Some time ago I came across a blog called, I Vigilante, and I was immediately hooked by the blogger’s enlightened self-interest and willingness to say FU to convention. Here’s how The Vigilante describes his mission.
I’m here to show you the virtue of unapologetic selfishness (“I”), the virtue of rebelling from authority and expectations often (“Vigilante”), and how it is all intimately connected to your ability to live a happy, healthy, and ridiculously fulfilling life.
But I wasn’t only hooked by The Vigilante’s unique take on life. I was also hooked by his colossal feats of strength. Here, for example, is a picture of The Young Vigilante posing with a bear after his first hunt. Pretty impressive shooting for someone who was just getting used to walking.
So I reached out to The Vigilante and asked him how he developed his superhero strength. When he told me he works out at home and refuses to spend a dime on gym memberships, I knew I had the makings of a terrific guest post. Here, then, is The Vigilante’s guide to frugal fitness. Enjoy.
Hello Groovy Freedomists! Do you want to look and feel like The Vigilante without pricey gym memberships and workout tapes?
Now you can! For the low, low price of being alive, the universe allows you to enjoy the ultimate workout tool: gravity!
Don’t overcomplicate this workout thing. You might already have all you need!
You may not realize it, but muscle will burn fat all day and night. When you pick something up or push yourself off the ground, your muscles work against gravity. They move and tear in the process, to be rebuilt later (at an ever-increasing pace) at a reinforced strength so they can conquer the new heavy loads you throw at them. Your body burns a ton of calories to do this, both during the act and during the rebuilding process. And then it keeps using extra calories to care for all that new muscle, thus raising your metabolism. Muscle building keeps you thin, and basically works as a Fountain of Youth for calorie burning and recovery time. If you want to feel young and avoid waistline expansion, you want to build muscle.
The only way to do that is to use gravity. For the duration of your lifetime, gravity is in unlimited abundance. Whether pulling on a heavy metal weight or on your heavy adipose tummy, this free and abundant gravity provides precisely the best muscle-building tool for the human body—resistance. No amount of money you can spend on a trainer, a monthly gym membership, or a workout subscription service will provide anything that the gravity in your home cannot, with planning and creativity.
But what exactly does a cheapskate like The Vigilante do to look like Captain America (sort of) and feel strong enough to accomplish awe-inspiring, helicopter-stopping feats (sort of), all while being a spending scrooge?
I lift heavy stuff and put it down.
At least once every 24-48 hours, I make sure I lift for a half hour to an hour. Each time, I do a series of at least 3 sets of at least 3-4 different workouts that target each of a particular muscle group or groups, rotating through the following list of muscles:
- Day 1: Chest, triceps, shoulders
- Day 2: Legs and core
- Day 3: Back and biceps
I do each of the above days with light weight and a lot of repetitions. Then, the following rotation through those days, I do roughly the same thing with medium weight. I do those days again with heavy weight and very few reps, and then I repeat the cycle. After doing the whole cycle 2 or 3 times, my body might need a week off of lifting, and that’s just fine.
But how did I come up with all that, and what does it cost?
I am personally a huge fan of weight training. I have been doing it since 8th grade, and have been trained by coaches, team trainers, and a personal trainer neighbor, all at no cost. Paying a trainer, briefly, is worth the cost if you have no other options, as improper form can result in injury. Advancing in weight too quickly or doing lifts beyond your skill level is a sure way to wind up meeting your health insurance deductible overnight.
But don’t be fooled! Weight training is safe, super easy to learn, and with proper form you can do it indefinitely. Just ask Willie Murphy, the 79-year-old woman who can out-deadlift the average 40-year-old American man. And if you ever need a refresher course, Bodybuilding.com offers a free library of instructional videos for all kinds of lifts, effectively replacing that personal trainer once you get the gist. ATHLEAN-X, suggested by Mr. Groovy, is even better for explanations of why you should or should not do various moves for various purposes, like this video which convinced this stubborn Vigilante to not do pec flies on chest day! (Something I’ve done for over a decade, by the way.)
If you want to be a money and fitness Vigilante, the goal should be to get out of the gym you probably found your trainer in. The single best way to stay in shape and save money is to bring the gym home!
This is cheaper than you might think based on infomercials starring former daytime TV stars pushing “all-in-one” systems. Mrs. Vigilante and I dedicated an approximately 12×12 area of our basement to Vigilante Fitness: a squat rack, a bench, a bit over 300 pounds of cast iron weights, some dumbbells, a curl bar, and a hex bar, which cost us a grand total of about $1,000.00 mostly on Amazon.com (with a few bits purchased at lower cost from local retailers). It’s quite possibly the single best investment I’ve ever made, and it leaves us with extra, wholly unnecessary equipment: the curl bar, hex bar, and some weights are purely for preference and don’t really add significantly to our repertoire. The absolutely necessary equipment would total around $800 and allow us to do all of our lifts, albeit with less comfort and convenience. (So soft of us!)
