April 04, 2008

Five Good Reasons To Quit the Gym

This next guest post is by Monica Shaw--she's a freelance writer who hosts the very informative health and fitness website, smarterfitter.com.

I was on an elliptical machine watching an episode of MTV Cribs when it dawned on me: "this is totally lame." What the hell was I doing sweating my ass off in a dingy gym full of boneheads and bad techno? Why was I mindlessly watching bad TV? And worst of all, why was I paying for the privilege?

That day, I ended my workout early and cancelled my gym membership. It was time to take Fleetwood Mac's advice and go my own way.

It's obvious to me now that the gym and I were in a co-dependent relationship: I depended on the gym to not feel like a lard-ass; the gym depended on me for a small percentage of its monthly allowance. Like all unhealthy relationships, it took me a while (four years) to figure this out, but now that we're apart, I feel happier and healthier for it.

How about your relationship with the gym? It it on the skids? If so, here are a few good reasons to consider a clean break:

1. The gym messes with our goals

Summer shape up!
Get yourself a beach bum!
Get ripped!!


The gym advertises two extremes, get big or get small, then reminds us that we're not big or small enough. In response, we exercise to burn more calories or lift heavier weights. Just look at the weight bench for an example: weight lifters often sacrifice their form (and their poor backs) to lift more pounds than they can correctly manage.

Most of us start going the gym because we want to be healthier and more comfortable in our own skin. But when progress is measured in numbers, it's easy to forget why we joined the gym in the first place. Instead of confidence, we get negative feedback. and sometimes forget our goals altogether. It's good for the gym, because it keeps us (or at least our membership dues) going back. But is it healthy for us?

2. Gym memberships are really expensive

A recent study in the American Economic Review (appropriately titled Paying Not To Go to the Gym) found that, given a choice of contracts, most gym users will pick a monthly contract over a yearly or per-use contract. Over a year, users pay an average of $71 per month but go to the gym about 4.7 times per month. That's $15 per visit, and $852 per year! Think of all the things you could do with $852: buy a really sweet bike, go on a vacation, take Spanish lessons... the possibilities are endless, and far more valuable in the long run.

3. The gym requires exercise

By definition, exercise is "an activity that requires physical or mental exertion". The term implies strenuous effort, like paying attention to a boring lecture or solving a difficult math problem. In effect, but something we have to earn by performing repetitive tasks that we don't enjoy very much. But shouldn't physical fitness be a fundamental right of existence? Wouldn't it be better to simply be active in our every day lives?

Life is full of boring obligations, like lectures and tax forms; physical fitness shouldn't be among them.

4. The gym woos us into a lifetime of gym dependence

Binding contracts aside, the gym fools us into believing we need it in order to stay fit. Thus begins a hideous cycle where it's okay to drive the car half a mile to pick up a gallon or milk, or stay glued to our seats in front of a computer 8 hours a day -- we can simply make up for inactivity (not to mention the ills of the food industry) at the gym.

It seems a pity to spend the day engaged in sub-par activities, only to have to make up for it with another sub-par activity. The gym is an easy way out, so we stop challenging ourself to be active in other ways. It's a strange paradox: has the gym actually made us lazier?

5. The gym burns "empty" calories

Like the opposite of a can of Coke, the gym offers little more than a calorie deficit. For example, the most dominant feature of my former gym is a row of TVs facing the cardio machines. Here's a typical line-up: "Pimp My Ride", "My Super Sweet 16", music videos, Sky News, and sports. Grown-ups, bankers, educated types... we all watch this crap! Sometimes we try to avoid it with iPods and magazines, but is that really the way to enjoy music and reading? Wouldn't it be nicer to curl up on the couch with tea and a good book then go for a long walk in the park afterwards? Why take two otherwise good things like reading and fitness and make them less good by putting them together?

By trading the gym for more mentally rewarding activities like walking outdoors, it's possible to get more from "exercise" than a calorie deficit. Even if "more" is a bit of sunshine or a nice chat, chances are you'll feel better about life than if you spent that time in the gym.

