The secret to getting fit for free is to use every opportunity to be active.
Armed with a bit of get-up-and-go and good planning, you can be fitter than ever without spending a penny.
We’ve enlisted the help of top fitness experts to help you explore new ways and places to exercise for free. Click on the following to find out more.
- Walk everywhere
- Free running podcast
- Strength and Flex workout
- Cycle to work
- Park games
- Home exercises
- Trim trails
- Green Gyms
- Outdoor gym
- DIY boot camp
- Free equipment
- Park football
- Mall walking
- Contact your local authority
- Free gym passes
Walking is underrated as a form of exercise, but it's one of the easiest ways to get more activity into your day, lose weight and become healthier. Research shows that people who fit moderate activity, such as walking, into their daily life burn more energy than those who make weekly visits to the gym.
Try to fit walking into your routine by ditching the car for short journeys, walking all or part of your journey to work, getting off the bus or train one stop early and planning longer walks at the weekends. To reap the health benefits, aim to walk 10,000 steps a day, which can burn up to 400 calories. To keep track of your walking, use a pedometer.
- Find a free health walk scheme near you
- Start a free 12-week walking programme
- Find out how to walk for health
Couch to 5K
Couch to 5K (C25K) is a free running plan developed to help absolute beginners get into running. Running is great for weight loss, improving heart and lung function, strengthening bones and giving you a general sense of wellbeing. C25K was developed by a novice runner who decided to write a plan to help his fifty-something mum get off the couch and start running too. The plan involves three runs a week, with a day of rest in between each, with a different plan for each of the nine weeks. NHS Choices has developed its own set of free C25K podcasts to help you to achieve your running goal.
For graduates of Couch to 5K or regular runners, try 5K+, a running podcasts series designed to work on your technique, speed and stamina.
Strength and Flex workouts
Fancy a personal trainer but can't afford one? Download our Strength and Flex podcasts and get your fitness coach for free. Let our virtual trainer coach you through a series of equipment-free exercises designed to improve your strength and flexibility. The workout instructions and pace are easy to follow to ensure you perform each exercise correctly and in time. The five-week Strength and Flex plan consists of five 35- to 45-minute podcasts, which are available as a mobile download for MP3 players, mobile phones, iPod and iPhones.
Cycle to work
Rediscover the truly invigorating and liberating experience of riding a bike and boost your health in the process. Figures show that about 42% of Britons own a bike. Whether you’re cycling to work, to school, to the shops or just for fun, the humble bicycle is an easy way to get more active.
Cycling to work is one of the easiest ways of fitting exercise into your day. It'll also save you money on petrol or public transport costs. If you don’t have a bike, you may be able to get a cheap bike through the Cycle to Work scheme. If you have an old bike that’s been gathering dust, consider having it serviced at a specialist bike shop to ensure it’s roadworthy before taking it out for a spin.
Remember the games you used to play in the playground? Games like “hide and seek”, “it”, “stuck in the mud” and “cowboys and Indians” aren’t just good fun, they’re an excellent workout too. Denise Page, YMCAfit director, says playground games are like the interval training that athletes use. “These games involve short sharp bursts of activity and periods of rest, which are very effective for improving fitness, especially if you’re not usually very active,” she says. Park games are an ideal way for all the family to get active together, have fun and reap the health benefits in the process.
Burn calories, lose weight and feel great with our 10-minute home workout routines:
- Get started with a 6-minute warm-up
- Exercise your heart and lungs with a 10-minute home cardio workout.
- Get into shape with a 10-minute home toning workout.
- Burn fat from your tummy, hips, thighs and bottom with a 10-minute legs, bums and tums home workout.
- Cool down with a guide to stretching after exercising.
If you're looking for something less energetic, these exercises for older people are ideal if you want to improve your health, lift your mood and remain independent. Don't worry if you've not done much for a while, these exercises are easy, gentle to follow and can be done indoors.
If you’ve not used a skipping rope since your school playground days then now’s your chance to rediscover how fun and beneficial skipping can be. An excellent way to keep fit, skipping can be done anywhere at any time. Just a few minutes' skipping training brings a whole range of health benefits, including heart and lung fitness, strong bones, balance and flexibility. The average person will burn up to 200 calories during 15 minutes of skipping. Skipping is a strenuous exercise, so start slowly. Try skipping for 20-30 seconds, marching on the spot for 30 seconds, and then repeat. As your fitness improves you can increase the time you skip for. Once you have perfected the basic move, you can make your workout more interesting by trying different jumps.
