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Raise your hand if you’ve ever considered joining a gym but reconsidered after you saw the ridiculous membership fees and spent the next half hour shaking your head in stunned disbelief.
Yeah, we’ve all been there.
Gym memberships aren’t cheap! No matter what deals they throw at you, discounts they offer, or cool swag they include with the membership package, sometimes you just can’t swing that price tag.
And yet you know you need to exercise more…the scale in the bathroom grimaces every time you’re near it.
So what can you do?
Let’s get creative. There’s more than one way to stay fit AND there’s more than one inexpensive way, too. Try out some:
- local recreation programs,
- free and charity classes,
- free memberships from volunteering,
- borrowing instead of buying gym equipment,
- employer health benefits,
- join a team,
- free trials, and
- home fitness.
And as a bonus, find out what kind of credit card extra rewards you can get from recurring bills if you do decide to go with a cheap gym membership.
Participate in recreation programs
You don’t need to spend big bucks to join a fitness class, club, or group.
The first thing you can do is check out your city’s recreation department’s website. Nearly every city and significantly-sized town has a rec department that organizes low-cost fitness classes and opportunities for all ages.
Here are a couple ideas:
- Tofino offers a free Morning Bootcamp for ages 16 and up. They meet on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, are structured like a Crossfit class, and combine aerobic and anaerobic activities.
- In Red Deer, the municipal recreation program offers a special ACE (Alberta Cancer Exercise) Program for adults diagnosed with cancer. Participants meet twice weekly for a fun circuit-style workout.
- The Fall River branch of the Halifax Rec department has an Adult Walking Club that meets weekly and offers free membership to all attendees.
Attend free and low-cost “Karma” classes
Just doing a quick Google search for your city will tell you there are plenty of free fitness classes happening in your area – particularly if it’s summertime and these classes can be held outside.
Libraries, universities, and recreation centres also host free events, so be sure to do some research.
Some examples of free classes
For the fourth summer in a row, an organization called Pop Spirit offered free outdoor yoga classes from June through August 2018. No matter their skill or prior yoga experience, everyone was encouraged to attend.
Here’s something unique: the city of Lethbridge has outdoor workout equipment set up in various outdoor locations, so you can work out while watching your kids on the playground. The equipment options are impressive, and it’s all free to use.
The Blue Mountains Public Library in Thornbury ON offers a fitness class for seniors on Wednesday mornings. For only $2 per person, participants can engage in gentle exercises to improve their fitness and balance.
Many workout and dance studios have “karma classes,” which can either mean that they’re free to the public, low cost, or that the proceeds go to charity. It’s worth checking out the studios in your area to see if you can benefit from these economical options.
For example, Yoga Public in Winnipeg offers one karma class every day of the week. Members of the studio can attend these classes for free, non-members pay a $10 donation. All proceeds are donated to the HSC Foundation.
Volunteer at gyms
Gyms often offer you membership for free if you volunteer a couple of hours a week at their facilities.
Here are a couple examples.
Goodlife Fitness Centres across the country offer volunteer positions in exchange for a free membership. In fact, depending on the number of hours you work, you could even get TWO free memberships.
I took advantage of this myself a few years ago by volunteering in the childcare centre for three hours a week. In exchange, I was given free memberships for myself and my husband.
There are YMCA locations all over this country – 1,700 of them. They also offer a long list of volunteer opportunities, specific to each individual branch’s needs. Depending on where you volunteer and how many hours you can offer, you may be given a free membership.
I recommend contacting the YMCA in your area for location-specific details.
For example, the fitness centre at Kingswood Resort in Fredericton NB has a childcare facility that’s run by volunteers. Each person who gives of their time in this way receives a free fitness membership.
They also offer Playcare credits, which means you can get free childcare for your own kiddos while you hit the gym.
Borrow or rent exercise equipment
Not sure that you want to plunk down the serious change needed to buy workout equipment? Wish you could try out a piece of equipment before you buy it?
No problem – you’ve got other options!
Between the library, the city’s recreation department, and other local groups, there are several ways you can borrow the items you need to get (and stay) fit.
As part of an initiative to combat mental and physical stress, the University of Alberta’s library offers Physical Activity Lending Kits to students. Each kit contains a skipping rope, resistance bands, pedometers, gliding discs, and exercise cards (information on how to use the included products). And it’s all free!
The Parks, Recreation, and Culture department in the county of East Hants NS has Recreation Equipment Kits (for sports and leisure activities) and various equipment available for county residents to borrow. The various items and equipment available include:
- snow shoes,
- floor hockey equipment,
- skipping ropes,
- life jackets, and
- pickleball accessories.
Certain locations of the Greater Sudbury Public Library system now offer snowshoes for cardholders to borrow. Ten branches now have snowshoes for both children and adults to use for a one-week period. Plus their website has links to various snowshoeing routes in the area.
Make use of your employee health benefits
A healthy employee is a happy employee, and this is one of many reasons that employers often offer extended benefits to its workers, including gym memberships, wellness programs, and on-site fitness classes.
Many businesses have fitness centres and gyms right in the office building. Some such employers and facilities include:
- Citigroup’s office in Mississauga,
- Best Buy’s corporate centre in Burnaby BC, and
- Manulife offices in Halifax NS (I have friends who work there and love the fitness centre).
