The Cost of Working Out (For Work)

After a year at a desk job, my muscles have atrophied into glorified tendons.

I recently landed a job working with goats. And while carrying a bale of hay, I had a revelation: I’ve gone soft. Though I’ve never been remotely close to “muscular,” I used to be able sling bales of hay around with some proficiency. Now, my body type could be described as “soft twig.” I just want a visible left bicep, y’all. But after a year at a desk job, my muscles have atrophied into glorified tendons.

I’m not alone. The majority of American jobs involve little to no physical activity. The amount of manual labor jobs have decreased drastically in the past few decades, and most of those positions are filled by men. I’m a woman, and I want to be able to perform my job just as well as a man would in my position. Let’s face it — most men naturally have more muscle than me. I am at a disadvantage.

In order to be the best employee I could be in an active, outdoor environment, I needed to build some muscle. Some people go to seminars for career enrichment; I decided to start weightlifting. Why weightlifting? I believe that it’s the quickest way to build muscle. It was intimidating at first, because I’m still the only woman in my gym I’ve seen touch the barbell. However, I’ve come to enjoy being a feminist badass. I love defying expectations when I lift 135 pounds instead of the pink five pound weights I’m supposed to gravitate toward.

At the beginning of my lifting journey, I signed up for an intense program on and changed my diet. I’ve been working out four to five days a week for the past six weeks, and though I’ve had to fight for every millimeter of muscle, the results are real. I don’t know why this shocks me. I guess my picked-last childhood convinced me that exercise worked for everyone but me. I am pleased to report it works for me too!

I can lift double the weight I could at the beginning. I can squat and deadlift my own bodyweight. And I can see both biceps. Dreams are coming true all over the place. The most shocking thing is that I’ve come to enjoy weightlifting. I like feeling powerful. I like seeing measurable results. I like lifting.

However, there is a cost. Not only am I unable to sit down gracefully after leg day, but my “extracurricular” money has become scarce. Luckily, I have a weightlifting boyfriend who splits these costs with me. Below, I’m going to lay out the costs of weightlifting, and calculate what it costs me per month.

Gym membership: $40. Adding another recurring monthly expense pained my soul and my budget. But I forged ahead, and chose to join the YMCA. I have a couple’s membership, which is $80/month, the cost of which my boyfriend and I split. I could go to a cheaper gym, but there’s two YMCAs within a three-minute drive, and I’d rather give to an organization that helps the community than the average Gold’s Gym.

Xtend BCAAs powder: $29. We drink this during our workouts. My boyfriend says it does good things. I just drink and obey.

Costco brand protein powder: $32.99. We got a bag with 75 servings (it’s roughly the size of my torso).

Gummy Multivitamins: $13.99. Child at heart.

Personal Trainer :$0. I follow a free program on called “Charlie Mike” led by female bodybuilder Ashley Horner. My boyfriend works out with me, and I’m fortunate that he is an experienced weightlifter and able to guide me. Otherwise, I would’ve shelled out for a personal trainer while starting out in order to learn proper form.

Workout clothes: $0. Can I make a little confession? I used to make fun of all the sporty moms and sorority girls who were always running around in workout clothes despite not actually working out. “But they’re so comfy” they would say. You know what? They ARE so comfy! All I want is to wear sweat-wicking shirts and yoga pants for the rest of my life.

I didn’t have a lot of active wear. Now, I have two sweat-wicking shirts, three sports bras, and a pair of workout pants. And good running shoes. These were given to me by my boyfriend’s mom and the shoes were a Christmas present from my mom. Thank you, moms of the world! But you don’t need an athletic wardrobe to work out. Before I received these clothes, I just worked out in old cotton shirts. I might’ve looked more like a sweatmonster, but I could still get it done.

Diet: $75/ week. I’m pescatarian (vegetarian but with fish) so it was important I upped my normal protein intake. My boyfriend and I spend a collective $75/week on groceries for our fancy protein-heavy, mostly organic diet. Thank you, Costco. This is our normal grocery budget, so it will not be added to the monthly cost. The downside is that our strict diet means we eat basically the same thing every day. A typical day would be egg white muffins with sweet peppers for breakfast, a quinoa/tofu/veggie mixture for lunch, and fish and vegetables for dinner. Random cupcake breaks not included in budget.

Factoring in the percentage of the product used and the fact I split all costs in half with my boyfriend, I’ve calculated the monthly cost of weightlifting. My personal cost for building muscle works out to $73.28/month. Which is not an insignificant amount for a dedicated budgeteer (can this be a real word?) like myself, but still under $100. My increased strength has been worth the cash, and I’m extremely happy with my weightlifting ROI.

Rachel Ahrnsen lives in the unexpected paradise of Birmingham, Alabama. She writes half as much as she reads.

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