I'm a freelance writer/photographer living in the East Village neighborhood of New York City.
Published March 19th 2010
Now that the groundhog has seen his shadow, those in the know claim that spring is just weeks away. With the warm weather in mind, you might be second-guessing those holiday pounds. Even if you have very little cash to spare when considering individual or group fitness options, living in a large city gives you plenty of low-cost choices for warming up in a group, trying out a different gym, or peddling down some of our swanky new bike lanes.
If you've never before made a commitment to routine exercising, ask yourself the following questions: Have you first discussed a fitness regime with your doctor? Do you want to work out alone or in a group? Can you self-motivate, or would attending regularly scheduled classes enhance your experience? Are you in search of traditional fitness solutions or just fun recreational activities to get you off the couch? Finally, what are your fitness goals?
Next, consider your skill level, the variety you require to keep you motivated, your geographical proximity to potential locations, and that you have the right gear to get you started, such as a helmet for cycling, good-quality running shoes, or the perfect active wear for your best downward dog.
Beginning this spring and lasting throughout summer, the least expensive options for group fitness opportunities can be found through the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. Many recreation centers throughout the five boroughs hold a variety of group fitness classes on a weekly basis as part of the Shape Up New York Program. Classes are one hour in length and always free. Choose from kickboxing, step aerobics, yoga, weight training or join one of the walking of hiking groups.
The NYC Parks Department also hosts other fitness programs for specific groups, such as children, seniors, and those with special needs. Diverse events highlighting running, swimming, skating, skiing, and team sports run all year long. Annual public events like Winter Jam, EarthFest, and River Ramble give everyone a chance to participate.
Dancing is another way to trim the fat while having fun. Free or low-cost dancing classes can be found through community centers and international consulates. Members of the YMCA dance free, though individual and family membership prices vary. Brooklyn is also awash with a great variety of free and inexpensive African and Afro-Caribbean dance classes right now.
The yoga-addicted masses will love the New York Yoga PassBook. For a mere $75 you get more than 350 free passes to try yoga, Pilates, and dance/aerobics sessions throughout the five boroughs. And if you've used all your coupons by summer, the NYC Parks and Recreation Department hosts free early morning yoga and Tai Chi practice sessions in Bryant Park. Do your homework: Some studios offer pay-what-you-wish yoga throughout the season and others feature classes that are free to the unemployed.
Those seeking workouts with exercise equipment have fewer budget options, though membership to the Chelsea Recreation Center in Manhattan is a modest $75 a year. Amenities include a swimming pool, a cardio room, free weights, volleyball, basketball court, dance studios, and lockers.
Among the best ways that city folks can keep in shape (and fatten their wallets) is by regular biking. With the city's vast investment in expanded bike lanes and increased bicycling safety measures, interest in cycling is growing at an astonishing rate. That said, finding a low-cost bike is probably your greatest obstacle. You can try Craiglist and freecycle, but it's a wiser person who rents before buying. Most local bike shops rent bikes for around $30-45 a day, but you can also find those that rent by the hour. The east side's Pedal Pusher Bike Shop and the west side's City Bicycles both offer rentals (which include helmets) for about $6 an hour. Hopefully by summer you'll have found your two-wheeled dream. In August, during Summer Streets, when the city closes major thoroughfares to vehicular traffic, zip up or down Park Avenue, around Grand Central Terminal, and straight into Brooklyn or Central Park. It's amazing to see the city without a car in sight, and with safety no longer a concern, freedom abounds.