This Alternative to Pricy Gym Memberships Can Help You Keep Fit for Free

Personal trainer Noel Duran demonstrates an alternative to the traditional lateral pull down.
Personal Trainer Noel Duran demonstrates how to use free exercise equipment at a park in St. Petersburg, Fla. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

Gym memberships aren’t cheap. From enrollment fees to budget-burning monthly payments, paying to stay fit is more torturous than the Stairmaster.  

There’s free equipment at fitness stations in public parks, but does anyone ever actually know how to use it? Some of the machines look different from the ones at the gym –– and instead of using weight plates for resistance, they incorporate your own body weight.

Instead of walking by these free fitness stations, consider working out on them. (Not sure if there’s one near you? Search this handy database to find out.) Not only can you get a free workout, but exercising outside is a great way to de-stress after sitting at your desk for eight hours.

Yes, You Really Can Work Out For Free

We contacted Noel Duran, a 25-year-old certified personal trainer in Tampa, Florida. He showed us a total body, high-intensity workout you can do on this equipment in 30 minutes (or less, if you hustle).

Remember to warm up your muscles with a light, five-minute jog before getting started. Your body will thank you later.

Let’s get started.

Exercise No. 1: Walking Lunges

Personal trainer Noel Duran demonstrates a walking lunge.
The walking lunge requires no equipment at all. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

This circuit starts off with walking lunges. The key to this exercise is to make sure your lunging (forward) leg is at a 90-degree angle from your body. Trust me, you’ll start to feel the burn after a few of these.

Number of reps: 12 on each leg, 24 total

Modification: Step up to balance

Personal trainer Noel Duran demonstrates a step up.
For a less strenuous variation on the walking lunge, step up and on a bench. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

Not sure if you can do the walking lunges? No problem. Find a bench and step up on each leg 12 times. The higher the bench, the greater the intensity of the exercise.

Exercise No. 2: Bench Press With Body Weight

Personal trainer Noel Duran demonstrates a chest press in St. Petersburg, Fla.
The bench press machine is designed to work your pectoral muscles. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

Now you’re sweating! This next exercise involves the bench-press machine. Start with your hands gripping the handles with your arms close to your body. To effectively complete this exercise, flex your pectoral muscles as you push away from your body.

Number of reps: 12

Modification: Standing push-up, 12 reps

Personal trainer Noel Duran demonstrates an alternative to the traditional chest press.
An easier variation on the bench press is to use the machine to do standing push-ups. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

Those who need a modified version of this exercise can do standing push-ups. Duran recommends using the bench-press equipment for stabilization. To make the push ups easier, move your feet forward; to increase difficulty, walk them back. Keep your arms at a 90-degree angle on your way down.

Exercise No. 3: Lateral Pulldown

Personal trainer Noel Duran demonstrates a lateral pull down.
Start the lateral pulldown with your hands over your head, palms forward. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

Time for more arms. This exercise will strengthen your shoulders, back, biceps and core. To complete a lateral pull down, grasp the handles with your palms facing away from you. Pull the bars down. You should squeeze your shoulder blades while completing the exercise.

Number of reps: 12

Modification: Use your feet to assist you.

Personal trainer Noel Duran demonstrates an alternative to the traditional lateral pull down.
You can modify the lateral pulldown by placing your feet on the ground to reduce the weight resistance. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

If you’re having trouble completing a full lateral pulldown, Duran suggests using your feet for support; this will take some weight off your arms.

Exercise No. 4: Plank

Personal trainer Noel Duran demonstrates a plank.
To get maximum benefit from a plank, try to keep your back as straight as possible while you tighten your core muscles. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

According to Fitness Magazine, having a strong core can reduce your risk of injury, boost your balance and even improve your heart health. Take this exercise seriously –– its benefits are more than just bringing out that six-pack.

To do a proper plank, get into a push-up position and then rest your forearms on the floor. Your elbows should be directly beneath your shoulders and your body should be parallel to the floor. Resist the urge to have your tush up in the air –– and don’t forget to breathe.  

Hold for 30 seconds

Modification: Bent-knee plank

Planks are tough, especially if you’ve never done one before. If you feel yourself struggling after a few seconds, try a modified plank where your knees are on the ground helping to support your body weight.  

Exercise No. 5: 30-Second Sprint on the Elliptical

Jump on the elliptical machine and sprint as fast as you can for 30 seconds. The key here is to rev up your heart rate.

Nice, you finished! Now complete the above circuit two times for a full workout, with minimal downtime. You’ve got this.

How Much Money You’ll Save by Taking Advantage of Public Fitness Stations

Now that you have a basic understanding of how to exercise at public fitness stations, you can create weekly routines outside instead of being stuck in a gym.

According to The Penny Hoarder, gym memberships at popular chains such as Crunch Fitness and Anytime Fitness can run anywhere from about $10 to $30-plus per month. And monthly membership fees at gyms in pricier cities, such as the YMCA in New York, will set you back more than $100. The numbers don’t include annual and enrollment fees, where applicable –– yikes.

By taking advantage of public fitness stations, you have the potential to save money each month. Think of all the things you could do with that cash — start an emergency fund or pay off debt.

The most important thing to keep in mind, though? Working out isn’t just to look good. Duran says exercise has so many more benefits.

“There’s usually something deeper behind it that’s motivating you,” says Duran. “Working out can boost your mood and your overall well-being. Don’t focus so much on the physical aspect.”

Saving money and feeling better? Now that’s something we can all get behind.

Kelly Anne Smith is an email content specialist at The Penny Hoarder. Catch her on Twitter at @keywordkelly.