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!
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