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Career > Her20s

12 Ways to Stay Fit Without a Free Gym

Rent, bills, food—the list of things you have to pay for after graduation seems never-ending. Unfortunately, you can add the gym to that list. Whether you were the type of collegiette who frequently took advantage of free, unlimited gym access or you only stopped by from time to time, the reality for all graduettes is the same: Getting a gym membership is going to cost you a pretty penny.

So how do you stay in shape without coughing up a chunk of change to join a gym? We’ve got you covered with budget-friendly (or free!) ways to work on that fitness.

1. New-member discounts

Have your coworkers been raving about a new cycling studio that opened up near your office? Did you walk past a small local gym the other day with a “Grand Opening” sign? Check the websites of gyms and studios you’re interested in to see if they offer any specials for new members. Many places offer newcomers free classes or a discounted membership for a certain period of time, so if there’s a new place you’ve been dying to try out, check for first-time deals before committing to a full-price membership!

2. Online deal sites

Group-buying and flash sale sites offer discounts to local gyms and studios. Most of the time, these offers are for new users only, but many deals are open to current members as well, so even if you already have a membership, it doesn’t hurt to check them out!

Search offers in your area on sites like Groupon, LivingSocial and Amazon Local. Or, try Gilt City, which is available in select cities; the site generally has a much more curated selection and often has partnerships with trendier boutique studios. Whichever site you choose, you’ll find heavily discounted prices on single classes, class packages (usually of five to 10) and even unlimited monthly passes on everything from barre classes to personal training sessions.

Purchasing these discounted offers can be a great way to try new workouts and studios in your city, and if you decide to join, you might still be able to take advantage of additional deals or new member offers.

“I recently bought a $39 pass for a month of unlimited yoga at a studio near my office, and the company offered me a great deal if I signed up for a membership before the month was over,” says Rebecca Silverman, a University of Arizona alumna. “My initiation fee was waived, plus I get my last month free, and the membership is month-to-month, so I can cancel at any time!”

3. Go for a hike

No matter where you live, finding local walks and hikes to take can be a great way to get into the great outdoors (which you just might find is the perfect getaway from the office!) and get a workout. When you input your zip code to EveryTrail, it’ll pull up tips, trail guides and even hiking groups in your area.

“My go-to Sunday activity is dragging new friends up to Runyon Canyon, my favorite local hiking trail in Los Angeles,” says Andrea Grobman, a recent alumna of the University of California, Davis. “We’re getting a workout in, but we get to catch up, hang out and even take some great photos for our Instagrams!”

Added benefit if you have furry friends to take along—they’ve got to get their workout in, too!

4. Fitness meetups

Love 50-mile bike rides? Or just a low-key walk with your dog? Whatever your preference, there are plenty of likeminded individuals in your area who feel the same way! Meetup is a website where members can create and join hundreds of social groups and clubs in their cities. You’ll find tons of groups involving every kind of hobby and interest—and yes, that includes exercise. Join running clubs, meet with other workout enthusiasts in CrossFit classes and more. Depending on the group, some will even have exclusive deals and discounts at local studios.

Joining the site is free, and although certain groups may ask for a small membership fee, most won’t cost you a penny. Bonus: You’ll be getting your workout in and meeting new friends who share the same interests as you!

5. ClassPass

Bored of doing the same workout every day? ClassPass might be just the thing for you. The program, which is available in select major cities (New York City, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C.), gives you access to hundreds of different workout classes at local fitness studios.

“I tried Broadway dance, trampoline cardio, outdoor boot camp, rowing, Beyoncé-inspired cardio plus a ton of other classes,” says Jessica Jaksich, an Emory University graduate. “I tend to get sick of doing the same workout over and over, so this was a great way to change things up and find new classes!”

The membership, which costs $99 a month, lets you try an unlimited number of studios that are paired with ClassPass, but the pass limits you to three classes per studio each month. The program has an online portal that lets you book your workout classes up to a week in advance, and the membership is month to month, so you can cancel at any point.

6. Bike to work

The initial investment of purchasing a good bicycle may make a dent in your paycheck, but if you live close enough to pedal yourself to work, you’re building in not just one, but two workouts a day—all while saving on gas or public transportation costs!

Biking for 30 minutes can burn nearly 300 calories, so an hour on your bike hustling to and from work each day could make getting a gym membership totally unnecessary.

Put off by the idea of sweating in your clothes? Alison Smith, a USC law school graduate, has solved that problem for herself. “I live close enough to my downtown office that biking to work saves me gas money and the stress of sitting in traffic. It is a great workout, and I do sweat on my new commute!” she says. “So now I wear my exercise clothes when I leave the house, but I bring two or three suits to work at the start of each week so I can change when I get to the office. I stock my makeup bag and rinse my face off in the restroom.”

Looking to buy a bicycle? Consider a road bike or a hybrid bike, which is lighter than a road or mountain bike but still easy to ride.

7. Workout DVDs

If you hate exercising in public, sweating it out in the privacy of your living room is an ideal alternative. Exercise and fitness DVDs are easy to pop in whenever you have a few minutes, and they range from dance to yoga. Jillian Michaels has a wide selection of DVD workouts for less than $10 each, or you can sign up for online workouts with studios like Physique 57, where you’ll find barre and Pilates classes that you can follow along with online.

