the joy of strength training


April 14th, 2009 at 10:40 am

Fitness on a budget

I don’t know about you but I have been feeling the credit crunch bite recently. It got me thinking about how you can cut down on your fitness expenses.

Gym membership, expensive clothing, shiny new kit, supplements – they all cost money. But there are many ways to get fit, look great and stay strong quite cheaply.

The good news is that the alternatives can be just as good as or even better than the things we pay huge amounts of money for.  What’s more, you won’t be able to kid yourself that you are succeeding simply by throwing money at the issue.

So if you don’t feel you are getting value for money, try swopping an expensive method for a cheaper and quite possibly better alternative.

Swop: Lifting weights in the gym
For: Sandbags and bodyweight exercises

British Military Fitness shows how tough the press-up can be

Many people underestimate the amount of strength that can be gained from bodyweight exercises. Most people when they think of ‘bodyweight exercises’ immediately think of press-ups. Well, they haven’t done the Marines any harm. But as Matthew Potak puts it in Another 30 Days Without Weights, “Don’t just do a bunch of pushups and situps to failure…You have to try things that you can’t or almost can’t do.” Check his article to find out how.

Sandbags are a great way to train the power or Olympic lifts at home without investing in expensive kit. You can make your own or buy one ready made. In fact there is all sorts of kit you can make at home, from medicine balls to the latest trendy fitness accessory – the slosh pipe. You get the same training effect that you do from the shiny toys in the gym without the cost – or the annoying music.

If anyone has doubts that real strength can be gained outside the gym, just look at the sport of strongman. It’s all about picking up very heavy and awkwardly shaped objects that are just lying around (well, they are if you live on a farm).

Swop: Cardio machines at the gym
For: Joining a running club

When times are hard one of the first things to be considered for the chop is the gym membership. Although it’s convenient and weather resilient you don’t get any expertise or training for your money, just a free towel and a bored look from the 12-year-old behind the counter.

Running clubs by contrast are usually very cheap and include coaching sessions in the price. In the UK you pay a modest annual subscription (£20-30 a year) and perhaps a token amount each session you attend (my running club for example is 50p a session). You get the companionship and motivation from being in a group, you get instruction as most running clubs will have track days or coached sessions and you get another facet to your social life.

You don’t have to be a serious racer either. Most running clubs have beginner sessions and not everybody competes for the club. Many people are there just to lose a bit of weight or for the social side. On the other hand, if you do want to get serious about running you are perfectly placed to take advantage of the coaching and competitive atmosphere.

Swop: Expensive training shoes
For: Bare feet

We’ve known for a while that weight training in bare feet is perfectly acceptable, if not preferable to shoes as weight training is best performed on a flat, stable surface – although you’d have a hard time persuading health clubs of this fact since they are convinced that wearing trainers protects your feet if you drop a dumbbell on them. However now it turns out that bare feet are ideal for walking and running too! Recent research shows that shoes work against our natural gait and make the foot less efficient.

nikefree.jpg vibram.jpg vivo.jpg

Sportswear companies have jumped on these new findings as an excuse to bring out new types of shoes such as the Nike Free, Vibram Five Fingers or Clarke’s Vivo. Which is all very exciting but you can of course just go barefoot. Remember when you were a kid and you couldn’t wait to kick your shoes off and run around in bare feet?

There has always been some amused or hippyish interest in the issue and people remember barefoot runners like Zola Budd. But it seems that only now is the research being widely disseminated to show exactly why bare feet (or shoes that closely mimic the bare foot) could be better. There are a few longtime barefoot runners out there who were ahead of the curve. Of these, many seem to have taken it up because they were getting injuries from running in shoes, and barefoot running solved their problems.

It takes time to adapt to barefoot running so introduce it gradually. Start with a comfortable surface like short grass and don’t run for too long. You will certainly feel it in your calves the next day, but you will get used to it. There is some good advice about getting started with barefoot running at the end of this article.

Swop: Text Books
For: Ebooks

kettlebell training guideThere are some excellent strength and fitness books out there but they can be expensive and lengthy. But now there are popular and proven titles available for free or low cost online as ebooks.

Ebooks are often focussed more on the practical than the theoretical. For people who want a good, easy-to-follow programme or a clear explanation of training technique, an ebook is ideal.

Here are some ebook suggestions for a range of different goals and topics:

For… Try…
Olympic weightlifting From the Ground Up by Dan John
Crossfit skills Elite Fitness Manual from Crossfit London
Strength and mass Stronglifts 5 x 5
Body recomposition Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle by Tom Venuto

What these ebooks have in common is a clear explanation of basic principles together with techniques and programmes that can immediately be put to use in the training environment. They obviously vary in production quality but I wouldn’t be recommending them unless I was convinced of the quality of the content.

Swop: supplements and mass produced food
For: catching your own or buying locally

Wild food is popular at the moment. It seems that people have begun to feel too mollycoddled by the conveniences of modern life. Add to this the concerns over modern intensive farming methods, the ethics of food production and supermarket meat and fish can leave a nasty taste in the mouth.