Some businesses and organizations prefer to offer a corporate discount at local gyms instead. The Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers Association includes discounts at various gyms around the province, including:
- Forever Young Fitness Centre,
- Goodlife Fitness,
- MAX Fitness, and
- New World Fitness.
And in Manitoba, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers offers its members a significantly-discounted membership at Goodlife Fitness – they even offer discounts for the whole family.
Join a team
Playing sports and being part of a team is undeniably good for you, and not just physically.
But since we’re talking about the physical aspects right now, consider how much fun you’d have while also getting an exceptional workout as you play your favourite game!
Try something new
Don’t be afraid to go for something you’ve never done before.
For example, ultimate frisbee is super popular around here, but a lot of people have never played it.
In Halifax, you can join the Ultimate Frisbee association for free and play against other teams in the area. And in fact, if you don’t have your own equipment, the Halifax Sports and Social Club can be “rented” for free! How can you go wrong?
Another not-so-common sport you could try out is dragon boating. The Dragon Boat Club of Kingston ON accepts new members for a fee of only $60 for the entire year.
They have bi-weekly practices from May through September, group stretching and exercise, participate in three boating festivals, and even host the occasional potluck dinner.
There are tons of unofficial recreational leagues and even pick-up games happening in cities across the country.
Try doing a search on Kijiji
Kijiji can be a surprisingly good resource as well. For example, I searched in Saskatchewan for “floor hockey” and found one group in Saskatoon that meets at a local church and is free, and another that charges $10 per player.
Take advantage of free trials
I’m not saying you should gym-hop and use up all the free trials at the fitness centres near you, but…if you did do that, I wouldn’t judge.
The fact is that so many places offer a complimentary trial period, it’s hard to resist trying them all out. And it’s always a good thing to get a feel for a gym before you fully commit.
It’s well known that Goodlife Fitness has a trial offer that’s open to anyone, at all times.
Those who accept are given a three-visit pass, and once at the gym they’ll receive a tour of the facility, access to all orientation sessions, access to all group exercise classes, and the freedom to use any and all of the equipment at the facility.
For any Quebecois, Energie Cardio has 29 locations across your province, including in:
- Quebec City,
- Rimouski, and
You can sign up for a free seven-day trial that gives you access to all of their locations, including the fitness equipment and group classes.
University, College, and school gyms
If you live in a University town (or you’re a student), don’t forget about these great options available for you.
For example, Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax offers a free five-day pass to their guests. This includes access to the weight room, fitness classes, badminton club, and the locker rooms/showers.
Do your fitness at home
This may be the most obvious way to save money on exercise, but maybe that’s why you haven’t seriously thought about it.
You don’t have to simply mow the lawn, do push-ups with your kid on your back, or walk up and down the stairs as your Fitbit counts your steps. Here are some other (perhaps more creative) ideas you can try.
Create your own fitness class
The world wide web, most notably Youtube, has made it incredibly easy to attend a group fitness class from the comfort of your own home. You could try these ideas:
- This channel for spin class videos has epic spin classes.
- Pick up your weights and do some heavy lifting with the epically-bearded Alan Thrall.
- Keep it low impact and check out these yoga routines with Adrienne.
If you prefer being a bit more old school, you can also buy some home workout videos. Though the thought might conjure up images of your mom and her Buns of Steel VHS tape, this form of home fitness has come a long way, I promise.
For women, Woman’s Day magazine compiled this list of the top 30 workout videos. In particular, I recommend anything with Jillian Michaels – she’s a beast.
And for the guys, this article from Ranker is a few years old but offers some great DVD options. How can you go wrong with a Fast and Furious-related workout?
Home gym equipment
You’ve probably been avoiding purchasing any at-home fitness equipment because you’re worried you won’t use it enough to justify the cost. Good thinking.
But you can benefit from other people who don’t think as clearly as you do.
Check out Kijiji, Craigslist, or Facebook Marketplace and you’re bound to find some great deals on treadmills, stationary bikes, kettlebell weights, and all kind of other stuff.
I did a quick look on Kijiji for “exercise equipment” and saw some very intriguing ads:
- an elliptical machine for $75,
- an Ab Circle Pro for $50, and
- a stepper machine for $40.
What about credit card rewards?
Saving money is good, but did you know you can actually earn EXTRA rewards on your bill payments?
The best way to accelerate your reward earnings when going to the gym is by choosing a card that earns extra points on your recurring bill payments. Just make sure the gym you choose accepts credit as a payment – some of them only take void cheques.
A great option for rewards is the
And that’s not all. This card will also give you:
- 4% on groceries,
- 2% on gas, and
- 1% on all other purchases.
All for an annual fee of $120…which, if you sign up now, will be waived for the first year.
Find out more details here:
Looking for a no fee option?
If you’re not big on annual fees, you could instead opt for the
This will give you a 1% return on bill payments, plus the same on gas, groceries, and drugstore purchases. And you’ll get 0.5% on everything else.
Here’s some more info:
And there you have it
The brand new, super fancy, multi-level, co-ed, glass-fronted gym down the street is too expensive? I don’t want to hear it.
There’s no reason why you can’t stay fit AND save money.
So, which activity will you choose?