A Student’s Guide to Staying Fit for Free(ish)

As a self-funded PhD student, I currently have very little money to spend on luxuries. Indeed, at the start of my PhD, my gym membership was one of the first luxuries I culled. Giving up the gym doesn’t have to automatically mean giving up on fitness. Although I live in Birmingham, a city which unfortunately doesn’t appear to benefit from the numerous free training classes available in London, I have found many other ways of staying fit for free

1. Walk and run (where possible leave the car at home). When I started my PhD I unfortunately had to sell my car. I managed to turn a negative into a positive and now walk everywhere whenever it is feasible. I can’t believe that I used to drive the mile to my local shops, how lazy was I! Walking ensures that I get outside and get some fresh air and exercise. There is nothing more satisfying than walking past a queue of cars snarled up in the rush-hour traffic.

I love running and am lucky enough to live next to Sutton Park. Running can be one of the cheapest sports out there. All you need are a pair of running shoes and a sports bra, I genuinely believe that everything else is optional. If you want to start running then I highly recommend following the Couch to 5k training plan.

2. Get involved with parkrun. I love the phenomenon that is parkrun. parkrun hold weekly FREE 5km events around the country.  parkruns are fully inclusive, it doesn’t matter how fast/slow you are I can guarantee that you will be made to feel welcome. If you want to take part then the only expense will be a pair of decent running shoes and a sports bra. I suspect that most people will already own a pair of trainers so parkrun really is free. There are currently 12 parkrun events within the West Midlands area, my personal ambition is to complete all 12.

Results are sent via text and email for FREE the same day. Some of the larger events could learn from parkrun

3. Outdoor Gym. Although the Outdoor Gym concept is perhaps not quite as well known as parkrun, I have followed the 31-day Outdoor Gym plan and can vouch for its effectiveness. More information on the 31-day Outdoor Gym plan is available on both the National Trust’s website and on the NHS.

According to the NHS “…the 31-day plan has been designed to ease people into an outdoors regime where exercise is fun rather than a chore. No equipment is needed. Exercises in the challenge include power walking, tree press ups and ‘spotty dogs’ (stepping backwards on the spot using opposite arms and legs)”Why pay for an indoor gym when you can train outside??

4. Exercise at Home. During the winter I do a lot of exercising at home. For this YouTube really is your best friend, it’s amazing how many gym workout videos are available online, for free! My all-time favourite training plan is Jillian Michaels’ 30 Day Shred, the Level One workout is available on YouTube.

YouTube has been helping me to stay fit for free for almost three years. I used cans of baked beans instead of expensive hand weights. Have a search on YouTube for fitness videos, there are loads of free clips to chose from!

5. Competitions. I have a confession to make; I am a competition addict. I am constantly liking pages/posts on facebook and re tweeting tweets on twitter. In the last 12 months I have been lucky enough to win places in the Color Run, Run to the Beat Half Marathon (unfortunately now a 10k) and the second Red Bull Steeplechase. Never be afraid/embarrassed to enter competitions, I am a great believer of you have to be in it to win it!

Runner’s World UK, Top Sante and Women’s Running Magazine are nearly always running competitions.

6. Your iPhone as a Personal Trainer. Although my iPhone isn’t free and is possibly a luxury I shouldn’t really have at the moment, it has become my personal trainer. My iPhone is full of fitness and health apps, all cost the grand total of zero pence to download (via the universities free wi-fi). My favourite is MyFitnessPal which allows me to log what I eat and how many calories (far too many) I consume each day, I also log all of my exercise. I am currently using the 30 Day Ab Challenge app, the Nike Training Club app and FitSnap which strictly speaking isn’t a fitness app but is great for producing motivational photos.

7. Free Gym Passes. If you fancy heading back to the gym for a one-off session, then download a free day/trial pass. For example, for more information visit Fitness First, LA Fitness and Nuffield Health. I would recommend reading the Terms and Conditions and small print before using these vouchers and passes. I have used free gym passes in the past, the only downside is the fact that the membership department will do their very best to get you to join. There is as far as I am aware absolutely no obligation for you to join the gym once you have used a free pass.

8. Volunteer. Volunteer at your nearest parkrun and give something back to the running community. If you volunteer your services as a pacer then you will be staying fit for free while volunteering, a win-win situation. I recently blogged about my experiences marshaling at the Women’s Running 10k in Sutton Park. OK so I was paid £30 for my time and given a free goody bag plus t-shirt. The t-shirt has already been worn loads and saved me the £20 cost of purchasing a summer running top. I have also volunteered at events where the ‘payment’ is free entry into another event. My message is that if you have the time, volunteer.

9. Be a Blogger (Blagger) – if you don’t ask…I have to confess to being more than slightly envious at times of some of the London-based running and fitness bloggers. It feels like I am frequently reading reviews of new running gear and accessories, new and in some cases slightly unusual fitness classes, sports drinks etc etc. I recently applied to be a Brooks blogger but unfortunately wasn’t selected.

My advice, if you have a well established blog use it to your advantage and embrace those freebies. You have put the effort into establishing your blog, readership, contacts etc so reap the rewards. Unfortunately my blog is read by my cat and a random stalker *waves* and the only freebies I get are competition wins.

Hopefully I’ve demonstrated that as a student it has been possible to stay (relatively) fit for free. The majority of parks are free to use so make the most of them!

Do you have any other tips on staying fit for free?



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