How to get fit without going to a gym

Gym subscriptions are expensive and often go unused, but they are not necessary for those who want to improve their fitness

If going to a gym has never appealed to you, you are by no means alone – but it can be easy to feel like you’re the only one. Significant attention is paid in fitness magazines and blogs to gym workouts; however, if your cash flow is low, the gym might not be an option. Because so much of the attention on fitness is focused on gym-goers, those who can’t afford a subscription can be left feeling lost and unsure about how to improve or maintain their fitness without shelling out extra cash.

The good news is that a gym subscription is not necessary to getting fit. Some of the ways that people have been keeping on top of their fitness in Ireland without a gym subscription include swimming, running, cycling, and home workouts.


You may have to pay to get into indoor swimming pools, but with monthly or annual passes, swimming can actually be a highly cost-effective way to get fit. Jon Rudd, national performance director with Swim Ireland, explains that swimming is a whole body workout, and is an excellent way to improve your fitness.

“You’re usually working out just to stay afloat before you even start to think about propelling yourself through the water,” he says.


“[Swimming] doesn’t rely on climate or weather (in Ireland at least, as most pools are indoors) and doesn’t need much in the way of equipment – and any equipment that might be used is either cheap to purchase or you can borrow from most local pools,” he continues. “It’s a great social activity to do with friends or family and also a great way to meet similarly minded people down at your local pool.”

Rudd adds that swimming is hugely popular in Ireland, but says that we still “don’t have enough people getting in the water”.

“I would suggest that there is no healthier or more productive use of time when it comes to anyone looking to get fitter, trimmer and live longer.”

Walking and DIY fixes

Orla Hopkins, a fitness competitor and blogger at, would like to see more people keeping on top of their own fitness, and says there are countless ways to do it without a gym subscription.

“One of the simplest ways to stay fit is to ditch the car or public transport and try cycling or walking,” she says, “even if it’s just to the shops or for the school run.”

However, she says that there are also workouts that people can do at home to build up their fitness. “You don’t need to invest in expensive home-gym equipment. You can stick to body-weight exercises or pick up some resistance bands, a fit ball and light weights. Put on your gym gear and some music to get motivated. There are plenty of home workout videos and ideas on Instagram and YouTube.”

For Hopkins, the key to getting fit is to “set yourself small goals and make a plan. There is nothing better than being prepared to keep you on track, so I suggest you pick up a journal and log your daily and weekly progress.”

If time constraint is an issue, the cycle-to-work scheme is an ideal chance to get exercise in on your commute to work, while also saving money.

The scheme is open to anyone who is employed and paying Paye tax. The employee can get tax relief on a bicycle up to the cost of €1,000, and the cost can be paid back over 12 months.


Brendan Finnegan of says that the scheme is “an easy way to include light exercise in your daily routine. It will also incentivise those who feel they have a limited schedule to keep fit due to time pressure lifestyles.”

Paul Byrne is a personal trainer and fitness expert, and he says that getting fit without a gym subscription is “absolutely possible”.

“It’s easy to use the lack of a gym as an excuse not to get in great shape, but the reality is there are some great bodyweight workouts that can really be a game-changer,” says Byrne.

“These workouts can really blow traditional cardio-style training like running out of the park by giving you a full body workout and increasing your heart rate in a shorter amount of time.”

Among exercises Byrne recommends doing at home are squats and crunches. However, he also says that something as small as 20 seconds of sprints or stair climbs can be a great way to burn calories and increase your heart rate.

“The best thing about this type of workout is that you can develop it by adding tougher exercises like plyometric movements (jump training) which help to shock the muscles,” says Byrne.


One method of keeping fit that has taken Ireland by storm in recent years is parkrun. The initiative is a simple one: volunteers work in local communities across Ireland to provide free

5km runs on Saturday mornings.

“Our aim is to break down barriers to participation in a regular physical activity,” says Edward McGrane of Parkrun Ireland.

“We are always at pains to stress that parkrun is a run, not a race. It is there so that people can have the opportunity to challenge themselves every week and help create the virtuous habit of regular physical activity.”

Edward also says that people often fear they won’t have the level of fitness required – however, he is keen to stress that parkrun is for everybody. “There is no time limit on completing a parkrun,” he adds.

Parkrun has been going from strength to strength since it arrived in Ireland in 2012, and today, there are 64 5km parkruns in Ireland, with three new ones scheduled to begin before the end of September. Parkrun has offered proof to countless enthusiasts that getting fit does not require a gym subscription.

The gym is by no means essential in keeping fit, and more and more people are keen to try to keep on top of their health and fitness without leaving a hole in their wallet.

Sign up for one of The Irish Times' Get Running programmes (it is free!).

First, pick the programme that suits you.
- Beginner Course: This programme is an eight-week course that will take you from inactivity to being able to run 30 minutes non-stop.
- Stay On Track: The second programme is an eight-week course for those of you who can squeeze in a 30- to 40-minute run three times a week.
- 10km Course: This is an eight-week course designed for those who can comfortably run for 30 minutes and want to move up to the 10km mark.
Best of luck!