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Trying to amp up your fitness can be intimidating in and of itself, but it’s especially scary when you consider the hefty price tags of many fitness classes, gym memberships, and workout gear. $37 for a single spin class? $98 for spandex capris? A monthly gym fee that costs more than groceries? No thanks.

“People can get intimidated by not having the ‘right stuff,’ and thinking that the ‘right stuff’ is too expensive,” Stephanie Mansour, Chicago-based personal trainer and fitness/weight loss coach, tells Cooking Light. Too often, this mentality can prevent us from even getting started on a fitness track, which is a shame, says Mansour, because a healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) equal dollar signs.

With just a little education and research, you can make a legitimate and sustainable fitness leap on the cheap, says Mansour. Here’s how to get started.

Browse Affordable Workout Wear

When it comes to exercise attire, think “basic” and “generic,” says Mansour. “Get staple pieces rather than super trendy, seasonal items.” That means opting for the mono-toned, functional and super comfy leggings that go with practically everything as opposed to the crazy neon patterned tights that you’ll (maybe) put on twice a year. The former type of garments will likely be cheaper than the latest fad, and you’ll be more apt to like (and thus wear) them long-term.

As for where to purchase said basics, look for sales at department stores, says Mansour, and also browse the racks at budget-friendly retailers like T.J. Maxx, Kohl’s, Marshall’s, JC Penny, and Old Navy. You don’t need to spring for the most modern, high-tech fabrics and fits. The number one criteria should be comfort. With pants and shorts, this means finding a pair that won’t ride up or otherwise chafe as you move (walk around in the dressing room to get a good idea of how the fabric feels against your skin); and for tops, this means getting something breathable that will keep you cool, yet covered (consider a shirt with an elastic band around the bottom if you’ll be doing yoga or a high-intensity activity where your top might ride up). 

All that said, there are two types of workout gear that you shouldn’t skimp on, says Mansour: sneakers and sports bras. On the shoe front, it’s important to get a pair that is both instantly comfortable and provides quality ankle support. “Don’t have mentality that you should have to ‘break in’ your sneakers,” says Mansour. “You should feel comfortable when you first walk in them, and your ankle should also feel protected.” This may mean getting a shoe that fits snugly at the top, but if you’re unsure which kind is right for you, ask a professional’s help.

As for the bras, you’ll want to find something that is comfortable and provides proper support. When trying on options, jump up and down in the dressing room to make sure that you don’t feel any pain when you bounce. You should also take a couple deep breaths to make sure that the bra isn’t too tight around your chest or back, says Mansour.

Consider Secondhand Gym Equipment

While buying secondhand workout clothing may not be a particularly appealing option, buying secondhand workout equipment is a totally viable and smart idea, says Mansour. Sites like eBay and Amazon have loads of lightly used gear (like weights, jump ropes and stability balls) that will be just as effective as the store-bought stuff—but significantly cheaper.


Research Personal Trainers

Personal training sessions can be a great way to learn the fundamentals of fitness and ensure accountability, but they can also cost you a pretty penny. Ask a local trainer if he or she offers shortened sessions that may not otherwise be advertised, recommends Mansour. You can still learn and accomplish a lot in a 30-minute vs. 60-minute session. In the same vein, you can also cut personal training costs by buddying up. Ask a friend with similar fitness goals if he or she would like to go in on a package deal.

Consider Soon-To-Be Fitness Experts

Do some online research to see if there are any local personal training, yoga, Pilates and/or other fitness schools near you. Students at these schools will often need to log a certain number of hours training/coaching people in order to receive their certifications, says Mansour, and these training hours are often free, or heavily discounted, for the general public. Call a local school and ask about their offerings.

Ask About Alternative Gym Memberships

When browsing gyms, ask if they have any corporate, student, senior and/or any other applicable discounts available, says Mansour. You can also ask about part-time or limited membership offerings, like a pass that would allow you to go 1 to 2 times a week (rather than unlimited access) or an option to just access to the gym equipment and not the classes. You can also ask if putting down more money up front would drive down your monthly membership costs.

“Some smaller gyms will be more willing to work with you,” says Mansour, and even at larger gyms, it never hurts to inquire.

Get Free Workouts

If personal training sessions and/or a gym membership are out of your budget, go to your local library and scope the selection of exercise DVDs. Better yet, head to YouTube where you can find thousands of free exercises tutorials. Just know: not every self-proclaimed online “fitness guru” is actually formally trained. For your own safety, it’s a good idea to research your source before following their fitness advice, says Mansour. Scope their website and/or social media channels for evidence of nationally accredited certifications and believable testimonials from folks whose fitness levels and goals are similar to your own.