of play sand. I then filled some quart and gallon sized Ziplock bags and sealed them with duct tape and tossed them into an old duffle back and an old seabag. I then had a good start of weight to train with for any number of exercises and it cost remarkably little.

After you build your sandbags, check out sandbag training on YouTube. In particular, look at how to do complexes with them. These run from one exercise to another to another and not only work your strength but also conditions you at the same time.

3. Yoga Mats

If you want a yoga mat, you can probably add one in for around this price range, though they can also get fairly expensive as well. It’s not a requirement, but it’s something you’re going to want sooner or later, so why not mention it?

Less Than $50

When it comes to this price range, I have generally one suggestion for you, and that’s the kettlebell.

These are wonderful tools that I really like in a lot of ways. Not only can you train strength with them just fine, but they’re incredible conditioning tools in my opinion.

I’ve done a lot with kettlebell complexes throughout the years and I’m thinking about starting them again. They just work well to get your butt in shape.

The major question I get is, “What size should I get?”

If you’re a guy, the typical weights are to get a 16 kg ‘bell if you’re a fairly strong male and a 12 kg ‘bell if you’re not. For ladies, it’s 12kg if you’re strong or go with an 8 kg ‘bell otherwise.

The one downside of a kettlebell is that they’re not cheap if you’re wanting a total set of them. Individually, they’re not badly priced and if you get one of the standard-sized kettlebells (the “strong” weights), you can theoretically get away with just that one indefinitely. If you need to pick up additional kettlebells, though, it can get pricey.

That said, it’s still something you can buy now and train with for a while until you can scrounge up more money to buy additional kettlebells.

Less Than $100

1. Resistance Bands

If you’re looking to spend around $100, you could buy some of the stuff above, or you could pick up some resistance bands. Rogue sells their monster bands in packages of several bands. You could pick up their “pull-up package #2” and get a good variety of bands that will let you train a whole lot of stuff.

Bands are a staple of the bizarre brand of functional fitness that had people lift weights while standing on balls and other kinds of idiocy, but that shouldn’t be held against them. There’s a lot to love about bands.

In addition to providing training to you, they can also be used to assist you with things like pull-ups (hence Rogue’s name for their band package). They’ll take some of the weight “off” so you can complete the movement. You simply work down to smaller bands as you’re able until they’re not necessary.

2. Adjustable Dumbbells

A while back, I picked up a set of adjustable dumbbells almost exactly like these (warning: Amazon affiliate link where I get a percentage if you buy something from there) and used them for a while. You can get additional weights along the way and add to it.

However I will say, it’s cheaper if you buy the 200 lbs set from the start if you’re able to do so. Unfortunately, that’s more of an under $200 kind of thing.

Now, you may be thinking about how you don’t have a bench, so how can you do things like bench pressing, but let me tell you that it’s completely possible to train without a bench. It’s not ideal, but you can do it.

DIY Options

If you’re good with tools, you can build a lot of your own gear. I made my own sandbags, a pull-up bar, and a bench for using my adjustable dumbbells with and I’m not particularly good at building stuff.

However, if you are or are at least willing to give it a shot, you can build all sorts of equipment for just the cost of materials. I’ve seen people build benches, power racks, plyometrics boxes, platforms for rack pulls, and any number of other items.

Not only that, but there are forms out there that will let you use concrete to make your own weight plates. I can’t recommend them, but they’re out there and they’re generally reusable, so it’s at least an option.

If you’re handy and creative, you’d be amazed at what all you can build on your own.

Monthly Fees

Depending on where you are, gym fees aren’t necessarily sky high. My own commercial gym is about $20 per person/month. Since there are three of us on the membership, that runs a bit, but for just one person? That’s not difficult to come up with if you’re working.

A typical commercial fitness center has all kinds of classes, including things like yoga, Zumba, spinning, as well as all the latest and greatest weights.

If you want something more specialized, there are yoga schools in most cities in America at this point, so take a look at those. Additionally, you could look into martial arts classes. They provide all kinds of training as part of their warmups, and you’ll learn some useful skills toward self-defense.

So there you go, a list of ways you can train for very little money. I haven’t gotten into the higher-ticket items like home gym setups similar to mine, which is actually a pretty budget-friendly home gym. The reason is that despite the way I pieced mine together along the way, it’s still pricey to talk about so not really useful for our discussions here.

I also left out running because doing it in improper footwear can cause problems and good running shoes can get a little expensive. That’s not always the case, but it does happen, so I opted to leave it out for now.

By now, though, I hope you can see that there are absolutely no excuses for not doing some kind of training if your body is physically able. In most cases, though, it’s capable to some degree.

So, again, stop bellyaching and start training.

Author: Tom

Tom is a husband, father, novelist, opinion writer, and former Navy Corpsman currently living in Georgia. He's also someone who has lost almost 60 pounds in a safe, sustainable way, so he knows what he's talking about.

2 thoughts on “How To Get Fit On Any Budget”

  1. A person could become an absolute beast without spending any money at all. I used to use two $3.00 five gallon buckets for farmers carries; you can put water, sand, gravel, whatever in them. Go to the playground for dips and pull-ups, and do a few hundred push-ups a day, a long with some rucking or sprints, and you’d be ready for anything!

    1. Yep. Here in my neck of the woods, we’ve got playgrounds with “workouts” on them, including pull-ups, pushups, situps, and a whole bunch of other calisthenics-type exercises.

      All in a public park.

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