The cheapskate's guide to exercising

I'm desperately trying to resist the birthday cake that's in the office kitchen right now, so I thought I'd distract myself by writing a post about exercising.

Those of you who know me know I'm an occasional runner, hiker, biker, and roller skater. I've done one Warrior Dash, one beginner triathlon, and one 5km race in the past three years, and I'm aiming to do at least one 10km run this year, simply to have a goal to work towards.

I'm a terrible cheapskate when it comes to working out. I've never belonged to a gym, I don't do any equipment-heavy (read: expensive) sports, and I skimp on all gear except a decent pair of running shoes, cold-weather running pants, and a jiggle-free sports bra. (Seriously, one of those is worth the $50 I pay...)

This isn't just an economic decision, although that's part of it.

For me, exercising is a lifestyle choice, a habit, a technique to keep me sane and healthy—not an opportunity for conspicuous consumption. That's not to say that if you belong to a gym and go regularly, you're wrong—it's just too many people think that's the only way to get fit, and that's just not true.

Exercise doesn't have to be a huge investment, either of time or money—and, in fact, treating it that way is probably a deterrent to ever getting started.

Ideally, although it may be uncomfortable at times, exercise, whatever form it takes, will leave you feeling joyful, strong, and even-keeled—and won't deplete your bank account.

Here's how I make it work for me:
  • I keep it simple. My workouts require little gear beyond the aforementioned shoes, sports bra, t-shirt, and shorts. I have cold-weather pants and a windbreaker for the winter. And I have free weights at home. If I felt really ambitious, I could add a stability ball, but I haven't really felt the burning need to so far.
  • I choose to be outside, for the most part, interacting with my community. I huff my way up and down the hills in my neighbourhood (yes, even in the winter). I hike the Bruce Trail. This is far more soul-filling than putting in time on a treadmill in a loud gym—and that  keeps me going back out for more.
  • I figure out what motivates me. Judging from the number of people who don't use their gym memberships, an expensive gym isn't enough motivation to keep most people slogging through exercise's inevitable discomfort. For me, immediate rewards like new music, a new route to explore, and the promise of a post-run bubble bath or back rub are pretty good at getting me out. Watching the scale (and the mirror!) is a powerful motivator as well. To be fair, when I was at university I liked going to the (free) campus gym for the people-watching—but that appeal isn't enough to get me to pay.
  • I figure out what's stopping me. I found that I was skimping on my runs if I got home late, or only had a limited window of time—so on the days when I don't have enough time to do a 45-minute run, I climb the stairs in my building for 15 minutes. (Believe me, 15 minutes is plenty.) If I have another 15 minutes I'll follow up the stair climbing with some weights. A friend of mine who lives in a house runs up and down her stairs if it's too cold to go out.
  • I do fun stuff, as well as hard slogs. Roller skating, hiking with friends, biking with my dad—these things offset the more goal-oriented (and, let's face it, sometimes agonizing) running and stair climbing.
  • I make fitness functional. I don't have a car, so this is easy: I walk to the grocery store, and carry my groceries home. I walk to the library. I walk to the Farmers' Market. Hell, I walk to the bus stop! I consciously chose my current living location precisely because it was walking distance to almost everything.
  • I don't have a TV. Seriously. And I don't miss it one bit. It's far, far too easy for me to lose an entire evening parked in front of the tube—and without it, I get bored enough to get out and move. 
  • I surround myself with like-minded folks. I belong to an awesome group on Facebook, and we encourage each other to exercise, even though we don't manage to get together as often as we'd like. My best friend does karate (how's THAT for inspiring?). I catch up with other friends over a hike or bike ride.
OK, the birthday cake temptation has passed. (And I have nothing against birthday cake, but I want my splurges to COUNT—so I try not to eat junky stuff simply because it's placed in front of me.)

What about you? How do you get up the motivation to get off the couch?


  1. I play with kids. It is hard because they have all the energy! But it is fun to feel like a kid again. And the tease the kids while I'm losing at whatever sport or game we're playing.


  2. Damn. I didn't even know I NEEDED a sports bra. Forget it, I'm sticking with walking an hour each day.

  3. Hey, if you're not attracting creepy leers or experiencing epic chafing, you probably don't need a sports bra. I, on the other hand...

  4. Hi,
    I have a quick question about your blog, do you think you could email me?


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