You don't need us to tell you that one of the biggest barriers to regular exercise is finding the money to do it (it's a close third to "I have no time" and "I have no motivation" as the reasons why people hate to work out).

But you don't need a pricey gym membership, a personal trainer, or costly classes or gadgets to get a good workout. First, you probably already know that walking is an ideal way to get started, and it's the way most people prefer to get back into a regular routine. And why not? It's usually accessible and doable, and free except for the cost of a decent part of walking shoes. (If you want a walking program that will ensure you're continuing to challenge yourself, try the ih8exercise walking plan.)

To prove that you don't need a lot of cash to find ways to start and stick with exercise (and make it more interesting), we hit a local 99-cent store in nearby Santa Monica, California, to see what they had on the shelves to help frugal exercise haters. Here, 11 fitness finds for cheapskates.

Calendars & Notebooks


Apps and gadgets that track your physical activity, calories burned, and what you eat are all the rage. And we've got nothing against them. But they can be very expensive and so far there's little evidence that they actually work to make people stick with exercise over time. Before you fork over $149 for a Nike Fuelband, why not pick up a notebook or calendar where you can simply write down what you did every day you exercise -- how long you worked out, how you felt, how many sets and reps of each move. Tracking what you do is very important to help you see results over time, which is very motivating. A simple notepad and pen can work as well as an app or gadget.

Paper Plates


Paper plates aren't just for lazy dishwashers. Place one paper plate under each foot while standing on a smooth surface like a linoleum or wood floor, or some concrete floors, to give your body a stability challenge (meaning the move forces your body to try to stay stable) as you exercise. For example, stand with feet shoulder-width apart, a paper plate under each foot. Bend your knees, coming into a squat, and slide your right leg out to the side so it's straight (or as straight as you can get it). Keep the left leg stable. Slide your right leg back toward your body. Then slide your left leg out, with the foot on the paper plate, staying in a squat, and keeping the right foot planted and strong. Slide the left foot back in. Come out of the squat after doing both sides if your quadriceps (thighs) need a breather. Do as many repetitions as you can.

If you're just starting to exercise using paper plates under your feet may be too difficult (and possibly unsafe), but as you build more strength in your core (abdominals and low back) and your butt (glutes) and legs, and more confidence), try to incorporate the paper plates into more moves to challenge your stability.

Jump Rope


This may be the single best value in fitness: 99 cents will get you one of the greatest calorie-burners there is. (Now you just need to use it.) Unless you're tall, there's no downside to getting your jump rope at a 99-cent store (people over 5'11" should get a 10-foot jump rope; so check the length of what you're buying, Stretch). Even if you haven't jumped rope since middle school, this is one of those it's-like-riding-a-bike moments: It will come back to you. Try to do 1 to 3 sets of 50 jumps if you're doing sets/reps. If you want to go for time, do 1 to 3 sets for 60 to 90 seconds per set. Take a break in between as you need to. If you have knee problems either skip or modify jumping rope; you can avoid excess impact on joints by simply transferring weight back and forth between the balls of your feet.  

Headphones & Earbuds


Okay, so these aren't going to be Bose-quality headphones, but if you're anything like us, you routinely lose earbuds (not to mention sunglasses, gloves, and umbrellas). So you may not want to spend a lot on something that is very likely to go missing.

Music is a must for many exercisers -- in fact, it may be the biggest motivation to getting you on the treadmill/elliptical/bike when you're dragging, or keeping you there a bit longer. So having a ready supply of earphones (and tunes, of course) is essential, even if the ones from the 99-cent store don't rival Dr. Dre's.

Water/Shake Bottle


If you've been on for any time at all you know that we like to stress that liking exercise (or at least hating it less) starts with getting two things right: what you put into your body and good-quality sleep.

On the first count, that means you'll want to be sure you fuel your workouts well. By that, we mean first and foremost that you get enough water before, during, and after you exercise. A minimum amount (which is a general rule of thumb and not supported by hard scientific evidence) is about eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day (though food and of course other beverages provide some water as well). You'll need to drink more if you exercise a lot, if it's hot outside, and/or if it's humid. One of the best ways to check whether or not you're dehydrated is to simply look at your pee. If it's anything but light yellow or clear you could stand to drink more water. 

