Here’s What Happened When I Gave Up My Gym Membership for a Year

I used to be a gym rat. Ever since joining my first gym as a senior in high school, I was hooked on weight training and never looked back. In college, I first joined, then worked at, the campus gym. When I graduated, I quickly settled on a gym in New York City. Even when I gave up my membership six and a half years later, it was because I had access to a gym in the building where I worked part-time. For more than 10 years, I couldn’t imagine going a few days – let alone a few weeks – without hitting the gym.

That all changed a little over a year ago when I started working full time on my own business. I couldn’t fathom going back to paying the steep prices for New York City gyms, especially when I had the limited income that comes with starting your own company. Plus, I would be traveling a lot and didn’t want to pay for a gym when I’d barely be around to use it. So, I made the tough call to not rejoin a gym.

Over a year later, I still don’t have a gym membership and I’m in better shape than ever. My upper body strength has dramatically increased and I’ve lost inches all over. Here’s how I make it work:

1. Take advantage of on-demand workouts.

I used to think I couldn’t get a good workout in my own home. Turns out, I was wrong. With a set of 10-pound dumbbells, a yoga mat and a resistance band, I’m able to get an intense total body workout right in my living room. There are many apps or online workout videos to choose from; these are three of my favorites:

  • Nike Training Club: I first used this app years ago while traveling. At the time, I was used to lifting very heavy weights, so I didn’t think I’d even break a sweat. Boy, was I wrong. The 15- minute “get focused” workout left me dripping in sweat and sore for days. This app is like having a personal trainer in your pocket, with audio and visual guidance for every move. There are over 100 workouts, including cardio, interval training, strength training, yoga and more.
  • Daily Burn: This website offers a 30-day free trial so you can play around with the workouts and see if you like it. After that, it costs $14.95 per month for unlimited workout videos. There are over 700 workouts you can filter by time, equipment needed, difficulty and more.
  • Crunch Live: If you like fitness classes, Crunch’s live online fitness studio is a great choice. They offer a 10-day free trial, then it’s $9.99 per month. Choose from over 85 online workouts inspired by Crunch Gym’s most popular classes, including Pilates, barre workouts, yoga and boot camps. Crunch’s top instructors lead all workouts.

2. Take it outside.

Running outdoors always came naturally to me, but it wasn’t until I gave up my gym membership that I realized how easy it is to make the outdoors your gym. I spend a few days per week doing interval sprints on the running path near my apartment, using an interval timing app to change up the work and rest ratios. For example, I’ll sprint all-out for 20 seconds, then walk for 30 seconds. Changing up the work-to-rest ratio keeps your body guessing. You can also get in a solid strength training workout using your own body weight. Try pushups, triceps dips on a bench, pullups on a tree branch or metal bar, box jumps onto a bench or stone steps, or walking lunges up a hill. If you have access to a set of stairs, sprinting up and down can be a fantastic workout.

3. Search for online discounts.

During my gym days, I never was a huge fitness class person, in part because I didn’t want to pay for classes when I could plan and carry out workouts on my own. Once I started working out on my own, however, I discovered how many great deals you can get on fitness classes. For instance, the last time I checked Groupon, it was offering a deal at a local boxing gym (three classes for $30), a month of unlimited yoga for $32 and an unlimited month at an independent gym plus two personal training sessions for $29. Living Social and Gilt offer similar options, and you can search by zip code to find deals near you. I use these deals periodically to supplement my home or outdoor workouts.

4. Take advantage of free fitness.

With the weather warming up, free fitness events are popping up everywhere. Check local publications or websites to see what no-cost events are happening near you. If you’re in a major city, you can try out Nike Run Club or search the Fitbit Local website to find free exercise classes happening in your area. In New York City, I take advantage of free yoga in Bryant Park, fun group fitness classes at Athleta in Flatiron, Ironstrength fitness classes with Dr. Jordan Metzl and free boot camp workouts with The Rise NYC. You can even schedule workout dates with friends whose gyms offer guest passes.

5. Try the barter system.

If you know people in the fitness industry, ask if you can exchange your professional services for training sessions. I did this last year, when a personal trainer I know was looking for help building his blog content and social media following. I created content for him for four months in exchange for free personal training sessions. Even one session a week can make a big difference in maintaining your fitness.

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