We live in challenging times. Here in America, there isn’t a person in the country who doesn’t have several unemployed friends or family. Others are working for less than their previous salaries, just to put food on the table. Still others, having learned there’s no such thing as “job security,” are squirreling away cash like never before, instead of spending like they used to.
And with tight cash and an unclear future comes stress. It becomes more difficult to keep a clear mind and focus on a task at hand or troubleshoot problems when your mind is on money.
One excellent way to help reduce stress is to exercise regularly. Add this to the other reasons to be active—better health, higher self-esteem and improved appearance—and you can see how exercise can be important to a job-seeker or someone struggling with daily life. But let’s face it, when money is an issue it’s hard to justify a fitness club membership.
Good thing you don’t need one.
While a gym is a great environment, you don’t need to pay a cent to reap the advantages of a fitness program. And if you do have a few dollars to spend, you can train like an athlete without high monthly dues.
I’ve written before about programs you can perform using only your own muscular resistance, and if all you do is 30-40 burpees a day that’s a hell of a workout. And a no-weight workout is not only quick, you can work it in anytime you have 20-30 minutes free. Instead of watching TV, crank some tunes and get moving.
More tips for completely free and effective exercise:
Walk and sprint. Need to make some phone calls? Do it while you walk around the neighborhood, or the lakefront, or the school track. Then when you’re done with your calls, do 5-6 30-second sprints. This high-intensity exercise will make you fitter faster. Optionally, run some stairs.
Make weights. Anything you can do with a kettlebell, you can do with a sandbag. And an old basketball plus some sand and duct tape equals a perfectly useful medicine ball. If you’ve got a handyman in you, find some discarded metal pipe and put up a pull-up bar.
Form a workout club and exercise with buddies. Not only can you pool any equipment you’ve got, but working out in a group enables you to exercise in ways you couldn’t by yourself: a basketball game, Ultimate Frisbee, tennis match, sprint relay, timed exercises like a tabata. Push each other (within reason) and help with form and timing.
For a Few Dollars More
No matter how little you can afford, there’s something worth your while as a fitness investment:
Dumbbells. If you can only buy one fitness item, a set of dumbbells would be it. This Cap Barbell 40-Pound Dumbbell Set was only $39 at the time I wrote this, and you can buy additional plates to increase the weight as you need them. A pair of dumbbells, a simple bench (or even a sturdy coffee table) and a mat for sit-ups and stretching is as complete a home gym as you’ll ever need.
Jump Rope. If you can’t get outside for your cardio, do it the way fighters do: skipping rope. In addition, a jump rope is great for your coordination.
Iron Gym. The only thing really missing from a bodyweight workout program is a pulling exercise for back and biceps. For under $40 you can have a home pull-up bar that also assists you with push-ups. The Iron Gym doesn’t require any kind of drilling or installation—just position it in a normal-size door and go.
Garage-Sale Specials. Exercise equipment is probably the most common category of item sold in garage sales. There always seems to be someone who wants to get rid of a barbell or bench. Get the weekend newspaper and tour the sales in your area or look on Craigslist for cheap (or free!) gear. Just stay away from the gimmicky stuff like the Gazelle, Thighmaster or anything with “Ab” in the name.
What About Nutrition?
What you put in your body matters as much or more than the exercises you do: you can work out religiously but if you toss down Whoppers, fries and a chocolate shake every day at lunch you’re probably fighting a losing battle.
The good news is that it’s very, very simple to eat well on a budget with only two rules:
- Buy fresh meats and produce at the supermarket.
You not only don’t need pricey protein bars, cereals with 38 vitamins and minerals or the latest supplements, you don’t want them. Make a big pot of chili with lean ground beef and kidney beans for lunch, pork chops with broccoli for dinner or a homemade egg-and-ham sandwich for breakfast. Eat food that comes to you in its natural form (canned and frozen veggies count) as often as possible and you don’t even have to count calories.
Find grass-fed beef at a local natural-foods store and it’s often not much more expensive than the stuff at the mega-supermarket. Same for some kinds of organic produce. Eat the best quality fresh food you can. Cooking at home, especially when you use a crock pot to prepare multiple meals worth of food in advance, is financially as well as physically good for you.
Even if you can’t afford organic and don’t have the willpower or time to cook, you can buy canned and frozen vegetables, and instead of feedlot beef choose chicken, turkey and wild caught fish. A microwave and a frying pan are all you need.
No processed frozen dinners, no prepackaged snacks—a tight budget is a reason to cut the crap out of your life.
There’s No Excuse
Instead of buying Spanx to look good for job interviews, try actually looking (and feeling) great from the inside out. Trust me, I’ve known what it’s like to have a budget of virtually zero. I did bicep curls with a suitcase full of books because it was all I had. I’ve made soup with whatever was about to spoil in the fridge. If I can do this, you can too.
Any questions? Any tips you can share? Don’t be shy, we’re here to help each other.