One of the ways in which I plan to limit healthcare costs in early retirement as well as for the rest of my life is to stay active. Engaging in regular physical activity is probably the cheapest form of health insurance you can possibly have.
I discussed recently that I decided to forgo a gym membership after moving back home in favor of saving the money I would have otherwise spent on membership fees. I instead purchased a pair of 25-pound dumbbells, which I use for the majority of my exercises. I spent $55 on the equipment, and today I’m going to share my weekly routine.
I will say that although a big, fancy gym isn’t really necessary at all to get in shape and stay that way, I do miss the camaraderie that you find there. But until I find a gym that’s practically free I won’t be spending the money that a gym membership entails.
Back in my teen years, I was actually a competitive bodybuilder. So I was used to putting up big weight and making the most of a fully-equipped gym. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve found it more attractive to use less weight for higher reps, focusing more on range of motion and overall health and wellness. I also spend less time waiting between sets, choosing to turn my anaerobic exercise routine into more of an aerobic one.
This change in focus has meant I no longer have the bulky, muscular body of my younger years. That body required a lot of calories and work to maintain, and it’s questionable as to whether that was ultimately the healthiest choice. I now have a leaner body that requires less energy to move, and I don’t have to ingest the same amount of calories anymore. So my diet is cheaper and probably healthier, and my overall footprint is smaller. I’m able to run further and faster than before, and I just feel better about myself.
So I’m going to share my entire gym-free routine. I use only two 25 lb. dumbbells, a simple bench, a pull-up bar, and the road in front of my sister’s house for my complete routine. I’m no longer putting up 400 lb.+ squats, but I wouldn’t want to either. This routine is based around my desire to become financially independent, and I’ve designed it with that thought in mind. So this workout is meant to be cheap, easy, and healthy. I’m also interested in minimizing the chances of injury, which can be costly and painful.
Day One – Chest And Shoulders
The first workout of the week is usually Monday for me. I typically work out and eat relatively little during the week, then lay off the routine on the weekends where I eat whatever I want and skip the workouts.
Every single workout starts the same way. I jog for 10-15 minutes (1.5 miles or so) to get a good sweat going, burn some calories, and get my body warmed up. So I’ll stretch for a minute or two, get my mind ready for a good jog, and then I run outside until I feel ready to come back. I’ve never been a big runner, as I mentioned, so this it’s a struggle for me to go out and do this. But I do it because it’s necessary and I always feel better after it’s done.
After I come back home I drink some water, take a quick breather, and then I head downstairs to the basement where the equipment is located to work out. It should be noted that I generally only rest approximately 15-20 seconds between sets, and 15-20 seconds between exercises. My entire workout is usually completed within 15-20 minutes. So factoring in the jog, my complete daily routine is about 30 minutes long. It’s much different than the two-hour routines I used to engage in back in my younger years, but I honestly feel better than ever. Keep in mind that every exercise is very strict, with no cheating or swinging or anything else. If I can’t lift the weight, then I need to stop. Every movement is strictly controlled.
The first exercises I do are for the abdomen. And I work the abdomen every single workout.
- 3 sets x 15 reps of bench sit-ups
I make sure to maximize my range of motion and the burn in the abs by lifting my legs up as I complete the arc in my upper body. So I sit at the edge of the bench so my legs are floating off the edge, and as I lift my head off the bench, I also lift my legs up. Once I complete my three sets, I then move right into the next exercise.
- 2 sets x 20 reps of dumbbell side bends
This exercise is great for the obliques (the lower sides of your abs). You hold one dumbbell in one hand and you stand straight up. You then bend your side in the direction you’re holding the dumbbell. So I’ll start by grabbing a 25 lb. dumbbell with my right hand, stand straight, and then bend to my right, as if I’m dropping the dumbbell to the ground by using the side of my body only. This works the opposite side’s oblique muscles as you bend over and straighten back up. I do 20 reps per side, switching hands after 20 reps.
After working the abdomen area, I generally rest for 45 seconds or so before moving into my chest routine.
- 3 sets x 40, 30, 20 reps of push-ups
The classic push-up. It’s underrated, and very effective. I pop myself straight on the ground, with no tricks and do old-fashioned push-ups. I usually aim to do 100 reps, but it depends on how I feel on any particular day. So I’ll just keep going until I physically can’t any longer. Generally speaking, my first set is between 40-45 reps, and then it drops by approximately 10 reps with each subsequent set as my muscles fatigue.
- 3 sets x 15 reps of wide flies
After the push-ups I move right into bench flies. I lay flat on the bench with both arms out wide, each hand clasping a 25 lb. dumbbell. I then bring my arms up close to the middle of my body, keeping my elbows and arms stiff. I go as wide as I possibly can while still feeling comfortable. This is meant to isolate the chest, specifically the outer areas of the pectorals, where it meets the deltoid.
That’s it for chest. I then move into the shoulder workout. I combine chest and shoulders because they work together for many exercises, and burning them both out on the same day makes sense.
- 3 sets x 15 reps of shoulder presses
A staple. I sit on the bench, with my back just slightly arched. I use the 25 lb. dumbbells for this exercise as I keep my motion very tight, and my body extremely still. By the third set my shoulders are already burning.
- 3 sets x 10 reps of laterals
I do one set each of a side, forward, and rear lateral raise. This hits all three heads of the deltoid muscle. It’s extremely important in this exercise to maintain strict control of your movements. Throwing weight around isn’t only counterproductive, but also dangerous. Of course, I’m using the 25 lb. dumbbells again for this exercise.
