Your complete guide to cheap, easy, and fun ways to get fit

By Nichele Hoskins

Fitness excuses. After 20 years as a fitness instructor and about 15 years as a fitness editor, I’ve heard them all — from it’s too chilly outside to the holiday parties are about to begin so why bother — and used a few myself. In fact, we all experience glitches that can interfere with our workouts for a day or even a week. But allowing excuses to become a permanent barrier to exercise is a quick route to poor health.

“I think it all boils down to it’s not important to some people,” says Melicia C. Whitt-Glover whose yearlong research on church-based wellness programs helped nearly 500 black women get moving. For some, she says, “health is only an issue if you don’t have it anymore.”

We aren’t going down that road. Here are doable solutions to help get past that little negative voice in your head and get moving.

To fit exercise into a hectic schedule, be creative. A patch of grass and a lunch break are all this New York businesswoman needs to strike a yoga pose . (Photo: Michael Goldman/Getty Images)

To fit exercise into a hectic schedule, be creative. A patch of grass and a lunch break are all this New York businesswoman needs to strike a yoga pose . (Photo: Michael Goldman/Getty Images)

  1. I don’t have time. Have you heard of the 7-Minute Workout? It’s a great solution for days when you are on the run, and it even comes in an app.

If you can carve out a full 10–30 minutes away from TV, it can be enough to get your heart pumping or rev up your metabolism a bit. Try these tricks for making use of down time:

▪ Workout on the sidelines while you’re waiting for the kids to finish soccer or basketball practice. Walk or run up and down the bleachers. Power-walk the track. Shadow the pep squad. Bonus: Enjoy embarrassing your kids!

▪ Take the stairs daily at work. If you can’t make it to the 11th floor, build up to it by walking up two or three floors and then taking the elevator the rest of the way, until you can.

▪ Walk the dog, literally. Try to add a block or two and add some pep to your step. You need to walk and so does the dog, so get the leash and go. If you don’t have a dog, borrow one. It’s not like either one of you will get too many walkies.

  1. Sweat messes up my hair. Sweat is a byproduct of burning calories. Your hair will survive, and you can manage it. First, pick up a sweat-wicking headband. Any sporting goods store should have one.

Also, try a drier workout:

Avoid hot yoga, Bikram yoga, indoor cycling and classes in closed areas.

Let your body breathe. Don’t wear rubber and plastic suits designed to make you sweat. Instead, choose clothing with wicking fabrics like DryFit and CoolMax. They sell the stuff everywhere from Target to Lululemon Athletica.

Even cool weather workouts can be soppy. So wear a thin wicking layer close to your skin and another, easily removable layer for cooler workouts.

▪ Work with weights. Moderate-to-heavy weight training tends to be less sweaty than many aerobic workouts. Also do aerobic workouts on the weekends and after work when you have time to repair your ’do.

▪ Adjust your routine. Modify your existing workout by making it shorter and more intense or longer and easier.

▪ Get some air. The old Airdyne bikes are making a comeback, so your gym might have one. Pump the handles to power the front wheel fan for a big breeze as you try this interval workout.

  1. I can’t afford to join a gym. What’s your cable bill cost these days? Pull the plug, join a gym and pocket the rest. If you’re lucky enough to have Planet Fitness near you consider joining. Memberships start at $10 a month.
If a gym membership isn't in your budget, find a park with workout stations. (Photo: Greg Samborski/Getty Images)

If a gym membership isn’t in your budget, find a park with workout stations. (Photo: Greg Samborski/Getty Images)

▪ Let nature call. Many parks have outdoor fitness stations for sit-ups, pushups, pull-ups, step-ups and agility challenges. Google outdoor gym, fitness trail or parcourse to find one near your. Or take a jump rope and a few resistance bands to your favorite park and create your own fitness circuit.

▪ Step it up. Find a sturdy box, a curb, a park bench or some other elevated platform and do 1 to 3 sets of 5-25 step-ups.

▪ Get fit online. No equipment needed. The American Council on Exercise has a vast library of exercises, including a guide to finding the right workout for you.

▪ Try flash fitness. Deal yourself a go-everywhere workout with fitness flash cards, such as those by FitDeck or one on Pinterest. Or make your own by clipping and gluing moves from fitness magazines onto index cards or a poster board.

