5 Surprising Reasons to Dump Your Gym Membership
Regular daily exercise is important, you just don’t need a membership to do it.
Posted Jul 30, 2018
For as long as I can remember, I have never been a gym enthusiast. One might say books and baking were much more my bailiwicks. I tried out for sixth-grade basketball and of course, ended up on the D team. The same thing happened in the eighth grade. I quickly learned to focus on where my natural strengths lay. Which ultimately ended up in becoming a career academic.
While one can invariably manage to avoid team and competitive sports throughout most of life, at the end of the day no one can avoid exercise forever. Well, they can, but not if they plan to live a long and healthy life. When I read Chris Crowley and Dr. Henry Dodge’s Younger Next Year for Women, I decided to heed their advice and join a gym. They made numerous compelling arguments not only for joining a gym but also as to why women particularly benefit from the social networks established there. Perhaps I took this advice a little too eagerly as the book is actually written for retirees with a more flexible schedule, but I’ve always prided myself in being well-prepared and an early learner.
After touring several gyms in the area, peeking into locker rooms and swim facilities, I signed up. And then as an overachiever, I also signed up for the summer fitness challenge that required taking 15 or so classes across three domains (spinning, yoga, and fitness) in two months. I was pumped. And it wasn’t just the endorphins. Every morning I raced off at lightning speed, doing Zumba, and stretches, lifting and lowering in Barre, spinning until my legs were going to fall off and everything in between. I bought fitness watches and measured my heart rate, and excitedly watched as my pulse finally lowered from near heart attack zone to something still intensive but not off the charts as I gained fitness.
However, after a year of steady and heartfelt commitment and gym attendance, I came to see that in actuality, jumping whole hog into the gym world was really not the best fit for me.
For starters, racing off to the gym is often an anxiety-provoking experience that can add unneeded chaos into one’s life. When gym offerings are typically limited to morning and evening crowds, if you miss your window, you might be out of luck. For me, this often meant groggy mornings racing down the highway to make it to class on time. Not exactly safe, nor recommended by doctors I’d assume.
Second, this stage of my life involves building career and networks, therefore going to the gym is one of the most inefficient uses of time. Getting ready, driving 20 minutes to get there, an hour of class, another 20 minutes to get back, and then showering, and so on, quickly took up almost half a full day. Yes, my gym days were on those free Fridays that are supposed to be unstructured, but losing a whole half a day multiple times per week can really start to add up.
Not to mention, as Dr. John Douillard shares in his book Body, Mind and Sport, most typical “PE” types of courses are really tailored to one body type. They are the “warrior” type of sports that can include incredible feats of lifting, sprinting, or other highly intense activities. As more and more gyms are trying to be time-efficient by having you burn the maximum number of calories in the minimum amount of time, they tend to gravitate toward high interval intensity training (HIIT) classes. While this is certainly not a bad thing, you need to account for your body type.
According to Douillard, there are three primary body types based on the Ayurvedic doshas and each type does best with a specific set of exercises. Mine is the one that does best with slower, relaxing exercises that are rejuvenating instead of exhausting. This includes activities such as yoga, swimming, hiking, and horseback riding. Low-impact aerobics is listed as ideal for my body type—meanwhile, I was taking high impact fast-paced classes three to four times per week. No wonder I was collapsing from exhaustion nearly every time I came home. (And yes, I was eating plentifully and hydrating.)
Further, while Crowley and Lodge speak to the social networking benefits of gyms, they appeared to be writing from the lens of New Yorkers actively engaged in numerous business and professional pursuits. Now, not to judge my beloved Oregon, but the stereotypes tend to be true. We are coffee-drinking microbrewery enthusiasts who hike and bike. Needless to say, our yoga studios are packed with our native hippies and our spinning studios with transplant Californians.
While I met some phenomenal women closer to my mother’s age, I didn’t meet any peers at the gym. Perhaps it is because many are in the midst of childrearing years, or didn’t favor the silly dance classes I liked. But also, gyms regulars seem to go with a clique and walk out talking to the same folks. While I chatted up many kind and upbeat individuals, it was disheartening not to befriend a single peer in a year of regular gym attendance.
Finally, many people end up quitting the gym due to cost, which is definitely a factor that can’t be ignored. While certainly cost-effective if you are going regularly, during those summer months when you just want to stay home, you can quickly lose out on a big chunk of change. Add times you skip the gym during holidays, when you’re feeling under the weather and so forth, and you’re almost better off using a five to 10 pass for classes at spinning studios or other such establishments.
While I came to the conclusion that quitting the gym is best for now, that doesn’t mean this will always be the case. Further, this by no means indicates I have stopped exercising. In fact, surprisingly, I have been exercising more regularly than ever, sweating more and pushing myself harder than I often might at the gym (after all, who wants to risk passing out at the gym).
This past winter, my husband lugged an old elliptical up the stairs and to my amazement, I have used it nearly every day since. Yes, getting to watch Netflix simultaneously is a big draw. But also, I put in more gym sessions since I can control the intensity. On days when I typically wouldn’t do anything at all, I put in at least 20 minutes. On my ambitious days (and when my particular TV show has a major cliffhanger), I do a double session of 90 minutes which I never did at the gym. I can exercise in the afternoon after I’ve already gotten a good amount of work in during the morning hours.
Or, if it’s been a particularly busy day, I can unwind in the evening with a slower workout. I do yoga videos at home and have weights for my own training. Granted, having a motivated partner to work out with can always help, but it's not always necessary. After one ends countless solo exercise sessions feeling satisfied with their efforts, intrinsic motivation quickly kicks in and new healthy habits form.
As the dog days of summer eventually come to an end, consider taking some time to reflect on your days. Think about what’s working and what isn’t. I know that when I’m out front in the mornings drinking my tea and reading my book, basking in the sunshine, I’m perfectly content and know there is nowhere else I’d rather be. I savor not having the pressure to run off to the gym and disturbing these beautiful and precious moments of quiet that are so rare in life. I savor brisk evening walks outside and hikes in the nearby forest. I savor turning down the loud booming music of the gym that was deafening and plugging into the sounds of nature and summer silence.
Crowley, C. & Lodge, H. (2007). Younger Next Year for Women: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy—Until You're 80 and Beyond. New York: Workman Publishing Company.
Douillard, J. (2001). Body, Mind and Sport: The Mind-Body Guide to Lifelong Health, Fitness, and Your Personal Best. New York: Three Rivers Press.