Exercising in a Winter Wonderland: How to Be Fit and Frugal


While training for a marathon last winter, I quit my gym membership. Running 18 miles on a treadmill is simply not possible (one could argue, successfully, that running 18 miles is simply insane altogether, but that’s beside the point). What this experience taught me was that it’s not only possible to stay fit in the frigid winter months; it’s also possible to enjoy your workout without spending a lot on a new gym membership. Here are some ideas to get you moving on your own exercise routine this season:

Buy Good Outdoor Workout Gear

This is an absolute must for me. I couldn’t live without my Under Armour fitted running tights and my moisture-wicking top. My standard winter-running outfit keeps me warm after I start moving and wicks away moisture to keep me dry. According to an article in the New York Times, this is the perfect combination for outdoor exercise apparel because it prevents hypothermia, which is brought on by the combination of sweat and cold. You should also buy gear that covers most of your exposed skin in order to prevent frostbite. If bare skin starts to ache, that means that it has fallen to a temperature of 68 degrees Fahrenheit; if it reaches 50, it goes numb. Frostbite occurs when your skin temperature falls to 27 degrees. As an avid outdoor runner, I can tell you that while I have had tingly fingers and toes during some of the colder winter months, I have never had frostbite because I have invested in the appropriate outdoor gear for runners. I can also tell you that being outdoors in the winter, when the majority of the world is inside (and missing out on some beautiful mornings!), is exhilarating.

Find a Good Workout DVD

Not convinced that you want to mix exercise and freezing temps? You could check out a new exercise DVD. No, I’m not suggesting you buy the popular-but-pricey P90X® or Insanity® workouts, or that you purchase a Wii Fit, although those are good ways to get moving indoors. Instead, you could try saving money and getting fit by trying a workout DVD. Try checking out this list of the best workout DVDs as rated by Real Simple Magazine, or try this list of the 10 best as rated by Fitness Magazine. If you’re looking to save even more money, try looking for fitness DVDs at your local library (mine has them for rent!), or order one using your Netflix subscription.

If you’re not one to follow along with a workout on TV, try making your own indoor workout to stay fit this winter. Start with buying some inexpensive hand weights, resistance bands, or a medicine ball. Then just search online for workouts centered around your equipment or the area of your body that you’re looking to tone. You could also create a workout binder to keep yourself on track — mine has favorite weight-lifting moves and stretches from pages I’ve found in fitness magazines, as well as a workout calendar. Tracking your progress in the binder will also help keep you motivated.

Buy a Gym Membership

OK, I know the opening paragraph of this article says that this is about saving money without spending a lot on the gym, but it is possible to get your gym fix, stay out of the cold, and save money. Try buying a month-to-month membership during the winter months at a local facility rather than signing up for a long-term commitment. My YMCA offers low monthly rates without a contract, and a nearby university offers month-to-month memberships for people associated with the university (including alumni association members, which includes me!). Signing up for a gym membership near the beginning of a new year often means that new-member fees are waived, too — always an added bonus.

So there are my tips for keeping on track with your workouts while being budget-conscious too. Before you get started on your own routine for the New Year, check out the CDC’s guidelines for physical activity to give you a baseline on workout frequency and intensity. Then leave me a comment on what you’re going to do to stay fit and fiscally responsible in the coming year!

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Guest's picture

Great post! I use the library a lot to try out dvd's before I buy them. I then try to find them cheap on ebay or amazon.

Guest's picture

On your winter runs, what are you doing to keep your feet, more specifically shoes, dry? Or should I plan on sacrificing my sneaks and replacing in the spring?

Laura P.

Janey Osterlind's picture

I actually haven't found the secret to keeping my shoes dry - fortunately, though, there are few days in my city where snow accumulation is enough to get them too wet. I'd recommend getting two good pairs of shoes and alternating in order to allow each enough time to dry in between runs, and try putting newspaper in your wet shoes to absorb some of the moisture after a run. Hope that helps!

Guest's picture

Great article, I can totally relate! Right now I bounce from gym to gym exhausting their free trial memberships and I'm also doing a $30 for 30 days of Yoga classes at a studio. There are lots of good freebies and specials for new members.Thank you for the tip to invest in some good running gear and hit the great outdoors! I ran outside several times last winter and know I'll enjoy it more if I'm properly covered. Do you have a favorite brand/style of gloves or hats?

Janey Osterlind's picture

Good advice about taking advantage of new member benefits if you do decide to join a gym! My favorite running gloves are women's Nike thermal running gloves ($20 at nike.com) - mostly because they have a key pocket in the palm, which makes keeping track of your car key especially convenient. For head gear, I prefer the Under Armour Women's Arctic Beanie II ($24.99 at underarmour.com), but only if it's below 30 degrees farenheit. Otherwise, I get overheated pretty quickly. Happy running!

Guest's picture

I agree that running/walking outside needs good gear. Simply trying it in a tshirt and sweatshirt are not the best idea, I can run at least 2 more miles with proper workout clothes (ie moisture wicking and the right layers on.) Gloves are definitely the tricky part for me. Some days they're a must because of wind but sometimes I find my hands sweating so bad I can't stand it. If I run with friends we usually swap off during our run with only one pair of gloves between us!

Guest's picture

Do you really think that buying Under Armour gear is the best approach in urging consumers to be frugal? Under Armour's prices are extremely expensive for the product that is offered. If one was to buy an entire Under Armour workout outfit, they might as well have just have paid the 4 or 5 months of winter gym membership fees and probably would have broken even. Equivalent quality workout clothing can be purchased elsewhere for much, much less.

Janey Osterlind's picture

I agree that Under Armour and Nike are both pretty expensive. I would love some suggestions for less expensive, yet effective, gear if you have them! However, I have found that running in the right gear makes the run much more enjoyable and haven't personally spent a lot by asking for my favorite pieces from family members for Christmas and birthday gifts. I've had my go-to cold weather running outfit for at least 3 years and find that using the Under Armour as a base layer for skiing has been very useful, too.

Guest's picture

I know that this is an old thread, but in case people still view it (I did), I'd like to add to the discussion because it's relevant to winter specific workouts.

I work across the street from an outdoor skating rink. It's free to skate if you bring your own skates, and a few bucks to rent skates. I went to Play it Again Sports and bought some used ice skates and keep them at work. At lunch, I head across the street and spend 30 minutes or so on the ice. Not only is it a good work out, but it really rejuvenates me for the rest of the day because the wind on my face feels great (and not too cold since you're working out). I never get very sweaty from this, and also sometimes my co-workers join me, which is always really fun.

Of course, not everyone has an ice rink nearby their workplace, but especially in the winter, outdoor rinks pop up all over the place, so it's worth checking out.