Admittedly, not every gym-goer is a zombie on a treadmill. There are a few good reasons to stick with the gym if it works for you. Here are some examples:

A few good reasons stick with the gym
  • You have a gym buddy
  • You like to swim and your gym has a pool
  • You use your gym's group exercise courses (yoga, pilates, etc.)
  • You live in a shitty climate
  • You're new to exercise and require the help of a personal trainer
  • You're training for something cool (marathon, triathalon, iron man, spam toss)
  • You enjoy lifting weights but don't have the space or cash for a home gym

30 comments:

  1. "Pimp my ride"? "Super Sweet 16"?
    So that's what I'm missing out on by not going to the gym or having cable?

    Thanks, Monica! This is an especially good time of year for this post. I think Spring might actually start putting in an appearance soon :)

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  2. Spam toss! I am so there!!!

    I actually DON'T use the machines at my gym. I go for classes and the pool, and actually just got hired as a substitute pilates teacher (yay!). I agree, the machines are, well, boring. (We're lucky, we live in a nice climate, right off of a trail that goes around the San Francisco Bay, and there's really no reason NOT to walk outside!)
    I'm hoping to someday log enough hours teaching that I get a free membership, and a discount for hubby and kids.

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  3. Also, gym showers are no good.

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  4. Thanks so much for confirming why I've been holding out for a few months and NOT signing up for a gym membership, even though the idea has been in the back of my mind! I'll keep walking my kids to the park, running on our treadmill on bad days and getting out on nice days, and taking my yoga classes at a yoga studio.

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  5. thanks all!

    merry - today was our FIRST sunny day in weeks (typical London). this weekend forcasts snow. go figure!

    Azusmom - those are the two things I miss most about the gym, yoga class and the pool. I'm lucky enough to live near a pay-per-use 50meter outdoor pool so I'm still "paying" for fitness in that respect. But somehow I don't feel like their robbing me!

    red - you said it. hairs in the drain. luke warm water. blah.

    brianna - i'm with you; walking outside is sooo much more enjoyable and arguably better for you. i only wish i could find a yoga studio that i could afford. someday i'll be rich. =)

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  6. The Bag Lady is so happy to have her aversion to gyms confirmed!
    She enjoys walking out in the pasture, running from the occasional crazed cow, far more than she would like walking on a treadmill, watching lame TV, and smelling everyone else!! Give her the clean country air, even if it is perfumed with eau de cow poop!!

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  7. Those are all excellent reasons, however, there are two other good reasons (aside from some of the ones that you have listed) that I keep my gym membership:

    1. Hot tub.

    2. Child care. As a single parent to a 5 year old, I can't just throw on my shoes and run out the door. I need someone to watch over my daughter.

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  8. As an instructor, I don't pay for my gym membership but I would also add another reason to quit is the guilt you feel when you don't go. If you don't have a membership, it's one less thing to feel guilty about.

    Another irony I noticed the other day - a car parked illegally along the curb closest to the door - and it was a nice day! They were going inside to run on the treadmill but couldn't be bothered to walk 50 or 100 feet to get there.

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  9. Ah, thanks for reminding me of the reasons I have never joined a gym! I've been tempted, especially as the junky gym in my apartment complex has been more crowded of late, but I think I'll refrain!

    Also, I suffer terribly from buyers' remorse. No doubt I would feel terrible if I didn't go at least 6 times a week.

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  10. Yeah, going to the gym seems like a lot better value when it's free. Being a grad student has very, very few perks, but free fabulous gym is one of them.

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  11. I miss my membership at the Y, now that I can't afford it and don't leave my father alone for long anyway. I joined to get a yoga class at a time and place that wasn't impossible to get to, but there were all those extras. The monthly cost was about what I'd been paying for yoga classes five years ago in NC, but that wasn't all I was getting for the money. That's when I started doing weights, and I really enjoyed it, and since I have an awful time forcing myself out into the cold to walk, I loved the elliptical ( and so did my knees and my hips!) Shortly after I joined my work place moved next door, which was truly great! Walk ten yards to the gym before you go home. : )

    As far as posters go, the Y very much emphasized getting healthy, rather than thin or ripped.

    I really missed it when I had to give it up, but on the down side, the music drove me Completely Insane. The rhythm was always changing and I had to fight constantly to keep my own pace. (I described it to someone at work who used a different gym as Elevator Music for Kangaroos.) And of course my allergies came into play. I was bothered more and more by the cleaning products and what other people had bathed or washed their clothes in. So I left with mixed feelings.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

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  12. Great post! I loved your point about why take two great activities and ruin them both by doing them together. I can't read on the treadmill anyhow, it makes me motion sick. And amen to your comment about all the insipid TV shows!

