6 Ways to Build a Better Body on a Budget

Lean times don't mean you have to skimp on fitness. Try these easy ideas for workouts on the cheap.

From the WebMD Archives

Gym memberships, personal trainers, pricey equipment for the home gym -- all these expenses can make it tempting to use tough economic times as an excuse to avoid exercise. But the truth is you can build a better body on a budget. From simple workouts with no equipment to getting some of the benefits of a trainer for free by clicking a mouse, there are lots of ways to stay in shape and still save money.

To help point you in the right direction, fitness experts share advice on how to get fit for little or no money.

1. Schedule Your Workouts

When you've got a membership at a high-tech gym or a standing appointment with a personal trainer, the expense means you're less likely to skip workout time. But it's essential to approach your "no frills" workout with the same convictions.

Susie Shina, author of 60-Second Circuits: 1,000 Easy Exercise Combos You Can Do Anywhere says, "This means putting it on your schedule, making a specific time for when you're going to do your workout, and doing all you can to limit interruptions -- like turning off the phone, making sure the dog is walked before you start, and, if necessary, letting family members know that for 30 minutes or so, they are on their own."

You can also help keep your workout on track by laying out your exercise clothes the night before, Shina says. "This acts as a reminder that you don't want to skip out on your session."

Choosing a playlist of your favorite exercise songs and loading them into your mp3 player or creating a workout CD can also help. And timing the music to fit the length of your workout will help keep you on track for the whole routine.

"Motivation and music go hand in hand," Shina says. "So it's another way to ensure you stay motivated."

2. Choose Workouts That Work at Home

When you're starting a workout program, it can be hard to figure out what exercises you should be doing -- particularly if you don't have the budget for pricey equipment or personal training.


Charla McMillian, creator of FitBoot.com, a training program for fitness professionals, says all you really need to do is follow a few simple guidelines. "You have to ensure that all your major muscle groups are targeted at least once each week -- and no more than three times a week," McMillian says. "And your program has to include 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise three to five times a week."

And don't forget to stretch. Stretching helps with both strength and flexibility.

"Always begin every workout with a few simple stretches," says personal trainer Adrian Garce. "And always end with at least two to three minutes of stretching."

McMillian and Garce suggest the following basic, no-equipment-needed exercises to get you started:

  • Squats. Standing upright, feet wider than shoulders apart. With your arms extended forward or your hands on your hips for balance, squat down. Push your knees outward as you descend until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Continue pushing your knees outward as you stand.
  • Partial-body push-ups (with knees on the floor).
  • Modified jumping jacks. Instead of moving your arms over your head, do these while you press the palms of your hands together at chest level, holding your elbows out to make a straight line.
  • Chair crunches. Sit on a chair with your hands under your behind, arms straight, and fingers facing inward toward one another. Contract your pelvis and lower abs, and, keeping your knees bent at a 90-degree angle, lift your feet off the floor and tuck your knees in toward your chest while bending your upper body slightly toward your knees. Do as many as you can until you reach fatigue.
  • Chair dips. Place your hands on the side of the chair and wrap your fingers around the edge. Scoot forward until your bottom is on the edge of the chair and your arms are fully extended. Keep your feet about 3 inches apart with your legs extended, so your knees are at approximately a 150 degree angle with your heels grounded. With your elbows pointed back and tucked in tight alongside your body, do 15 to 20 dips, 3 seconds down and 1 second up. Keep your chest up and your shoulders back.


3. Turn Your Housewares Into "Gymware"

Your home may already be a home gym. If you think outside the (treadmill) box, you'll be surprised at how many household objects can be substituted for fitness equipment.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Use soup cans for weights. Janet Lee, deputy fitness editor of Shape magazine, says that you can do any triceps or biceps exercise at home using cans of soup that you'd do at the gym with dumbbells. To properly gauge the weight, don't go by the ounces listed on the can -- that's liquid weight. Instead, weigh the cans on your scale to figure out the poundage that's best for you.
  • Use jugs as weights. Fill a household bucket or jug with water (or sand, rock salt, or powdered detergent) and secure the top with duct tape. Lift it up and down in front of you as you do squats.
  • Substitute paper plates for body sculpting equipment. The key here, Lee says, is to use the plates to help your body slide on a carpet. This allows you to do body sculpting moves that would ordinarily require workout equipment. You can do the sliding lunge (put the paper plate under one foot and lunge forward). Try simulating skating to work your butt and thighs -- just attach the plates to your feet with rubber bands and slide away. Or, get down on all fours, put the plates under your hands, and use them to work your chest by sliding your arms back and forth.
  • Substitute a countertop for a push-up bench. In most homes, at least one countertop, either in the kitchen or the bath, is the right height for a push-up. Put both hands on the countertop, extend your legs behind you at an angle, lean down into the counter, and then push back up.
  • Substitute pantyhose for resistance bands. Almost any exercise you can do with a resistance band, you can do with old pantyhose or tights. For example, sitting on the floor with your legs straight, loop a pair of pantyhose around the balls of your feet and pull back with both hands as if you are using a rowing machine.


4. Use Your Computer for Motivation and Help

Do you tend to work out better when someone is setting goals for you? Then don't overlook the power of your computer and the many free applications that can provide some of the stimulation you need.

You can find exercise-tracking tools and spreadsheets on a number of websites. Use them to create and maintain a training regimen, keep track of your progress, and even share online with friends, family members, and fellow exercisers.

For how-to instructions for specific exercises, check out WebMD's fitness slideshow, including those illustrating a 30-minute workout and abs exercises.

Video sites like YouTube are full of free videos from exercise gurus willing to share their know-how. Some other sites offer free workouts to download to your mp3 player. However, the experts warn, you shouldn't take advice from just anyone.

"Make sure the fitness instructor is qualified," Therese Pasqualoni, an aerobics instructor and director of StrikeItHealthy.com, says. "There is a lot of questionable advice out there, even on DVDs you purchase. So always make sure the advice is coming from someone certified by a reputable fitness organization."

5. Take a TV Exercise Break

Here's a no-excuses, no-expense workout. Instead of going to the kitchen for a snack during TV commercials, exercise.

"Pick a different activity for each commercial and do it till the show comes back on," suggests Shina. "During one commercial, do crunches; during another, do squats; during another, march in place. The longer you watch TV, the more exercise you'll get in. And before the night is over, you've got at least 15 to 20 minutes of workout time."

6. Spend a Little, Get a Lot

If you do have a few dollars to put toward building a better body, here is the fitness equipment that experts say can give you the most benefits for the least amount of money:

  • A dumbbell set that represents a realistic range of what you need to lift (5-30 pounds for most women, 10-50 pounds for most men)
  • An adjustable weight bench (one that goes from flat to incline or decline)
  • A mirror for the wall so you can see your technique
  • Kettle bells -- hand weights that can be used to tone your entire body
  • Resistance bands, a type of rubber tubing that creates resistance for your muscles
  • Instructional DVDs
  • Stability ball
  • Step bench for step aerobics
WebMD Feature Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on October 01, 2009



Susie Shina, personal trainer; founder and director, FitnessOneEighty.com; author, 60-Second Circuits: 1,000 Easy Exercise Combos You Can Do Anywhere.

Charla McMillian, JD, CSCS , NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist; director and founder, FitBoot.com.

Adrian Garce, personal trainer certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) and International Fitness Professionals Association (IFPA) for functional training; Bosu integrated expert certified by ECA World Fitness.

Janet Lee, deputy fitness editor, Shape Magazine.

Therese Pasqualoni, fitness trainer; director, StrikeItHealthycom.

© 2008 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.


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