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Top 5 Ways to Exercise for Free in Shanghai

Getting fit can be expensive in Shanghai, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some great options for shaping up without spending a lot of your hard-earned RMB.

Spring is finally upon us. Shanghai-ers rejoice!

And while there is always the chance of the freak cold snap smacking us all in the face one last time, bringing with it a cold drizzle and impossible taxis, for the most part it should be smooth sailing all the way to summer. If you are new to Shanghai, you should be aware that summer starts in just about a month -- which means swimsuit season is much closer than you think.

If your winter involved more beef noodle soup than salads, like most of us here, then spring is the time to dig out the running shoes, pump up the bike tires, pop in your headphones and get that body moving.

But what if your pockets aren’t lined with 100 kuai bills? Worry not, for there are still plenty of free, or nearly free options for burning up calories and getting back in shape here in China’s trendiest city. Why not exercise for free? Most of Shanghai’s gyms leave a lot to be desired, with absurdly high membership rates to boot, and there is plenty of glorious sunshine to be enjoyed outdoors for the next several months.

1. Have bike, should travel

China loves bicycles, and for good reason. Bikes convert all the fat in those dumplings you’ve eaten into pure vehicular fuel, rather than letting you store it. Far and away one of the fastest and most convenient modes of transportation in Shanghai, bikes are also a fun way to get around and meet up with friends. So, even if you don’t have a bike yet, investing in a sturdy set of wheels and a strong lock can actually save you money in taxi and transit fares. Biking is, in fact cheaper than free: it pays you.

Don’t have a bike yet? No problem. Here is a list of the top bicycle shops in Shanghai to check out for your next pedal pony.

2. Get fit like Rocky

Own a pair of sneakers? Then you are almost ready. Just download Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger from Baidu Music and head to any one Shanghai’s numerous public parks or school running tracks for a jog. This 80s-movie themed exercise option is heavy on fitness and light on the wallet. Free music + free exercise = you win.

And, with all of the cash you save, you might even be able to afford to reward yourself with a new set of grey sweats and a red headband. After you get back into shape from all your thrifty running, people might even mistake you for Rocky himself and ask for an autograph. You will never get that kind of compliment or acknowledgement for your hard work from a paid-membership gym.

3. Become a famous dancer

Shanghai is renowned for its morning and evening dance classes ,which take occur on just about any paved surface not open to automobiles (and some that are). Join in on the fun for free, and as a foreigner you are bound to have a full dance card for the entire session regardless of your Mandarin or dancing skills. Just be sure to take photos, since explaining this phenomenon to anyone who has never seen it for themselves always results in confusion and bewilderment.

You can even pay for private lessons if you really want to improve your moves, since most of the instructors work at dance schools and studios around the city. Rates are cheap and negotiable.

You might not become Fred Astaire, but you will have a chance to get in shape, mingle with locals, experience come culture, become famous (at least in your local park for a few hours), and have plenty of fun stories to tell later.

4. Professionally-instructed yoga, for free. For real!

Yoga-apparel company Lululemon has free guided yoga classes every Saturday morning at its studio led by different instructors on a rotation basis. No gimmick: this one really is free. Classes are aimed at beginners, but for free yoga in a nice environment, this is about as good as it get.

For a full rundown, including the address and other pertinent details, check out this write-up on TimeOut Shanghai.

5. Exercise naked

If your idea of free exercise requires air-conditioning and a shower immediately thereafter, then perhaps your living room is the best bet. Exercise videos can be downloaded for free from the internet via torrent sites and other sources (which is technically not illegal, thanks to China’s unique interpretations of foreign copyright laws), so all you have to do is turn on your computer or DVD player and get started whenever it’s convenient for you. You could even make your work-out clothing-optional to save money on exercise wear: just be sure you are home alone and the curtains are closed. All you need is a mat.

So there you have it. Our top five ways to get fit for free in Shanghai. Remember to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, and you will be ready for summer before you know it.


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