    That said, I love my gym - it's the highlight of my day. Everything on your list of pros for the gym applies to me. But you forgot a big one - Childcare!!

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  13. For me, the gym membership (YMCA) is a backup. My wife uses it more than I do because she doesn't like to run or walk outside when the temperature is below about 45°. I go when the weather just doesn't work for me to run outside. I don't like running on the treadmill but it beats running in the rain at temperatures below 40° or when the temp drops below about 12° or when I need to run on a summer afternoon and the temperature is above 80° (I have a fairly low tolerance for heat).

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  14. Interesting post, and it's actually a topic I've been thinking about for a while now. When I was writing Shape's Weight-Loss Diary, the magazine set me up with a membership at a very upscale gym, where I dutifully went and did my workouts.

    When my year as the columnist ended, I joined a YMCA, where I dutifully go and do my workouts. The Y is definitely more low-budget than the gym I was going to, but my workout doesn't know the difference.

    My membership is about to come up for renewal, but lately, I've been thinking about all the time I spend driving to get there -- time in which I could have just as easily done the same workout at home with a bit of equipment. So now, I'm seriously thinking about investing a bit in some home equipment -- I'm talking barbells and dumbbells, not a Bowflex or anything. I'd be saving myself time and money.

    Really, I think the more you learn about strength training and cardio, the more you realize you don't need a gym to do it.

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  15. I don't know, once I get there competitive mode kicks in...I want to run farther than that person or I want to show them how hard i"m working. If you just do it at home, well that sounds like the plan my friends all skip out on.

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  16. My fitness center is like a cruise ship. There's so much to do and so much going on, and the scenery changes just enough to keep one interested :-)

    Dr. J

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  17. *waves to Monica*

    late to the party but always enjoy Monica's work.

    shoutout to the shitty climate one.

    why I dont frequent the gym where I love NOW and did all the time in a previous state (locale. not emotional.)

    (oh and AMEN red)
    M.

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  18. Wow, these comments rule. It's really interesting to hear what people like and don't like about their gyms. The guilt of not going - I know that one. But yes, I sillily forgot about the childcare aspects. I need to plant more babies in my life! (Actually, that's the last thing I need.)

    My b/f's been working out with the portable monkey bar gym at home. It's very impressive, functional fitness type resistance training. And it takes up no space. I'm hoping he'll write a review of it sometime on smarterfitter...

    http://www.monkeybargym.com/

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  19. Loved this post, though I tend to like going to the gym--at least for the first few weeks until I get tired of it. There's no way I can stock a home gym with all the equipment they've got, especially not a high-end elliptical.

    But I totally get why a lot of people hate gyms! And I get pretty sick of 'em once the novelty wears off. They're best for when I'm on the road and can't do my normal stuff.

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  20. I like jogging in the neighborhood. I bought an Ipod so now it isn't so boring. I do my strength training with weights in my den. It's convenient. I belonged to a gym once. It was so much effort to get myself to it to workout.

    I worked out for six years regularly at home until I moved. About seven years later, I'm back again to working out 5 or more times a week. No expensive gym membership.

    I work out more at home. It's just easier to put on my gym clothes and walk to my den and pick up my weights.

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  21. Another option is to just purchase your own equipment such as an elliptical. Exercise in the comfort of your own home while watching your favorite TV channel or listening to your favorite music next to a window. You can purchase a decent elliptical for the same price you would pay for a gym membership!

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  22. You have great points about quitting or not joining the gym at all....you're right, the TV options suck and how people can read magazines while trying to us a treadmill is beyond my comprehension if you are actually working out and not just strolling along.

    I don't believe the gym has made us that much lazier i.e. as an excuse to sit in front of the computer for 8hrs a day - I have to sit in front of a computer for 8hrs a day for work and love my gym time at lunch-something that lets my mind wander and my body actually move!! Living in Maine, the climate usually doesn't let us get outside to exercise except for a very short span of time during the year.

    The gym is a great option for those of us that work full-time, have young kids at home and live in tempermental climates - I know I would be lost with out it!!

