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How to build muscle without spending a fortune

Getting the Spartan warrior look doesn't have to mean breaking the bank. Stop wasting money on gym memberships and overpriced home equipment and invest your hard-earned cash on these cost-effective alternatives.

A bodybuilder (© Getty Images)

You can't put a price on your health, but with gym memberships averaging around £50 a month (not to mention the joining fee), it makes sense to shop around for ways of burning calories that don't also burn a hole in your pocket.

And it's not just gym memberships we're guilty of overspending on - the cost of putting together your own home gym can run into the thousands before you've even had the chance to lift a dumbbell.

But it doesn't have to be this way. With the expert help of fitness trainer Gavin Walsh, we take a look at some cheap yet effective ways of packing on muscle.

These cast iron weights resemble a cannonball with a handle, which you swing and snatch in various movements designed to build strength and endurance. Because your body has to adapt constantly to control the shifting weight, you are forced to work several muscles simultaneously, giving you a full-body workout. The bells are cheap, too (price varies according to brand and weight, but you can get started for as little as £30). Walsh says: "The kettlebell is one of the most versatile pieces of fitness equipment around. If you've got a couple of heavy kettlebells and some gym know-how, you can pretty much work every muscle there is."

Bowflex dumbbells
Designed to save you space, not just money, these adjustable dumbbells allow you to switch resistance from very low to very high, all in a single piece of equipment. Walsh says: "With these all you need to do is buy a bench and you've got yourself a ready-made gym. Plus, unlike body weight training, you're unlikely to hit a plateau due to the lack of resistance." The initial cost of around £300 may sound like a lot, but compared to the annual cost of a gym membership (on average around £600 a year), this cleverly designed piece of kit will save you money in the long-term.

Chin-up bar
For proof that more money does not equal greater chance of fitness success, look no further than the traditional chin-up bar, which will set you back around £15. "The chin-up is still one of the daddy exercises for putting on muscle," says Walsh. "It's cheap, but hugely effective. Lots of people shy away from the bar, but if you've got one at home then there is no need to be self-conscious. Simply try adding an extra rep to your total every other day and you will see big improvements in your biceps, back and even your abs."

Power clubs
These bowling-pin shaped clubs (two of which will cost you less than £100) were used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by Indian athletes and have recently become popular within mainstream fitness circles. Taking care not to knock yourself on the head while doing it, power club workouts involve swinging the tool to build strength and, in particular, develop shoulder and back muscles. Walsh says: "The power clubs help strengthen through a number of different angles and range, something traditional gym equipment is unable to do."

TRX suspension training
Devised by a U.S. Navy Seal who was stuck in the jungle and unable to work out, the TRX system involves using a flexible strap with two adjustable handles that can be attached to an anchor or doorframe. The simple suspension tool uses body weight to, as Walsh says, "create resistance and influence the exercise." Costing in the region of £150, TRX is much cheaper than, say, a good quality multi-gym machine which will tap your wallet to the tune of £500 or more. Walsh adds: "TRX is a very versatile, compact piece of kit and we're starting to see them more and more in the gym. But it's easy to use them at home or in the park."

The name stands for Vitality, Performance and Reconditioning - and this is precisely what you get from this heavy, metre-long rubber tube designed to give you a full-body workout. Available in weights ranging from 4-20kg and costing between £140 to £280 depending on the weight category, the tube is lifted to tone arms and shoulders and swung from side-to-side to strengthen your flanks. Whichever routine you follow, ViPR is a great way to develop lean muscle and, even better, you only need one cheap piece of kit to do it.

What could be simpler than filling a specially designed bag with sand and moving through a series of dynamic movements designed to strip fat and pack on muscle? Simple, but also very cheap, with bags costing as little as £30 to £40 (just head down to your local garden centre to pick up some sand - many have bags available for around £2). Walsh says: "Sandbags will challenge your body in ways you didn't think possible. The sand moving around gives lifting a whole new dimension, which forces your core and stabilising muscles to contract much harder."

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