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Hate Gyms, Love Exercise

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Jess Connett dons some orange shorts and heads off to explore loads of ways you can exercise for free in Bristol.

No one likes the gym. It’s not like on Instagram – gyms stink, cost stupid money, and very few accept members under 18. Plus going to the gym might not actually be that good for you compared to exercising outside.

So, here’s seven free gym alternatives, guaranteed to help you do your recommended 60 minutes of exercise per day. Make sure to warm up thoroughly before you start:

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Take the gym outside

Not quite ready to give up your evening spent pumping iron? Solution: take the iron outside. You can find free-to-use gym equipment, chin-up bars and machines in parks all over town. Some of them are a little unconventional.

It’s a good idea to take a friend along – some machines require two people to make them work, and it’s always good practice to have a spotter. Also, you might need someone to help you walk home after you destroy all your leg muscles on a ridiculous skateboard contraption (guilty).

Run 5km with ParkRun

Thinking about signing up to a charity run like Race For Life or Rainbow Run? Maybe you’ve entered a race and are only now realising just how far 5km is? Running regularly with other people and keeping track of your training will motivate you way more than guilty thoughts about going for a run after you’ve munched through a tub of Ben & Jerry’s.

Parkrun takes place at Ashton Court and Pomphrey Hill. You sign up before the event and then run the 5km course at your own pace. At the end, you get loads of info about your time and performance. It’s like having a virtual personal trainer who monitors your performance – only she doesn’t shout at you or make you feel inferior because her bicep is bigger than your leg.

get Circus Skills with Invisible Youth

If you ever need a life lesson in not giving up, try learning to juggle. At first, there’ll be balls everywhere and catching will feel like an impossible struggle – but over time, you see the progress until one day you can actually do it. And it feels good. And then you can show off at parties forever more.


Get yourself down to Felix Road Adventure Playground, Easton for free circus skills workshops with Invisible Youth. They run from 2pm-5pm every other sunday, and are absolutely buzzing with energy and community spirit. You can try out hula-hooping, juggling, stilts and so much more, in a carnival atmosphere with trained volunteers on hand. We watched a guy ride a unicycle along a tightwire. Seriously.

Cycle the Sustrans routes

Got a bike? Get on it! It’s the speediest form of transport through Bristol traffic, it’s amazingly good for you and it’s surprisingly fun. And if you haven’t got one, you can borrow one at Temple Meads. No problem.

Bristol has some ace cycle paths which take you out into the countryside without having to fight your way along the roads. The Sustrans Bristol And Bath Path is one of the most well-used in the country, with serious commuters, school kids and sunday-afternoon riders alike. Other nice traffic-free routes include the riverside path to Pill under the suspension bridge, and the Festival Way from Ashton Court to Backwell. Let’s ride.

Mountain Bike Trails

Sticking with the cycling theme, you know what’s fun? Spending your weekend hurtling down hills on two wheels. In this sport, helmets and mud are not optional. Game face on.

The best trails are definitely in West Bristol, which can be a bit of a pain to get to (you can get a train to Clifton Down station but you’ll still have to cycle from there). The track in Fifty Acre Wood, Ashton Court was hand-built by volunteers and is fast, furious and very, very muddy while we were there. There are some other, smaller tracks dotted around Bristol, including in Eastville Park.

Play some basketball

It’s a classic for a reason – and there are basketball courts all over Bristol. Most stay unlocked all the time, and many have floodlights so you can play on after dark.

Running around on the court, changing direction and speeding up/slowing down quickly make playing basketball an amazing cardio workout, and if you’re not completely knackered by the end then you’re not doing it right. Just remember that if a couple of guys who are up to no good start making trouble in your neighbourhood, don’t get in any fights.

play a Street game

When you’re being chased through the streets by slobbering zombies, that stitch you had five minutes ago is the least of your worries. Exercise is most effective when you enjoy it, so it’s a no-brainer (pardon the zombie pun) to combine exercise and games for a heart-pumping fun-fest.

Immersive games, like a real-life version of a first-person video game, are now massively popular. Experiences like Slingshot‘s 2.8 Hours Later have a base in the playground games we all made up as kids. Get some mates together for a good old fashioned game of British Bulldog, or keep an eye on Bristol Urban Games who organise games that anyone can play, right in the middle of town.

Map of Bristol showing exercise locations

Click on the map to find out what’s free and available in your area.

What do you think is the best way to exercise for free? Or what’s stopping you from getting out there and exercising? Join in the conversation @RifeMag