This 99-cent bottle can be used to hold water or to hold a pre- or post-workout protein shake. Though you'll hear a lot of trainers and coaches say that people need a ton of protein, the truth is that women need about 46 grams per day, while men need 56 grams daily, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Canned Food


Fitness is a three-legged stool: It includes cardio (running, swimming, biking, ellipitical, etc.); flexibility (stretching, some aspects of yoga); and strength training (building muscle). You're not alone if you like to focus on the first (cardio), since those activities tend to be big calorie-burners and often the quickest way to see weight loss. But strength training is just as essential to burning calories and fat; as you get older, you also need to do it to maintain the muscle you have.

But if it's been a while since you've lifted anything heavy, you'll probably want to start light -- even as light as canned food you might have around the house (or pick up at the 99-cent store).

You can do a lot of the moves on -- Bent-Over Reverse Fly, Triceps Extension, Biceps Curl, Chest Press, and more -- using "weights" you have around the house, including canned food, gallons of milk (or fill empty gallon jugs with water or sand), or big containers of water. This will also help you figure out which weight(s) challenge you so when you are ready to buy a set of free weights you'll know what to look for.

Kitty Litter


This 5-pound bag of Jonny Cat just shows to go you that you can find all kinds of "weights" to use for your strength training (and we're sure you can find lots more around the house).

If you're looking for total-body workouts that combine strength training and cardio, check out the 10. Each workout comes with step-by-step guidance on how to do each move, plus how to make it easier or harder.

1-Gallon Water Jug


Another option for "weights." We don't want to beat a dead horse, but we hope we've made our point: There are plenty of no- and low-cost options for strength/weight training all around you. The 1-gallon Crystal Geyser jug also has the benefit, of course, of keeping you well-lubricated before/during/after your workout.

Coffee Cup


Here at we're big fans of coffee. Well, caffeine in most any form, actually. Regular workouts would be out of the question were coffee to disappear from the face of the earth. We're not alone in this, of course. And thankfully, science is (mostly) on our side: There's ample evidence that caffeine -- in reasonable amounts -- is a help to exercisers. The well-regarded American College of Sports Medicine notes that ingesting caffeine prior to a workout can  boost stamina (endurance) during exercise. Some research, too, indicates that caffeine makes you enjoy your workout a bit more, and be happier about repeating it. So consider picking up a to-go cup at your 99-cent store the next time you're there; it could make it a tiny bit likelier you'll want to work out.

Epsom Salt


Getting back into regular exercise can be painful, quite literally. Sore muscles are the typical "hangover" of a challenging workout, and one that can last, on and off, for weeks, especially if you're working out vigorously and frequently for the first time in a long time. But you don't need to suffer through on Advil alone. Pick up some Epsom salts at the 99-cent store and settle in for a nice, long soak.

The "salt" is actually a mineral compound made up of magnesium and sulfate. Since both are absorbed through the skin, soaking in a Epsom bath is an ideal way to absorb their benefits -- magnesium relieves inflammation and the sulfates flush toxins and improve absorption of nutrients -- while giving your tired muscles a well-deserved rest.  

And if you're feeling non-stop soreness (or more serious, sharp pain), stop exercising immediately. That sort of discomfort isn't normal and requires the attention of a medical professional, pronto.




There are three big reasons most people exercise: to lose weight; to feel better; and to deal with stress. Many of us do it (or want to do it) for all of these. And it is great for all three, especially when you combine it with cleaning up your diet. The 99-cent store has a surprising number of little pampering treats that can help make life a little more peaceful, like these lavender votive candles.

People who actually enjoy being physically active tend to see exercise as just one part of taking care of themselves. Keeping stress in check, taking time for quiet and solitude -- these are just as important. You may even find yourself craving more calm, technology-free moments as you exercise more often, so look for simple, inexpensive ways to bring that same feeling to what's around you.

What are your favorite 99-cent store buys? Have any helped you eat better, exercise more, or feel healthier?