Does it surprise anyone to learn that demand for personal trainers goes up in the summer? A friend of mine who moonlights as a trainer tells me that the only time of year when he's busier is January, at the height of New Year's resolution season.
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Personal training, gym memberships, unlimited yoga passes and the like are all fine ways to get in shape for the sleeveless days of summer, but what if you're looking to work out without adding a new line to your budget? Check out these three ways to get fit without breaking the bank.
1. The New Old-Fashioned Way
It might be odd to hear that an idea from your junior high gym class has turned into a major exercise trend, but that's exactly what's happened in the last few years. Calisthenic exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, dips and sit-ups are a big part of interval training, which can burn fat and build muscle at a surprising pace.
Another great thing about calisthenic exercise is the number of inventive exercises, training tips and routines you can find for free on the Web. If you want to add some extra resistance, plastic jugs that hold one U.S. gallon can be filled with water (about 8 pounds), play sand (about 13 pounds) or both (about 16 pounds) for DIY dumbbells on the cheap.
Adjustable dumbbell sets can also be affordable if you look in the right place. Be careful to do your research before dipping into your savings account for any sort of calisthenic assistance gimmicks though, as they're usually no better than a standard routine.
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2. The App-Assisted Method
Whatever your level of experience with fitness training, there are dozens of applications out there that can make your self-directed workouts more interesting and more effective than they would be without any training help at all.
Here's a quick list of top-rated fitness apps, with their device compatibility and download cost as of July 2014:
GAIN Fitness - iOS, Web; free, available in-app purchases from $2.99
The Official 7-Minute Workout App - Android, iOS; free
Sworkit Pro - Android, iOS; $0.99
Touchfit: GSP - iPhone only; free, subscription fees of $3.99/month or $9.99/year
Pact - Android, iOS; free, with a money-wagering motivation component
Fitocracy - Android, iOS, Web; free
These apps focus primarily on exercise instruction and motivation, but there are also plug-in heart rate monitoring hardware for home cardio work and distance trackers for runners and cyclists out there as well. Don't hesitate to do some digging if the ones above don't catch your fancy.
3. The Eat-Less Approach
OK, in all fairness, it isn't as easy as all that. Fitness and weight-loss dietetics are more about balancing your intake of nutrients and vital minerals than they are about simply calorie counting, but learning how to make your meals as functional as possible can help you cut down on food expenses while maximizing the effectiveness of every calorie you consume.
Naturally, there are apps for this too. One much-touted free option is MyFitnessPal, which includes exercise tracking functionality and a barcode scanner for processed and frozen items, as well as its database of calorie and nutrient information for more than 3 million ingredients and meals.
Advice and strategies for the calorie-savvy abound on the Web, too, from meal-planning advice to ounce-by-ounce lean protein calculators. Dietary literacy can seem intimidating at first, but it's a lot like household budgeting in that it tends to become second nature once you've done it for a month or so.
Bonus Tip: Switch to Water
There's probably no simpler tip for getting in shape and saving money than this. You'll avoid a glut of empty calories by subbing water for sodas, deceptive "juice cocktails" and other sugary packaged beverages. Proper hydration helps your metabolism work more efficiently. There's also the coin you'll save on restaurant meals -- and groceries, if you filter your own tap water at home -- which can really add up.
Of course, these tips aren't for everyone. Try and give them at least a month, but if you find that you need a gym to keep you motivated, then those membership dues might just be worth the expense. Have fun, and good luck!