Still, this is less than the cost of one year of membership at some gyms, and transportation is free and instantaneous! It’s also less than the cost of less than two years at the cheapest gym available for myself and Mrs. Vigilante, when transportation to the gym 3-4 times a week is considered. ($10/month, $10 sign-up fee, and about $3 per trip in gas and mileage assuming we go together!)
With this equipment, we can do the most effective forms of exercise for every single muscle in our bodies, including the mothers of all muscle-building motions: squats, deadlifts, and bench press. These lifts form the base of the most effective weight-training regimens, because they pit the largest muscle groups in your body against gravity, along with secondary action from smaller muscle groups to retain balance.
The best part? We can do our workout on our own schedule, any time we feel like it. No hours of operation. No wasting time and money driving to and from a gym. No built-in excuse because the “weather is too bad.” No smelly car seat because we were too sweaty. No showering in a dirty gym shower with wrinkly old men. And this equipment, for a one-time fee, will last us decades. Not too shabby in the face of ever-rising gym membership costs!
For a dramatically smaller cost than the full home gym, you can get a big chunk of the same results with just some adjustable dumbbells, a door frame pull-up bar, and an adjustable bench. You’ll outgrow the weight, eventually, but just tacking on more reps and being creative with your choices of lifts will keep your body guessing and growing!
I also lift myself and put myself down. (Not as bad as it sounds.)
If $800 is too steep a cost for a lifetime of improved health, mood, and appearance, gravity generously makes itself available in other ways. Push-ups, pull-ups, and plyometrics (jump training) all use gravity and your own body weight. And they’re all incredibly effective and completely, 100% free.
Yoga also offers incredible strength and flexibility benefits as long as you engage in a truly challenging routine. None of this sitting on the ground and humming stuff, for our purposes—you’re going to do power yoga. The kind that makes you sweat, forces you to control your breath, and makes your legs quake from the effort. Yoga is easily the cheapest of all possible workouts: All you need is time, a floor, and your best friend gravity!
Some marketers may try to tell you otherwise. They’ll say they have “the workout” that has “cracked the code,” and for a low fee they will share with you the magic move to make you fit. I’ve seen those really cool workout subscription services from infomercials and Shark Tank, too. But honestly, there’s no magic move that has been copyrighted out of the public sphere. All due respect to Mark Cuban, you can get the same movements, the same advice, and the same results from the internet. Just check out these options:
Stronger by Livestrong: Roughly the same program as the famous infomercials, if a little bit shorter. The only thing it lacks is pre-workout stretching, but just add that on your own for 5-10 minutes. A great source for plyometric training!
FitnessBlender for every body weight exercise imaginable: Mrs. Groovy is a fan of this YouTube best. Again, trains you in the same moves as those videos that cost you three simple payments of $99.99 on late-night TV, but its 100% free!
The shortcomings of working out at home.
Most people I’ve interacted with who are reluctant to work out at home are concerned with the same thing: Motivation. They see that the treadmill they bought 10 years ago spends months unplugged, and the stationary bike is used mainly as a clothes drying rack. It’s a real and understandable concern.
Many assume that paying a monthly fee will somehow bring motivation into the picture. But interestingly, most people who pay gym memberships never even go. Your motivation to work out—as with your motivation to do basically anything in life—best serves you if it comes from within. Your gym membership fee is an attempt to create an extrinsic motivator, and it’s proven to be an incredibly ineffective one. Especially when you set yourself up to reason your way out of going by saying, “I haven’t gone in so long, it’s useless.” Or, for the FIRE-minded, “I’d only lose even more money by driving over there, so I might as well wait until a less busy time in my life.”
I can’t tell you how to get motivated. You’re a stranger, and my parents warned me not to talk to people like you. But I can tell you this: Almost all people I know who have had a body transformation—including myself—have been able to do so because they simply gave gravity some of the time and attention it deserves. (And because they committed to the other side of the equation—a healthier diet.) Once you start, you realize motivation isn’t an issue. It’s a self-reinforcing mechanism.
Sounds familiar, I’m sure, since you’re on a FIRE blog!
But this isn’t just psychological, like FIRE motivation. This is biological. When you start resisting the pull of gravity, you’ll be sore the next day—but the soreness is reduced each time your body heals from a workout. It learns to heal faster. When your workout is good and your body needs to recover, it will rest better. Your sleep improves, in quality if not duration.
You start to operate more efficiently elsewhere, physically and mentally. You realize that cutting out your workout would actually cause your life to be more stressful, not less. With all these improvements, your motivation to continue working out grows. You start to feel odd and anxious if you don’t work out.
And all these benefits are free for the taking, to those motivated enough to give weight training or body weight exercises a shot, anyway. So go get started!