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Don’t Buy This: You Don’t Need a Personal Trainer to Get a Good Workout

Instead of paying hundreds of dollars a month to have someone cheer you on, use free online resources and group classes to stay motivated and learn how to do exercises right.
Photo by Getty Images / Maskot

If you want to get in shape, you may be tempted to hire a personal trainer to help you reach your fitness goals. But you don’t need to shell out $60 to $160 a session at major chains just to have someone count repetitions for you week in and week out. And if you need someone to yell at you to stay on your toes, you can always get your parents do it for free.

Personal training is a $9 billion business in the U.S. alone according to research firm IBISWorld. But aside from a single session to make sure you’re doing exercises right, there’s no need to help make this industry any larger than it is. “The investment of one or two sessions with a professional to educate you on form can go a long way to helping you avoid injury,” says Joel Seedman, an exercise physiologist at Advanced Human Performance in Atlanta.


The key is to figure out what’s holding you back and find a way to overcome it. Is it boredom, lack of motivation or just wanting to make sure you’re doing the exercises right? Whatever the problem, there’s a free (or cheap) fix to help you get it right.

Start by having everything set up and ready to go if you have space where you live. “Designate one area in your apartment for exercise,” says Heather Milton, an exercise physiologist at New York University’s Langone’s Sports Performance Center. “Have it already set up with a mat, dumbbells or resistance bands and water.” A jump rope (for less than $5), and a pullup bar (around $10) are nice additions too.

You should also not be a fool like me and keep working out once you’ve injured yourself. I’ve had plantar fasciitis for about three months, yet I keep running. A good rule of thumb is to stop whatever you’re doing if you feel a sharp pain. And if you’re not sure if your injury is bad enough to take a break, check with your doctor.

With this in mind, here are some great options that won’t cost you a dime:

Try free online workout videos

If you want a trainer to get ideas for working out and how to do exercises right, you might be surprised at how easy it is to find that same information online for free. There are literally millions of online videos. Some we like include Fitness Blender, which gives you access to over 500 free workout videos you can watch on your phone and customize to your fitness level, ranging from a 10 minute lower body butt and thigh workout video to a 96-minute, 1000-calorie cardio and strength training routine that doesn’t require any special equipment. has series of 10-minute routines you can do anywhere that target your abs, legs, and arms. Or you could try their 25-minute workout full body routine featuring squats, planks, plank jacks, and burpees. Best of all, none of these require anything other than a floor mat.


For a lower-impact workouts, try Jessica Smith Indoor Walking, a 30-minute routine you can do in your living room, or dip your toe into yoga with Yoga with Adriene—no yoga blocks required. For a stretching routine based on Kung Fu techniques, you can get a free seven-day trial from ROMWOD.

Learn how to do basic exercises correctly—anywhere, anytime

Maybe you want a personal trainer to make sure you are doing an exercise correctly. As it turns out, there is actually lots of good advice online on that too from certified experts. If you want three exercises that give you a solid without struggling to keep up with a video routine, “do 30 seconds of an exercise like squats or planks and then 30 seconds of cardio like a burpee,” says Lauren Schaech, a personal trainer certified by the Athletics and Fitness Association of America and the American Council on Exercise. “It works your entire body.”

Here’s how to do each exercise correctly:

Squats: Create killer glutes and thighs with a simple squat. VICE’s Tonic site recommends standing with both feet at hip distance apart (or slightly wider) with your toes turned out 30 degrees, with your weight on on your heels and the outside of your feet as you drop down. Pull your belly button in to engage your core. Your knees should be driving out towards your last two toes on the way up and down,” Tonic advises. Here’s how you should look:

Planks: One of the best ways to strengthen your back and core is doing a simple plank exercise. For a regular plank, go down to your knees, then put your elbows on the ground in front of you, underneath your shoulders. Slide your legs back so they are straight, but not locked,and you are balancing on your toes. Engage your abs, and keep your head, neck, shoulders, hips, and heels in a straight line. This video from Health shows you how to do a plank correctly. If you want to kick it up a notch, here are 20 variations, also from Health.


Burpees: Kick up your workout with burpees, which are big part of high-intensity interval training. Stand straight and then drop to the ground like you are about to do a push up. Draw your legs inward and hop up on your feet. You can then jump up once you are standing if you want to add an extra burst. Then repeat. Shawn Arent, director of the Center for Health and Human Performance at Rutgers University, shows how to do it right here.

Track your progress on the cheap

A trainer can motivate you by reminding you of how far you’ve come, but you can do that on your own too using tracking apps and gadgets. I’m an admitted step tracker addict, which is why the piece David Sedaris wrote about his downward spiral with a FitBit in the New Yorker spoke directly to me. I literally get pissed at myself when I don’t come anywhere near my unreasonable goal, which means it isn’t uncommon to find me running up and down the stairs at 10:30PM. In some circles it could be considered a problem.

But you don’t have to drop $400 on a new Apple Watch to use your exercise stats to keep you motivated. You can get a used one on eBay for as little as $100 or a used Garmin watch for as $50 or less. For totally free options, use the free health app that comes on your phone or download Google Fit, the Runtastic run tracker, or StrongLifts 5x5 Workout Gym Log to log your lifting sessions. Android Authority recommends a bunch more fitness apps here.


Take free group classes to help stick to a schedule

Sometimes the hardest part of sticking to a fitness routine is commiting to a time to do it. While the pain of wasting $100 or more for a missed training session is one way to stay motivated, another is to sign up for free group fitness classes and add them to your calendar. In addition to giving you an exercise support group, it can help improve your workouts by challenging you with new exercises.

Where to find them? Many gyms offer free trials that include group classes. (Here’s a list of some places to look.) Next check out local Meetups in your area as you can almost always get in on a free yoga session, Zumba class or soccer game. Lastly, check your local papers of online listings for group classes.

You can also start a fitness, walking or running club with friends, people from work or your neighbors. The bottom line is fitness doesn’t have to be a money drain. With the right online resources and support from free groups, you can stay engaged and enjoy all the benefits of great workout without spending a dime.

Follow Gina Ragusa on Twitter.