▪ Walk or bike to work. If that’s not feasible, do your errands on two feet or two wheels to save a few dollars on gas. Here are some tips to get you started:

▪ No equipment, no problem. Google “anywhere workout” or “anywhere WOD” (That’s “workout of the day” in CrossFit-speak). You’ll find more equipment-free workouts than you’ll ever need. The “5 by 5 by 5” is one of my favorites:

  • 5 push-ups
  • 5 squats
  • 5 sit-ups

Do 10 sets. Time the total workout. Perform the moves with safe, strong form as quickly as you can. After a few weeks, watch your time improve.

Or you could invest in a rubber-band gym. It’s a resistance band system that attaches to a securely closed door and gives you a variety of exercises to do for pennies a workout. Take that, gym fees! Try SPRI’s Traveling Trainer Advanced Kit (DVD; $49.95).

  1. I’ve got bad knees. Or maybe you have a bad back or a sore shoulder. Trust us, if you are of a certain age, post-workout soreness is way better than couch-potato creakiness. If you experience significant pain when performing daily activities (walking, climbing stairs or sitting down), get your joints and ligaments looked at and treated. Rehabilitation, pain management, ice, rest, flexibility training or surgery might be in order. After you get clearance from a physician, work your joints lovingly with low and no-impact movement.

▪ Hit the water. Aerobics, yoga, Zumba, cycling and walking can be done in the water, which reduces the pressure on your joints by 90 percent, according to the American Council on Exercise. Check out this water workout, which exercises your tummy, thighs, arms, chest and back in only four moves. (Note that Nina Cherie Franklin’s moves never dampen her cute hairdo.)

(PM Images/Iconica)

Do your workout on seated weight machines or a fitness ball. (PM Images/Iconica)

▪ Sit it out. Do your workout on seated weight machines or a fitness ball. Pilates and yoga also include lots of seated and lying options. Also, moves on Total Gym machines are almost entirely seated, lying or kneeling.

▪ Demand modification. An instructor or trainer should modify most workouts to accommodate an injury. Even CrossFit is scalable to grandmas, kids, expectant moms and injured athletes. If she can’t or won’t modify, or makes you feel uncomfortable, find a trainer who will meet your needs. It’s her job.

▪ Recumbent or upright bikes can take the pressure off your knees and back. Take time to get the seat, handlebars, etc. adjusted for your comfort and safety.

  1. I’m too out of shape to work out. Say that again? You can’t get fit because you’re not fit? Transform that circular logic into motivation. Many studies show that there are many health and wellness benefits when you go from doing nothing to doing a little something, such as walking 10–30 minutes three times a week. Whether you’ve never been active, or you’ve been on the sidelines for longer than you’d care to discuss, resolve to put one foot in front of the other on a path to feeling and looking better. And do it before January 1. Here’s how to ease into it:

▪ Get steady. Concerned about balance and stability? Try out some balancing yoga moves. Yoga Journal offers great tips for beginers. Get grounded with standing, two-footed poses like the chair pose. It will shore up the strength of your legs as well as the center of stability: your pelvis

▪ Just Dance. Join a line-dancing group. There are excellent ones in Charlotte, Dallas and New Orleans. Ask around for one near you, or get inspired by the many line-dance videos online. Here’s one from the Purple Charlotte Steppers.

  1. Exercise is so boring! Well, not if you make it social, exotic or back to nature.
You're less likely to get bored working out with friends.  (Photo: kali9/Getty Images)

You’re less likely to get bored working out with friends. (Photo: kali9/Getty Images)

▪ Run with the crowd. Black Girls Run! unites sisters who run and walk nationwide. Join the group for team takeovers at races, support and a reason to wear cute workout wear.

▪ Be a “gratitude gangster.” Tell your story walking. Girl Trek’s Gratitude Trek is a challenge to walk every day until Thanksgiving Day. It’s not too late to jump in!

▪ Hip, dip, shake, shake. Learn Middle Eastern or North African dance, also known as belly dancing. Explore the sparkly veiled versions or the gothic-sexy-cool tribal types.

▪ Take the “work out of workout.” Try Zumba. Somebody’s offering it for free or a few dollars per workout somewhere near you. Take some friends and a sense of humor.

If your final stance is, “I hate exercise” — even Oprah has famously stated her dislike for working out — the only solution is to find a way to change your mind. “Hate,” however, is pretty subjective. So spend some time unpacking your fitness baggage, figuring out why you feel this way is important. (Barriers to fitness include fear, discomfort, discouraging experiences and misinformation about what’s required.) Talk it out with a fit friend, a trusted trainer or your doctor. Then try a few of the fitness hacks and suggestions here, because disliking exercise is OK. Not exercising is not.

Nichele Hoskins is a fitness instructor and health writer based in Birmingham, Alabama.