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  23. For that $800+ you save, you can buy a home gym. Bench, weights and more gear to last you a while.

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  24. Doris aka GreatDaneApril 9, 2008 at 3:42 PM

    I tried the gym for so long... felt it was a waste of my money... I didn't see the improvement to my health that I needed to... I ended up using the gym for swimming only... my kids and I had a great time at the pool...

    As a single mom I found it way to expensive and gave it up after a couple of years...

    In stead I found workouts that I could do at home, it worked much better for my busy schedule... I found my motivation and I finally found the health benefits I was looking for...

    I leaned things that the gym never could teach me...

    Also living in Texas there are so many outdoors things to do... exercise can be made fun... you just have to be a bit creative.

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  25. Those are good 5 reasons from a person's perspective that does not go to gym often.

    Don't go to gym if u're not goin to be CONSISTED. Thats the big key to use your money wisely to the gym membership.

    Don't use any gym's personal trainer. They are waste of money to spent bc they don't care about you but their money.

    There is massive sites that you can research to find decent weight loss diet.

    For example, I lost from 200 lbs to 165 lbs in few months easily. With NO CARDIO! My biggest turn off is that to see many "not fit" women goin on treadmills. I mean come on! have you seen any personal trainer taking women to run on treadmill? I don't think so! They always took their client(women) to weight room instead bc it burns more cals than cardio. Helps to keep your muscle hold on to burn more efficent.

    Besides diet is a BIG factor to your weight loss than excerise alone. Eat small healthy protion food (salad, chicken, cottage cheese) every 2 hrs! NO BUTS! It will make your metabolism to burn cals faster. It is possible to lose weight if you carefully eating your food right w/o excerise. But it would help ALOT along with excerise.

    I think in general, women shld not go to gym at all bc they are not trying to get more muscle mass or using any heavy weights as guys do. GUYS are one that needs the gym badly bc of better use of weight equipment and safely.

    Women shld buy their own gym equipment as in light dumbells, resistance band, medicene ball, and etc. Excerise only 20 mins a day! you don't need to spend like an hr on treadmill machine. BUT I have to say DIET is impt! I have seen alot of people break their habits all the time. Im very serious abt my diet. I have not eaten any junk food in long time, no beers, and NO FRUITS. Fruits are bad for you bc they contain high sugar in it which will mess up your weight loss. Eat complex crabs which is yams, oats, etc. Just use Multi-Vitmins to replace your fruits vitmins then you will be fine. Back to my point, don't go to the gym if you're not tryin to be big like Ms.Olyipma. If want to stay thin, save your money and buy your own simple equipment. Eat Right. Unless you are very invovled in sports such as softball, or volleyball then gym might be a good idea as well. I think in general, alot of people quit gym is bc they don't know what their doing and have no plan or see any progress. They relie on the scale alone. A big mistake!

    KNOWLEDGE IS EVERYTHING. IT'S WHAT KEEPS YOUR ASS MOVING IN RIGHT DIRECTION

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  26. Dear Crabby Slacker,
    Personally, I don't find that any of your 5 reasons for not going to the gym hold water. First, the gym doesn't "mess" with your fitness goals unless you allow it to do so. Most people can develop a nice balance between working out in the gym in the winter and choosing to work out outdoors in the Spring and Summer. Having the gym as an option is a great idea when the weather is bad and when you know you will get distracted from working out at home. Second, gym memberships are SO MUCH cheaper nowadays that the economy is bad because they are offering great deals. You just need to look around for the good gym deals. Also, the gym does not "burn empty calories". A calorie burned in the gym is the same as a calorie burned exercising outdoors. Next, the gym does not promote life long addiction. Rather it promotes life long health. Many people who have heart disease would never work out if it were not for the gym and research shows that these people who use the gym for their fitness goals lower their cholesterol and blood pressure. Lastly, your comment that gym "requires exercise" is ridiculous. Well duh! That's the reason for going....because we all NEED exercise. I find that your encouragement to get others not to join the gym is unhelpful and in fact destructive because it encourages others to live sedentary lives for the following reason. The reality is that many people do not have the time, the motivation, or the nice weather to get outdoors to run with the kids at the park 3 times per week. It is easier to pack a gym bag, throw it in the car, and after work....stop at the gym before going home because once you actually GET HOME, you can forget about exercising. You will find other reasons to distract yourself from actually doing it. People....don't stop going to the gym!!! Leave the gym as an alternative or option. Find a reasonably priced gym and don't become sedentary! Your life depends on it. Most of all, Don't listen to this guy.

