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How to use running clubs, apps and discount gyms to get fit on the cheap

Heather Gardner’s 2009 move from Hamilton to Toronto came with a few adjustments — her workout routine among them.

A longtime athlete, Gardner had gotten used to running with a group in Hamilton, which offered her a sense of community and a way to exercise for free. When she moved to Toronto, she started running on her own to stay active amid a job transition that kept her at a desk all day.

“I was running by myself, and I was like, ‘I wonder if anyone will join me,'” she recalls.

“So, I sent out a tweet. I was like ‘Hey, anyone want to go for a run? Meet me at this place, at this time.’ And people showed up.”

Before she knew it, her running crew had amassed a city-wide following, which she eventually turned into a workout studio called Tribe Fitness.

Gardner acknowledges how expensive working out can be in the city and says it’s important to her to continue to offer an affordable alternative for people who may not be able to afford hefty gym membership fees. In addition to running paid spinning and yoga classes, Tribe Fitness continues to offer free group runs several times per week.

Running groups such as Gardner’s can be found across the country, and athleticwear retailers like Lululemon and The Running Room also hold regular group runs. Other organizations like November Project offer the same, but with a focus on strength training, while apps like Sweatabl, which lists free local workout classes, make finding all of the above easy.

However, that’s not to say that outdoor workouts don’t require any up front costs. Equipment such as footwear and performance apparel are necessary elements of the operation.

When shopping for workout clothes on a budget, remember that the process is as affordable as you make it. While it’s easy to spend over $100 on a pair of leggings from a premium brand like Lululemon, a pair made with similar quality material would be closer to $30 from Old Navy, Winners or another discount retailer. Buying them second hand from Facebook Marketplace or from a trading platform like Bunz will save you even more.

If group workouts don’t fit into your schedule, home workout videos may be a better option. YouTube channels like Popsugar Fitness and Yoga With Adriene offer free workout sessions that target specific muscle groups, while apps like 7-Minute Workout offer the same, but in mobile format.

If you go this route and have a few extra bucks to spend, a yoga mat and a set of weights are worth the cost.

You can also add weight to your workout using household items, says Jordan Bishop, athlete and founder of Toronto-based personal finance startup Yore Oyster.

“The best thing that I’ve discovered is a water bottle, a big water bottle that you can fill with however much water you need to use to do your workout,” Bishop says, noting that each litre of water adds one kilogram of weight.

If you find it difficult to stay motivated during solo workouts, Bishop suggests finding a partner to hold you to your goals. Establish a fitness schedule, share it with them, and if you don’t work out on a day you’re supposed to, you owe your partner $5 (enough to make a difference, but not so much that the cost of not going exceeds what you’d pay for a class or gym session).

“You have to decide, ‘Do I go to the gym or do I pay my friend?'” Bishop says. “For a lot of us, that’s a really strong motivation.”

If you’re set on joining a gym, triple-digit membership fees aren’t necessarily a foregone conclusion. The YMCA and discount chain LA Fitness offer competitively-priced memberships that hover around $50 a month, while Hone Fitness charges $15 biweekly.

Ultimately, convenience should be at the centre of any financially sound fitness plan. It’s tempting to set lofty goals or sign up with the cheapest gym — but if it’s not conveniently located, or operates at hours that don’t align with your schedule, you run the risk of not going.

The most budget-friendly workout choices are the ones you stick to: So, when committing to a fitness plan, make sure it’s one that fits into your existing routine. You shouldn’t have to change your schedule to make your workouts work for you.

“Fitness should not be something that is hard or overwhelming for you,” Bishop says. “You want to make it as easy as possible for yourself to win.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 4, 2020.

Audrey Carleton, The Canadian Press

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