Last week, I asked readers for advice on how to start working out without throwing a ton of coin at an expensive gym membership, and did you ever come through.
1. Try running. It's not as hard as you think it is. If you're not a runner and don't think you can do it, try a Couch to 5K or Couch to 10K program that has you running in small doses and then walking, gradually increasing the length of time you run and decreasing the amount of time you walk. Go as slow or as fast as you want. People who see you run are not judging you, and even if they are, fuck 'em. Who cares what they think?
If you find running by yourself terribly boring, join a running club. A lot of athletic specialty stores have informal groups of runners who take off from the store at prescribed times during the week. If you don't want to join a club, ask one of your friends who drinks the running Kool Aid to be your running buddy, because if there's one thing that runners like, it's indoctrinating non-runners to how awesome running is.
2. If you straight up hate running or want to play on a team, consider joining a league organized by your city's park district. Fees to join are often minimal, and it's a good way to get to know people in your neighborhood. You don't have to be an expert athlete, either; many park district leagues have teams for people of all skill levels.
3. More than one tipster informed me of the gloriousness sparkletude that is Dance Dance Party Party., which is an all women, no booze, no judgment dance party that costs like $5. It's exactly like what you'd do in your skivvies in the privacy of your home, but in a big group and in a warehouse type setting and there are lights and there are beats and it just sounds like a great time, like giggly, all girl raves sans drugs. Check out their website to see if there's one near you, or to learn how to form your own chapter.
4. Make your own gym. Buy or borrow or barter for your own basic gym supplies and a yoga mat and work out at home. Most people don't need much- a couple of sets of dumbbells at a manageable weight, maybe a resistance band or an exercise ball. If you are Tom Hanks and you are stranded on a dessert island with only water bottles, fill some water bottles with sand and use those as weights. Several readers boasted of almost five-finger-discount cheap used exercise equipment they found on Craigslist or at yard sales. One reader stayed active after her baby was born by buying a step and soothing her baby to sleep while stepping up and down on the piece of equipment. Be creative! Your home is your castle and your castle has an amazing gym!
5. Use the internet as a resource. Several readers remarked that there are great exercise videos to be found on YouTube and Netflix. We seem to have many bodyrock.tv devotees among our readership. Others have found that OnDemand boasts some semi-cheesy but ultimately effective workout programs.
6. The library isn't just for microfiche and posters featuring portraits of celebrities awkwardly holding James Joyce novels; the library can also be a resource to people looking to get fit. Check out the workout DVDs available for cardholders to borrow. You might discover an exercise you like among the shelves.
7. Volunteer. You'll work on your karmic fitness as well as your physical fitness. I volunteer at an animal shelter here in Chicago, and we always need people to run and play with some of our more active dogs. Bonus: no one will mess with you when you're running with a Doberman, even if the Doberman isn't yours and doesn't quite understand what's going on. Consider volunteering to help coach a kids' sports team, or working in a community garden. Manual labor can make you strong, like those hunky construction workers in Diet Coke commercials in 1994.
8. Use alternate ways to get to work, if you can. Consider biking or walking, even if it takes more time. I'm not suggesting the following as a realistic option, but I grew up in a really rural area and our weird gym teacher used to cross country ski or rollerblade to school because he was always in training for the Birkebeiner ski race. If he could do it without being embarrassed, then you can ride your bike.
9. If you prefer to work out in a more traditional gymnasium like environment, check out local high schools and colleges' athletic facilities Many of them will have cheap memberships available, or open gym nights. Some hotels will allow non-guests to use their swimming facilities for a small fee, so ask around. And be on the lookout for local dance studios, gyms, or yoga studios offering free trials, and take advantage of those offers.
10. One reader was struggling financially post-divorce and ended up becoming a fitness instructor, which is brilliant for someone who wants to get paid while working out.
Before I send you off to dance dance party and run and attempt exercise videos with abandon, it's important to remember that there are some expenses that you shouldn't attempt to cut corners on. Obviously, before you resume exercising after years (or a lifetime) of being inactive, you should make sure that you're not going to keel over and die if you exert yourself. Get a checkup. Second, make sure you have shoes that are suitable for the activity you're performing. If you're going to run, get professionally fitted for running shoes at a specialty store. Salespeople at places like Fleet Feet (where I buy all of my running accoutrements) are extremely helpful and will respect budgetary constraints you put on your shoe search. Third, don't ignore injuries. Ice yourself down after exercising. You don't have to shell out for specialty ice packs, either; when it comes to post-workout knee icing, nothing beats a bag of frozen peas.
There you have it, readers. Ten ways that the "it's too expensive" excuse can get thrown out the window, along with the "exercise will make me bulky" excuse. If you'd like to become physically stronger and more capable, there shouldn't be anything stopping you.