How to Save Money on Your Workouts—Online & IRL
From free online classes to actually-affordable personal trainers, there are plenty ways to save money and get the best bang for your workout buck—no matter your budget or fitness experience.
Maintaining a consistent fitness regimen, especially in 2021, can be expensive. With boutique fitness studios charging upwards of $35 for a 45-minute class in some cities and smaller gyms that promise an intimate training experience asking you to part with $250 a month, it can feel like keeping fit is financially...impossible. But there are ways to save money and get the best bang for your buck—no matter your budget or fitness experience.
Before the pandemic, NYC educator Elisse Battle says she averaged three to four Soul Cycle classes a week. The 39-year-old bought packages of five or 10 classes—resulting in a negligible discount on the per-class cost. She estimates spending approximately $500 a month on Soul Cycle alone with additional funds going toward the occasional "Solidcore" class.
Now, Battle spends a fraction of what she used to—and reports feeling fitter than ever. How? The majority of Battle's workouts are now free, thanks to Instagram fitness sensations Erika Hammond and Do Your Rumble.
Fitness Blender is another absolutely free online workout option, with classes you can filter by body focus (upper or lower), length of time (maybe you only have 20 minutes before that next meeting starts), and equipment (no equipment? no sweat; many classes rely on your own body resistance). A premium offering is available for those who want a slightly more enhanced experience with additional features and functionality.
RELATED: 9 Free At-Home Workouts
Make an investment
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Kait Hanson, a journalist living in Oahu, had access to a free military gym prior to the pandemic, but when that option vanished, she and her husband Dane invested in a Peloton to the tune of $3,300 with tax and shipping. And yes, believe it or not, this was a money-saving move.
Hanson says it was "a major investment"—but, for her, worth it. She and her husband both ride the bike nearly every day and take advantage of the Peloton app's other offerings, including yoga classes. In short, they'll have the Peloton down to a few dollars a day in a little over a year if they keep their current pace.
Commit to unlimited…virtually
Boutique studios offering class packages can't really compete with online classes offering unlimited classes, since the in-person savings usually amounts to about a few dollars off per class, if that. And with the bevy of exercise options now available online (boxing, barre, cycling, speed running, dance cardio, HIIT, Pilates, yoga, cardio sculpt, ", you name it), if you're someone who's likely to quit an exercise routine out of boredom, then a virtual studio with a diverse range of classes may be just the thing to keep you motivated—and keep money in your wallet.
Take Obé Fitness, a relatively new player in the virtual fitness game. Its live and on-demand classes are offered by brightly-clad and energetic instructors with bold virtual backgrounds and just the right amount of encouragement to get you through the burn. The cost of Obé is especially sweet. At just $27 a month for unlimited classes, it's a clear win over practically any in-person scenario. You'll save even more on the monthly cost if you plunk down for a full year or quarter.
Opt for one class at a time and supplement
Bande, a more premium virtual offering dubbed the "World's First Virtual Boutique Fitness Studio," also offers unlimited monthly classes, but at $180/month, it's probably not much of a money-saver for most unless you're planning to sweat it out five or six days a week (and even then, you're looking at $8 or $9 a class—cheap but not dirt-cheap).
Fortunately, Bande's drop-in rate is just $15, which Founder & CEO Rebecca Balyasny points out is significantly less than most brick-and-mortar options. Factor in two or three classes a month and supplement the workouts with runs around the park or long power walks several times a week, and you'll barely be spending anything on your fitness routine.
Join a no-frills gym
"With virtual, you can work out more regularly than was ever possible before," says Balyasny, but the question remains: Will you?
The reality, of course, is that not everyone feels motivated by a virtual option, especially when a class is free (no cash lost if you don't show up!). An online yoga class may sound lovely to some, but for others, there's something about setting up the mat in your living room and trying to settle into your breathing that just makes you want to clean the kitchen or prep dinner—anything but focus on your downward-facing dog form (just me?).
And new runners or joggers or those unlikely to lace up and hit the pavement in less-than-ideal weather conditions may find they need a dedicated space outside the home or the workout just won't happen. Fortunately, there are plenty of inexpensive gyms around the country. Places like Planet Fitness, the YMCA and even Crunch often offer sign-up deals that'll get you in the door for less than $100/month. Some offer free week or month trials too.
These facilities may not offer the bells and whistles of say, Equinox, a posh gym chain known for its stellar classes and pristine locker rooms, dishing up a slew of cool amenities, but they have all the workout essentials: weights, stationary bikes, treadmills, ellipticals, and workout benches. Most typically also offer classes—and hey, there's no shame in needing a room full of people to get through those sixty-second planks.
Find an affordable personal trainer
Yes, they do exist! Dave Rice, for example, who's owned a Crossfit gym since 2007 offers personal training and 24/7 access, starting at $155 per month. Rice is at the gym most days, and he and his team provide instruction, guidance, and motivation—things he says that can't often be replicated in a similar-seeming offering found on YouTube or accessed in a virtual class. "The gym immerses you in the task at hand, provides clarity, encourages focus and commitment, and removes many of the distractions that can get in the way of that at home," Rice says.
Becoming a Crossfit member is of course significantly more expensive than a basic gym membership, but it's still a whole lot cheaper than shelling out for a regular (expensive) personal trainer. If you're someone like Battle and have enough self-discipline to work out regardless of life's distractions, then you probably won't benefit much from a personal trainer, and you can keep on keeping on. However, if you're a bit lacking in the self-discipline department and can't get your butt to the gym or in front of your laptop screen no matter how excited you are about your new workout gear, you might want to try another tactic.
Another option is Future, a virtual workout program that pairs members with a highly trained coach and utilizes an Apple Watch to track exercise and fitness goals (a watch comes with membership if you don't already have one). Rishi Mandal, Future's co-creator, estimates that the average personal trainer (IRL) costs upwards of $15,000/year, whereas Future is $150/month or $1,800 per year. With it, you get assigned a personal coach who designs workouts based on your schedule and goals, and you also get the fitness-tracking Apple watch to help monitor your steps and calorie-burning activities.
Completing three or four personally-designed workouts per week because someone is holding you accountable versus not going to the gym or not logging into the virtual on-demand class? It's pretty obvious which is the more economical option of the two.
That said, there are also no-cost ways to fitness accountability. You could find a running buddy or arrange to meet a friend in a local park once a week to burn it out with squats, lunges and crunches. You could sign up for a race with your best friend and keep each other updated on your mileage each week—motivated both by the cost of race registration and the sweet euphoria of crossing the finish line. Hey, you can even make a plan to treat yourselves to brunch afterwards using all that money you saved on exercise classes and apps and virtual trainers.