Green, Frugal Alternatives To the Gym

I love the gym because everything I need to get a great workout is right there. Weights, cardio machines, mats, fitness balls, and even some classes to switch it up.

There are two huge downsides to the gym, though, and those are:


Most fitness centers are not cheap. They can cost anywhere from $25-$75/month, and that’s usually not including any classes, such as yoga, zumba, or spin classes.

Sometimes, fitness centers even require a contract; signing a contract for such a membership usually affords you a better monthly deal, but it locks you in for a certain amount of time offering little flexibility.


This is a bigger deal to me than even the cost. Gyms are terrible for the environment.

Treadmills, elliptical trainers and stationary bikes take up a ton of electricity and energy, and you also have to drive to the gym, which pushes more pollution into the atom0sphere. My gym requires you to wipe down machines after each use, which is great for hygeine and horrible for the environment. Most patrons use paper towels and cleaner (non-eco friendly cleaner) to clean the machines, which not only sprays toxic chemicals into the air for other patrons to breath in, but also uses a whole bunch of paper unnecessarily.

There are plenty of things that can be done that are both frugal and eco friendly that have nothing to do with belonging to a fitness center. I’ve broken them down per season.

Summer and Spring


Cycling is a great way to get both cardio and a leg workout. It’s eco friendly, because it doesn’t use gasoline or electricity, and it’s a lot of fun! If you already have the equipment (a bike and safety equipment) it doesn’t cost a dime.


One of my favorite workouts, swimming is super fun, and it’s a perfect way to get a full body workout (heavy on the cardio). Swimming is easy on the joints, it cools you down, and you can avoid chemicals such as chlorine by swimming in lakes.

If you are swimming in a lake or the ocean, it’s completely free. If you don’t have a lake or ocean nearby, swimming at an aquatic center is usually pretty cheap. Around here, it costs only $3.50 a visit.


Hiking is a great activity in the spring and summer for several reasons.

Hiking provides a great cardio workout, and you can tailor it to your needs and limits. For instance, if you aren’t an experienced hiker, you can go on flatter trails. If you want more of a strenuous workout, you can frequent the more intermediate trails.

A quick Google search can usually bring up the hiking trails in your area.

Hiking is usually completely free, can be a social activity if you do it with friends, and it’s environmentally friendly!


If it snows in your region, cycling, hiking, and swimming are certainly not ideal activities in the winter.

There are quite a few options, however, to stay active in the winter for free.


Especially if you have kids, this is a really fun activity that is also a great workout. While sledding, you are usually wearing a few pounds worth of snow gear, and walking up hills so you can sled down. It’s completely green, as you are not using any energy to do so, and kids love it.


If there is a flatter trail near you, snowshoeing is a fun alternative to the gym on a snowy day.

If you have snow shoes already, it is free, however, if you do not have snow shoes they can usually be rented from a company for a small fee.

Snowshoeing is a good cardio workout because you are constantly moving, and it’s great for the leg muscles as you are taking steps that are different from your normal stride. If you use poles to balance while snowshoeing, you can also get an arm workout. Balancing is great for your abs, and you get to be outdoors in the winter.

Ice Skating

This is usually not free, and I wouldn’t recommend finding a frozen pond to ice skate on, because the ice may not be thick enough. However, ice skating is usually fairly inexpensive at a community center or an outdoor rink and you can get a great workout.


Fall is my favorite time to get a workout outdoors. The air is crisp but not cold, and you don’t get a sunburn from being outside for too long. Plus, the leaves changing color is really beautiful and I personally love the smells of autumn.


Because of all of the beauty of fall, there’s no better season for walking around and checking out the parks in your neighborhood. Power walking in the park with friends is a social activity, it’s green, and it’s free. The lack of heat and frozen ground makes for the possibility of a longer workout, and who doesn’t love fresh fall air?

Yard Work

This doesn’t sound terribly fun, but it’s necessary, free, and getting your yard ready for winter is a great workout.

Raking uses arm, back, and abdominal muscles and gets the heart rate up. Trimming back bushes and weeding the garden can do the same, and at the end of the day you’ll be tired, sore, and satisfied.

 What’s your favorite cheap, eco friendly workout?


Green, Frugal Alternatives To the Gym — 14 Comments

  1. Next time you see a photo dated earlier than, say, 1920 of a group of people, notice they all look lean and fit. No obesity. And none of them belonged to a gym! Instead physical activity was part of their lives, and BIg Macs and Big Gulps hadn’t been invented!

    The best and least costly way to stay in shape I think is to adopt a lifestyle with physical activity naturally built in. Live where you can walk/bike to the store and work. Have a big garden. Chop wood to build stockpiles for the winter. Learn to do your own home maintenance. Start each day with 30 minutes of tai chi or similar. It works!

  2. I never considered how much electricity all of those cardio machines use. It’s extremely wasteful not that I think of it. I knew they wasted lots of paper towels. You really don’t need a gym anyway. There are plenty of ways you can do effective cardiovascular workouts without the fancy machines. For strength training, all you need are a couple of adjustable weight dumbbells. Or kettlebells, or sandbags, or water containers, or just your own body weight for resistance. Gyms are extremely wasteful.

  3. i’m actually holding out on swimming…working on losing a few pounds before I strap on my bathing suit. But i love swimming! I like your alternative workout suggestions 🙂

  4. Cycling can easily be moved indoors in the winter without going to the gym as well! For the price of a couple of months at a gym, you can buy a bike trainer that will temporarily convert your outdoor bike into a stationary bike. It requires no electricity and you can set it up anywhere your bike will fit.

  5. Daisy, you forgot running! That’s my favorite one, by far. It’s a great stress reliever and a great cardio workout. For people who aren’t yet runners, try the “Couch Potato to 5k” plan. It’s a great way to walk/run your way up to three miles.

  6. I love hiking! my wife and I plan to go again at the end of August. Good thing she likes it too. Our apt. complex has a gym so it’s free but not a lot of equipment.

  7. This is a great outline of all of the reasons I don’t go to the gym. My favourite environmentally friendly workout is running with my dog. We leave right from my house, the two of us get a workout, and we don’t burn any gasoline or electricity. Hiking and yoga are close behind running.

  8. Have been thinking about this one a lot during the last week or so. And have concluded that joining a gym is worth it if one is in training or the climate is extreme. I am very concerned about the environment but training for a marathon in 35C is bad for my health; this is why just bought a month membership in a gym in Sofia (in Manchester I work with a trainer anyway).

  9. I think the cost of a gym is a cost I am willing to pay (I don’t – get it for free)!

    I love playing organized sports but going to the gym is a different experience.

    I would rather pay to be healthy than save a few dollars (many people are indoor people and don’t enjoy the outdoors).

    In the spring some people get allergies so going outside is not an option.

    If you have children, using the daycare services allows a mom to workout and get exercise also.

    • Some people need the structure of a gym and to be tied to a monetary payment to succeed with exercise and that is ok. However it is good to know that a gym isn’t your only option when it comes to exercising. Plus, gyms aren’t known to be very sustainable and many of the activities Daisy listed don’t have an eco-impact.

      As far as allergies go there are things you can take for that to minimize the effects. As far as having a kid, you can easily job behind a stroller outside or take the stoller to the park and have the baby near you while you do some squats etc.

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