Not everybody can go completely ‘back to nature’ but it is worth considering whether hunting, fishing or keeping a few chickens is something you could try. It could be a cheap source of tasty protein. Fishing is fairly easy to get into – you can get a complete starter kit for around £50, which would pay for itself in fish quite quickly. You can even go on an organised fishing trip if you don’t feel confident trying it yourself.


Everything I have suggested in this article is something I have done myself so I know it is possible. I love spending money on new stuff as much as the next person but there’s a difference between treating yourself to a luxury and believing that you can’t get fit without the latest kit.

Many people have got into the habit of spending money on their fitness without stopping to think whether they are actually gettting fitter and reaching their goals. If your kit or your gym membership isn’t delivering, there are genuine alternatives.

Do you train on a budget? What money-saving ideas would you recommend?

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  • 1

    Along the same lines as supplements:
    Instead of wasting money on recover drinks or sports drinks – plain ole’ water will do. Anything more is a ‘sugar-coated’ disguise.
    Thanks for the tips!

    bethenextstep on April 14th, 2009
  • 2

    Good point, you don’t want to be necking sports drinks unnecessarily.

    If you do feel you need a sports drink however, you can make your own! Check out this article from the BBC for tips on how to make isotonic, hypotonic or hypertonic sports drinks.

    gubernatrix on April 15th, 2009
  • 3

    I swear to bodyweight strength training. With a couple of rings, I am well off to train my whole upper body. Legs get their share by running and jumping.
    I have been doing strength training since my youth through diverse sports and weightlifting while in service. I had little knowlegde about how to train for strength without weights besides pushups and thought it really was not possible. Then I discovered gymnastics and the rings one year ago. Now I have a set of el-cheapo rings on adjustable bands under my staircase at home and dont feel that I miss out on anything besides the social thing by not going to a gym. I can work out any night or morning if I want to and there is no fee incurred. Strength needed to pull off even simple gymnastic moves and positions is amazing:

    ref: (forum is excellent)

    If I feel like really burning some calories, I just need to take a hike up the hills or even some of the mountains where I live. Nature is free, usually. During winter snowboarding down the backcountry after walking up is really great.
    Not exactly working out, but my friends are always happy if they get help for hard physical labour like preparing firewood for the winter, digging and putting up walls and the like. Often there are some free proteins or carbs attached as well.
    Becoming an instructor in a club can besides getting yourself free access to the clubs facilities also improve your efforts. When I have been an instructor, I always give 10% more (at least) than the participants.
    My old job was just 13kms from my home, so then I used to ride my bicycle to work and back. Now it is 30kms and I just dont have time anymore with dropping off my child at the daycare center. But used bikes are cheap, and way cheaper than operating and owning a car. If I could, I would loose the car at the blink of an eye.

    Not a directly fitness tip, but I have a freezer which I fill with meats when they are on sale. It is very economical and convenient.

    Gyms, who need it? 😉

    Rolfe on April 15th, 2009
  • 4

    Excellent tips, Rolfe, thanks! Many of them very functional as well. It seems logical that if you are going to do ‘functional fitness’ you should probably use it for some useful functions, like chopping wood or building things!

    You’ve also inspired me to dig my rings out of the box they have been languishing in for a couple of months and get back on my ring work!

    gubernatrix on April 15th, 2009
  • 5

    For more inspiration, have a look at youtube contents:

    For the big guys, read up on this guy and what he accomplished through bodyweight exercises at 6’2″ and 180lbs
    And for gubernatrix and the rings, I was impressed by Lillian Leitzel. She did 27 dynamic (and 6 ‘static’) one arm chin ups and had her own rings routine..

    Rolfe on April 15th, 2009
  • 6

    Once again a terrific post! Bodyweight training rocks as far as I’m concerned…always add some to my training sessions. Special thanks for putting in the links to other articles you wrote! The one on improving your your mile (running) is AWESOME!!!!

    I gotta spend more time on your site… 🙂

    btw, any chance you’re on twitter?

    Thanks again,

    Fred on April 19th, 2009
  • 7

    Cheers Fred, glad you liked it. I am not on Twitter yet.

    gubernatrix on April 20th, 2009
  • 8

    Hey G

    Nice article…..thought the content very well thought out and presented.

    I have forgone the pleasure of the gym [especially as the snow has now gone]…..sandbags are fantastic….just in the throes of getting my hands on a keg [empty….not a full one for me to drink…hmmm…maybe 😉 ] and I love working out on the rings…they put a whole new angle on exercises…pullups / pushups / dips….all take on a whole new meaning when done on rings.

    Also a sledgehammer and tyres are good fun too…very ‘cream crackering’ for sure

    Anyhooo….the sun is shining…..popping out for a play with tyres and sandbags

    Have a great one


    glasshouse_bc on April 20th, 2009
  • 9

    Hi Steve,

    It’s amazing how getting out of the rat race makes life cheaper and simpler, isn’t it!

    gubernatrix on April 21st, 2009
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