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  27. Wow ! I saw a lot of anger in all the comments. I'm a personal trainer in Canada, graduate from Montréal University in Québec in kinesiology and specialise in training, rehab, posture, health... a LOT of people doesn't know anything about our job, how it's hard to make the good training for everyone (cause everyone is different and I can't prescribe a bench to someone having a problem to shoulder like I will done for someone else).
    First of all : personal trainer cares about you. It been Three years I trained people and I'm much proud then them when they achieve one goal. My client last week don't loose as much weight as she should, but now she feel better when she climb the stairs and thats positive for her moral.
    Second: yes the gym are expensive, but in Europe this is MORE expensive. US and Canada is two country who gave the best rate.
    Third: Home gym ? Yes that good, but in the studies, people are less motivated and the achievement of a goal is slower. I encourage it only if you have a strong self confidente, motivation and small objective.
    Fourth: I'm training myself since I'm 15 (I'm now 22). And if you are in a gym, you choose to do it, it not the gym who decide what's your goal or how you feel the trainning, if you don't like an exercice or you want some treadmill, tell your PT. By the way, treadmill and jogging is the best way to lose calories, in water is the double (I'm also a trainer in waterfitness).
    Fifth: It's know that the benefit are: welness, health, less anxiety, improve the self confident, improve inteligence, flex, back health, encourage quit smoking, help people with ADHD problem...
    And don't listen the advise if the person are not qualify

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  28. I knew that I would never go to the gym so I invested in a home gym, which includes a treadmill and weight set. I know a lot of you are anti-tv, but exercising while watching TV helps me a lot. I agree with a lot of you commenting on diet, it really is the key. If you can keep your diet in check you will be in good shape.

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  29. Shaws argues that gym membership are expensive, (citing a study in 2005) rates for membership have decrease since then. With gyms being saturated and competition has become fierce; the price of gym memberships have decreased. Gyms roughly cost from ten to fifty dollars, contingent on the gym amenities and locale. She argues most people do not use the gym membership, well if they are too lazy to go to the gym, they should not be to lazy to make a phone call to cancel their membership. Why keep paying for something you are not using?

    In the end of her article, she lists why you should keep a gym-membership.

    You have a gym buddy
    You like to swim and your gym has a pool
    You use your gym's group exercise courses (yoga, pilates, etc.)
    You live in a shitty climate
    You're new to exercise and require the help of a personal trainer
    You're training for something cool (marathon, triathalon, iron man, spam toss)
    You enjoy lifting weights but don't have the space or cash for a home gym
    The flaws in her argument, so if you do not have a friend at the gym you should you quit the gym. If there is no pool at your gym, you should quit. If there is no group exercises, you should quit. If you live in Arizona, you should not join a gym. If you are "NOT" training from something, you should you quit. If you a surplus, just buy your own gym, and cancel your gym membership.

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  30. Shaws argues that gym membership are expensive, (citing a study in 2005) rates for membership have decrease since then. With gyms being saturated and competition has become fierce; the price of gym memberships have decreased. Gyms roughly cost from ten to fifty dollars, contingent on the gym amenities and locale. She argues most people do not use the gym membership, well if they are too lazy to go to the gym, they should not be to lazy to make a phone call to cancel their membership. Why keep paying for something you are not using?

    In the end of her article, she lists why you should keep a gym-membership.

    You have a gym buddy
    You like to swim and your gym has a pool
    You use your gym's group exercise courses (yoga, pilates, etc.)
    You live in a shitty climate
    You're new to exercise and require the help of a personal trainer
    You're training for something cool (marathon, triathalon, iron man, spam toss)
    You enjoy lifting weights but don't have the space or cash for a home gym
    The flaws in her argument, so if you do not have a friend at the gym you should you quit the gym. If there is no pool at your gym, you should quit. If there is no group exercises, you should quit. If you live in Arizona, you should not join a gym. If you are "NOT" training from something, you should you quit. If you a surplus, just buy your own gym, and cancel your gym membership.

    ReplyDelete

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