Don’t like the standard workout regimens those DVDs provide you with? It sounds silly, but hula hooping can be a seriously intense core workout—it engages 30 muscles across your entire body! Gabriella Redding created Hoopnotica, a California-based company that offers “hooping” classes, which incorporate dance moves into traditional hula hooping. You can go into the studio to take classes, or you can pick up a how-to DVD that you can do at home.

Added bonuses of these guided workouts? Most require very little equipment, or none whatsoever. Plus, no one will see you when you mess up a move… and the shower is a mere few feet away.

8. Join a team sport

Feeling nostalgic for the days when you played competitive soccer or repped your school in tennis? Well, you’re not alone, and those days don’t have to be over yet. You can find recreational teams to join in the real world!

WAKA Kickball & Social Sports organizes kickball teams and events in cities all across the country, and ZogSports is a charity-oriented social sports league specifically for young professionals where you can participate in everything from golf to football to ultimate Frisbee. You can also check with your city’s sports complexes—most organize sports like basketball, indoor soccer, flag football and more for adults.

Many of the leagues have a social emphasis, so if you’re new to the area or looking for a new group of friends, this could be your answer! “I just moved to California all the way from Georgia, and I knew very little people,” says Jessica West, who graduated from the University of Georgia. “Kickball was such a good way to meet people in my new city, and I got to get my workout in each week, too!”

Seriously, who doesn’t miss group games of handball and four square on the schoolyard?

9. Sign up for races

Maybe you’re a regular runner or you just tagged along with your college roommate on her runs a few mornings a week. Committing to a race is a great way to motivate yourself to train, and having a specific date that you need to accomplish your goals by means you’ll be less prone to slacking off.

“After I graduated and moved to New York City, I started signing up for races,” says Grace Ortelere, a University of Pennsylvania graduate. “I started with 10K races, and it was a great way for me to see the city and stay in shape.”

Grace ran races in boroughs all across the city, and she recently completed the New York City Marathon. She says she loves that signing up for races gives her something to train and work for instead of just going for an aimless run.

Having a race on your calendar will motivate you to set a deadline, make workout goals and push yourself. Whether it’s a 5K or a marathon you’re working for, you’ll feel accomplished when you finally cross the finish line!

10. Personal training apps

Why not utilize that smartphone you’re always glued to for something other than texting and playing Candy Crush? There are dozens of workout apps that can help you get in shape.

The Nike+ Training Club app gives you workouts based on the goals and fitness levels you input so your experience is customized to your abilities. The app helps teach users specific exercises to start adding to their workout routines and even has photo and video tutorials to guide you through each step.

If you’re looking to get into running, try the Couch to 5k program. It’s perfect for beginners, as the app eases you from basic runs to more intense ones with 20 to 30 minute runs three times a week over the course of nine weeks. You can choose from a few different trainers in the app, each of whom will guide you through when to walk and when to run. 

Nexercise is an app that turns working out into an actual game, tracking your exercise and awarding you points as you go, which you can then use to claim rewards like gift cards and retail discounts. Win-win!

Fleetly is an app that lets iPhone users do everything from track workouts to figure out calories burned, plus it gives you tips for increasing your performance over time. The app also lets you input your own goals or choose from a dozen fixed ones to accomplish over time.

11. At-home workouts

Even if you’ve never worked out on your own or you don’t own (or have room for) tons of equipment, developing workout regimens is very doable on your own at home. Consider investing in some basic equipment: five-pound hand weights, resistance bands, a jump rope, a workout mat or a large workout ball. Then, create a circuit for yourself.

“Sit-ups, elbow-to-knee crunches, squats, plank holds and bridge lifts are some of my favorites,” says Jennifer Blockard, a Carleton College graduate. “I do reps of 10 or 15 and do a circuit of the six exercises I’ve picked. I try to do three or four circuits before I collapse!”

Need some guidance to get started? Check out our DIY at-home workout, which will give you a full-body workout you can do even if you live in the tiniest apartment!

12. Office-oriented exercise

Many companies encourage their employees to stay active by giving them the tools to do so in the form of team sports or company-sponsored classes. Check with HR to see if there is such a company-wide initiative, or even with some of your coworkers in case a team exists among the people you work with.

“When I was an intern at a newspaper last summer, one of my [coworkers] sent out a mass email asking anyone who was interested to come play basketball down at the park with him on Tuesday evenings,” says Sarah Draken, a graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles. “By the end of August, a dozen of my coworkers were teaming up shirts versus skins!”

Your company may also offer discounts to local gyms or workout studios, or cover all (or at least part of) a gym membership of your choice as part of a benefits package. Be sure to check with your HR department to see if you’re eligible for any discounts or exercise-related benefits.

Whatever your workout of choice may be, burning calories doesn’t have to be done at the gym, nor do you need to fork over tons of your hard-earned cash to build your muscle mass or core strength. With our tips and tricks above, you’ll get all the cardio and strength training you need to stay active—maybe without even spending a dime. Happy exercising!

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Rachel Kossman


Rachel Kossman is a Northeastern University graduate, and former Her Campus Campus Correspondent. She spent her junior and senior years writing for Her Campus National, and is thrilled to be back contributing to the Post Graduate section.Rachel is currently working as Associate Editor for DAYSPA magazine, an industry publication for spa owners, where she gets to write about spa products, business tips, spa industry news, focus on green lifestyle content, and even review a spa or two every once in a while! She is currently living back in Los Angeles, where she was born and raised, and though she misses Boston and all her friends out east, is very happy to be away from the cold and snow!