Fitness on a budget: Exercise doesn’t have to be expensive

You can build a home exercise studio for less than a year’s membership to the gym.

In a perfect world, we’d all hire a personal trainer to work us out several times per week, enjoy a membership to a swanky sports club and keep a $4,000 treadmill in our home, sparing no cost to ensure that we have all we need for a solid cardio and strength routine.

Alas, this is not reality for most. We are on a budget and can only allot so much money to fitness. We have bills, car payments, mortgages and mouths to feed. We just don’t have the funds for the luxury of private training, pricey equipment and health club memberships. I guess our workouts will have to wait until finances improve, darn it.

Not so fast. Working out doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. With just a few quality items and a bit of space, you can build a home exercise studio in an extra room or the garage.

May I present “Fitness for the Frugal” — or as my husband put it — “Strength-training for the Skinflint,” also known as your new home fitness plan.

Safety first. If you are new to working out, expert guidance is a must. If you can’t afford a couple of private sessions with a professional, seek a group exercise class led by a certified trainer, where you can participate at a reduced rate. If you can’t swing this, then purchase some highly rated workout DVDs.

Don’t rely on YouTube videos to learn how to lift weights or use equipment. I’ve watched too many “trainers” on YouTube demonstrate exercises with incorrect form. Even if they do have the right form, they can’t see you and so are unable to correct your form.

Have you considered bartering with a trainer? I’ve swapped sessions with my hairdresser, tax accountant, massage therapist and website builder. If you have something valuable to offer in return, it can’t hurt to ask.

Obtain the staples. Invest in a few pairs of dumbbells. Cast-iron tends to be lower in price (about $1 per pound) while the urethane (gel) and neoprene coated weights cost more. I prefer the cast iron — they don’t develop stains like neoprene, or peel apart like urethane. Treat them kindly (no dramatically hurling them to the floor after a heavy lift, tough guy) and they will last a lifetime.

More costly ($70 to $300) is an adjustable dumbbell set. My adjustables go up in 2½-pound increments from five to 55 pounds. Though $280 was a big chunk of change to drop on them, they were much cheaper than buying the weights individually, and they save me a substantial amount of space in my workout studio.

Purchase a few resistance bands, of varying intensity, with handles. These inexpensive workout tools offer countless exercises for the entire body. Get quality bands. (I like Bodylastics). The cheapest ones on the market break easily.

Buy a stability ball — an inexpensive and effective toy that strengthens the core, legs, glutes and deltoids. Here, too, avoid the cut-rate ones (under $10) which inevitably leak air. I find $20 or more gets me a quality ball that won’t burst or leak. Read brand reviews before purchasing.

If there’s money leftover, consider a full-size step bench with adjustable height for cardio for around $80. Added bonus: It can double as a workout bench for lifts (chest presses, dips, ab work, etc.).

Sadly, many well-intentioned people purchase workout apparatus only to donate it all to the thrift shop, barely used. Our gain! Don’t be too proud to peruse the second-hand store for some smokin’ deals. I’ve scored workout benches, dumbbells, balls and bands for cents on the dollar. Sure, the 10-pound weights may be a little scuffed and dinged but, hey, they still weigh 10 pounds.

And just like that, I have robbed you of the “it’s too expensive” excuse for not starting a fitness program. Now go build your home gym, then get crackin’ on those ball knee tucks, resistance band rows and dumbbell frog squats.

Catherine Bongiorno is a personal trainer, nutritional therapist and owner of Lift To Lose Fitness & Nutrition. Email her at or visit for more information.

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