With the rising cost of gym membership, personal trainers and fitness gear, exercise can be costly. Yet with more of us taking up sports, thousands of online videos, and a growing number of health initiatives to get us moving, there’s never been a better time to get fit for free. All it takes is a bit of research…
Discover our full range of health guides, including the benefits of exercise on mental health and marathon training tips. Plus, check out our energy-boosting breakfast recipes and high-protein recipes.
There are more of us running than ever before, thanks, in part, to free running groups which have cropped up over the past few years. Parkrun is one such group which has inspired thousands to lace up. Held every Saturday morning in outdoor spaces around the country, Parkrun is a free, chip-timed 5K run, open to every ability. Some sports shops also have free running groups; the national running retailer Sweatshop has its Sweatshop Running Community, and lots of independent stores have similar groups – check out what’s in your area.
If you’re new to running, there are plenty of free online training plans to get you started - the NHS’s Couch to 5K is a good place to begin. We also have lots of advice on how to eat before, during and after your run.
Health professionals recommend that we should aim to do 30 minutes of moderate exercise at least five times a week. Walking counts as moderate exercise, so it often takes just a few changes to your lifestyle to achieve this target. If you’re keen to explore your area on foot, there are lots of free walking groups, some run by local councils, others by fellow walkers keen to meet like-minded people. Ramblers Wellbeing Walks and Meetup are good places to start.
The great outdoors is yours for the taking when you have two wheels. If you don’t own a bike, the government’s Cycle to Work scheme is a great way to save up to 42 per cent off the cost of a bike. You pay for the bike via salary sacrifice, and make savings because payments are made from your gross salary, which reduces your income tax and National Insurance. Ask your employer if they are part of the scheme. If you’re keen to commute by bike, Sustrans National Cycle Network is a country-wide network of cycle paths that pass through the centre of every major town in the UK.
Explore outdoor gyms
Fitness trails – also known as outdoor gyms, trim trails or activity trails - feature exercise equipment and can be found in parks and recreation areas around the country. They are great places to do DIY circuits sessions, where you rotate around the different pieces of equipment and work on your strength and co-ordination.
Get involved in team sports: tennis, football, rugby & more
Doing what you enjoy makes exercise less of a chore and means you’re more likely to stick at it. Whether it’s a casual five-a-side football team or a local tennis club, there are thousands of amateur groups and clubs around the country, and many are free to join. Check online for lists of clubs across the UK – you can also check out local listings at professional sports bodies, such as The FA and Lawn Tennis Association.
Exercise doesn’t have to mean lifting weights or running; any activity which gets your muscles moving and increases your heart rate counts. With this in mind, a number of initiatives have popped up in recent years which get you exercising while doing something else. Green Gyms are free outdoor sessions where you are guided in practical activities such as planting trees and building wildlife ponds. Similarly, GoodGym is a running-based initiative where members get fit to do good in their community. The tasks are many and varied: you could help to paint a community centre one week, or run to visit an isolated older person in your area the next.
Create a living room-gym
If you can’t make the gym, make the gym come to you by turning everyday household items into pieces of equipment. Soup cans are an old favourite to double up as light weights, an old pair of tights can turn into a resistance band, a solid chair is an ideal place to do triceps dips and stairs can be transformed into a fitness step. If you’re keen to get hold of proper weights, keep an eye on sites such as Freecycle where people sometimes give them away for free.
Should you find yourself getting distracted by the TV or radio at home, try exercising in ad breaks: choose a different move for each advert (think squats, lunges, press ups, mountain climbers, sit ups, etc) and keep going until the ad break finishes, repeating in subsequent ad breaks. Read our guide to working out at home.
In the days of smart phones and smart TVs, there are thousands of easily accessible fitness videos, podcasts and apps you can follow for free. All sorts of activities are available, from pilates and yoga to strength and cardio workouts. Whatever you choose, make sure the advice comes from someone certified by a reputable fitness organisation – in the UK, look out for trainers accredited by REPS.
If you’re new to exercise or returning to it, the NHS has produced a range of online resources which are good starting points. Its Strength & Flex podcast is a free five-week plan consisting of a series of equipment-free exercises designed to improve your strength and flexibility, and the 10-minute cardio workout is a good aerobic starter session. We also have our own fitness video – try our 10-minute workout for beginners.
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This article was updated in November 2022.
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