Day one is complete. My chest and shoulders feel fully exhausted at this point and it’s time to take a shower.
Day Two – Biceps And Triceps
I start off with the same jogging and ab routine as discussed above. After some water and a quick break, I move right into my arm routine. I usually find myself doing these exercises on Tuesdays.
- 3 sets x 12 reps of concentration curls
I sit perpendicularly on the bench and lock my elbow and part of my upper arm against the knee. My back is angled, but stiff. I keep very strict control over my motion here, as I’m looking to burn the biceps. I’m looking to move only my lower arm. 25 lb. dumbbells may not seem like a lot of weight until you’re maintaining extremely strict movement.
- 3 sets x 12 reps of hammer curls
I sometimes mix it up here. I like the hammer curls as they work out not only the biceps, but also part of the forearms. Sometimes I do a supinated standing dumbbell curl. Just depends on my mood. At any rate, strict movement is imperative. Hammer curls are where your thumb and index finger are facing your face when you lift the weight up, like you’re grabbing a hammer.
I generally rest 20 seconds or so after the hammer/supinated curls before moving into triceps. I like to work biceps and triceps the same day so that my entire arm gets a nice burn.
- 3 sets x 12 reps of triceps extensions
You can do these with one arm at a time, or both arms at the same time. I choose the latter because it’s more difficult and saves time. Again, strict motion is very, very important here. With the way your hands are behind your head holding weight, any mistakes can cause injury. I hold the two dumbbells behind my head and slowly lift the weight above me, before returning to the rest position. I do this exercise very slowly, making sure to control my breathing and movement.
- 3 sets x 12 reps of triceps kickbacks
I use the bench for this workout. You don’t have to, but I find the bench makes it easier to keep my body extremely stiff. So you’re kneeling on the bench with one leg, with the opposite foot flat on the floor. It’s extremely important again to control your motion and movement here. These are dangerous if you’re just flailing around the weight. Depending on the day, my last set isn’t 12 reps. These are extremely difficult, and are absolutely fantastic for hitting the entire triceps area.
That’s it for day two! My arms are usually pretty tight after this workout, but I always feel great after that pump. Time for water and a shower.
Day Three – Back And Legs
Again, jogging and the ab workout are staples. So I start off with that before moving into the core routine. This is usually how I spend my Thursday afternoons.
- 3 sets x 10 reps of pull-ups
Now, I won’t lie. I don’t always do 30 pull-ups. It really all depends on how I feel. My first set is always at least 10 reps. Sometimes I”m only able to complete 7-8 reps on the subsequent sets. Really just depends on the day. But I always start with pull-ups. It’s a great core exercise, and I lift my head so that my face is near the bar. I can’t actually complete a “chin-up” because the bar doesn’t have the proper clearance (it’s attached to the foundation of the house).
- 3 sets x 15 reps of two-arm dumbbell rows
If I had heavier weight, I’d use the bench and do one arm at a time. But because I’m using two 25 lb. dumbbells I choose to use both arms at the same time and get more of a burn from this exercise. So I bend over, with my back at a 45-degree angle. I then lift both dumbbells up and release them back down, completing a “rowing” motion. 15 fairly quick reps usually sees me out of breath by the time it’s done, so this isn’t just for working the latissimus dorsi, but also meant to be a nice little aerobic exercise.
- 3 sets x 15 reps of shoulder shrugs
This exercise gives me a nice burn in the trapezius. The key is to go very slowly, especially when you’re using light weight like this. Going too fast isn’t going to work the traps and you’ll just end up wasting your time. So I like to maximize range of motion by making sure I shrug as high as I can go, and dropping my shoulders very slow.
That’s it for back. I used to do three times this much when I was a bodybuilder, but I don’t need some huge, muscular back. And doing much more than this would exhaust me to the point where I couldn’t work my legs out. So after taking 30 seconds or so to recover from the shrugs I move right into squats.
- 3 sets x 15 reps of dumbbell squats
Squats are typically done with a barbell and plenty of weight. I used to be known for pretty heavy squats myself, and there’s probably still a picture up at the gym I used to work out at in my younger years with me squatting more than 400 lbs. But I’m doing a lot less weight these days. I simply hold the two 25 lb. dumbbells in each hand and do a strict squat, making sure to feel the quads and hamstrings burn a little.
- 3 sets x 15 reps of lunges
I then move right into lunges. Again, it’s easy to injure yourself if you’re not careful. And I always recommend stretching before doing these. The key is to maintain control over your body and feel the burn in your legs.
And that’s it. Day three is done, meaning I’m all set for the week. I enjoy myself for the weekend, before starting it all back over again on Monday.
So that’s it! I typically spend 30 minutes or so per day three times per week. And I feel better than ever. I’m in great shape, at 5’9″ and approximately 175 pounds. And the great thing is that I don’t have to drive off to a gym somewhere and pay a big membership fee to do all of this.
Now, what works for me may not work for you. Most people would find working out with dumbbells boring. If you prefer playing tennis, running, or hitting the basketball court then do what works for you. The key is to maintain a routine that keeps you regularly active. The point behind this is to exercise for as close to free as you possibly can, which should keep you in great shape and thus minimize your healthcare costs over the course of your lifetime. And I also believe a smaller body creates less waste. You’ll certainly be finding yourself consuming less food. Less consumption plus more activity equals a happy body and a happy wallet.
What do you think? Are you a fan of frugal fitness? What’s your routine?
Thanks for reading.
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