Trim trails (also known as fitness trails or activity trails) are made up of simple pieces of exercise equipment, such as parallel bars, leapfrog blocks, inclined press-ups and balance beams, dotted around parks, recreation areas or alongside cycle routes. The free equipment can be used to do various exercises, including step-ups, sit-ups, lunges and press ups, to develop balance, strength and co-ordination. “As with all new exercise routines, start slowly and stay within your comfort zone,” says fitness trainer Joanna Hall. “Increase the intensity of the workout gradually as your fitness improves.” Use the internet to learn how to do the exercises properly to get the most from them and avoid injury. Ask your local council if there's a trim trail in your area.
Improve your health and the environment at the same time with the outdoor alternative to the gym. Work up a sweat digging, planting, lopping and path-clearing at one of 95 free Green Gyms around the country, run by the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV). Experienced leaders guide volunteers through a range of practical projects, giving you the opportunity to tackle physical jobs in the outdoors. This can improve your strength and stamina, and boost your practical skills and confidence. There are sessions for all fitness levels and no previous gardening or conservation experience is necessary. Watch a video on Green Gyms.
Research by the University of Essex shows that exercising outdoors boosts people’s physical and mental health more than going to indoor gyms, even in winter. With this in mind, the National Trust has enlisted outdoor exercise specialists Eco Fitness to devise a free outdoor fitness programme you can follow whatever the weather. 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).
DIY boot camp
Military-style fitness classes are all the rage at the moment in parks up and down the country. There's no reason why you can't create your own boot-camp-style workout for free and without someone barking orders at you. Just plan your routine, mixing running with a series of exercises such as jumping jacks, squats, lunges, running stairs, push-ups, bench dips and squat thrusts. Do a bit of research online to make sure you’re doing the exercises correctly before starting out. For extra motivation, try to enrol a friend to do the boot camp sessions with you.
People often give away fitness gear, such as weights, skipping ropes or exercise balls. They are the kind of things people buy with high hopes and then the equipment lies around gathering dust, ready for you to take it off their hands. Check community freebie sites such as Freegle, Freecycle and SnaffleUp and put out emails to say you're looking out for exercise equipment. Search regularly and you might get lucky. Another option is to swap your own unwanted exercise gear for some different sports equipment using websites like SwapShop and Swapz.
The idea of walking up to a group of strangers during a game of football and asking to join in may sound slightly unnerving but, provided you can work up the bottle, this is both an excellent way to get fit and to make friends. Choose a group of players of similar age and ability and who seem like they’re just starting their game. If the game’s already started, the goalkeeper is probably the best person to approach. More often than not, you’ll be welcomed and it will open up the possibility of getting a regular game and a free workout.
Mall walking, which is brisk walking through large shopping centres, is a craze sweeping the US and catching on here. The walks, which are generally held in the morning, are free of charge and aimed at people who don’t normally walk very much but who want to improve their fitness. Mall walking provides an excellent opportunity to exercise and socialise in a safe, secure, warm and dry environment. "A 30-minute brisk walk incorporating some stair climbing and lunges can burn around 200 calories," says health and fitness writer Peta Bee. Mall walking groups operate nationwide at shopping centres such as the Bullring in Birmingham, The Trafford Centre in Manchester and the White Rose in Leeds.
Contact your local authority
Your local leisure centre may well be offering initiatives such as free exercise classes or a free swim on certain days of the week to encourage people to get in shape. Many authorities also have outdoor gyms (which include much of the same equipment found in an indoor gym), basketball hoops, tennis courts and football pitches that you can use free of charge. You may also be entitled to free leisure services if you're under 16 or over 60 or if you receive benefits. Fitness expert Laura Williams says: “Contact your local authority to find out what’s on offer and take full advantage of these facilities, which are funded by your taxes after all.”
Free gym passes
If you want to give the gym a go or you’re developing withdrawal symptoms after cancelling your membership, take advantage of the free one-day gym passes many chains offer. Be advised that the gym will probably try their best to get you to sign up for paid membership afterwards, but there’s no obligation whatsoever for you to do so.
- Fitness First one-day free pass
- Harpers Fitness one-day free pass
- Curves one-day free pass
- LA Fitness three-day pass
- Nuffield Health three-day pass
- British Military Fitness free taster class
Do you have any free fitness tips? Share your ideas with our readers in the comments box below.