Gym Membership: Do You Even Need One?

Gym Membership – do You Even Need One?

Gym membership. Everybody has one and everyone has the same problems: getting there, going there, staying there, and justifying the expense. But what if you just dumped your membership and stayed home?

Can working out at home get you in shape and save money?

Full disclosure, I belong to an expensive gym. I joined for a lot of reasons but the biggest two are kind of stupid: their hot tub and their steam room. I can’t do that at home and a good soak and steam after a workout is my jam. Nearly every other benefit of membership can be duplicated in my basement—easily. The truth is, you can exercise at home for nothing and still get in excellent shape.

Here are a few tricks to help you with cardio, strength, agility, and flexibility without paying for a gym membership.


Gym Membership: A good gym has options. At mine, there are two different tracks on weight machines, abundant free weights, kettlebells, and medicine balls. Many lifters think free weights build more muscle because you’re balancing and adjusting the weight as you lift it. A machine isolates a single muscle or a small chain of muscles. Kettlebells engage full-body chains of muscles. When you haul a kettlebell from the floor to over your head, you engage a succession of muscles from your feet up through your legs through your core and up into your shoulders. A good gym also offers strategically placed pull bars, dip racks, and benches for bodyweight workouts. If you aren’t sure how to use a machine or you’re worried about your form, a gym has fitness experts on staff to answer questions and even help you develop strength-building routines.

At Home: The easiest strength building you can do at home is bodyweight fitness. As the name implies, your resistance is the weight of your body. Pullups and push-ups are bodyweight exercises. Planks, squats, and burpees are slightly more advanced exercises. You can find more at Nerdfitness (which, by the way, offers an excellent collection of resources for bodyweight fitness and for getting into shape without a gym membership). You could build a fantastic home gym, but it’s expensive and will likely end up providing an excellent spot to hang damp laundry. A rack of dumbells or kettlebells take up little room, aren’t terrifically pricey, and dovetail nicely with most workouts. And, while there’s no trainer to walk you through all of this, fortunately, YouTube has your back.  


Gym Membership: Despite my advanced girth, I love cardio. I don’t love jogging and I hate treadmills. But I love the stair machine and the big weird box. Stair machines are menacing, hulking, and I’m pretty sure they whisper terrible things about me as I approach to throw my carcass upon them at 30-second intervals, lungs heaving, heart racing, sweat running down the steps like a micro-Niagra. A stair climber workout returns a lot for your effort. So does the weird black box I push around the studio floor. It’s a four-foot-wide lozenge of stuffed vinyl that slides across the wooden slats with a little friction. I work that friction by piling free weights on it. This is actually a strength-building exercise, but after just two laps my heart is shouting vitriolic curse words in Latin and I’m barely able to catch my breath. It’s my favorite exercise. Minimum input, maximum results.

At Home: Cardio is the easiest workout to replicate at home. You can get a treadmill or a rowing machine if you want, but if you can also just run around the block, or in place, or around the nearby park. If jogging isn’t in your wheelhouse, maybe running stairs, jumping jacks, or similar calisthenics will work. If you love the weird box thing at the gym and you have a yard, a big freaking tire is an excellent workout. Getting one is not exactly a walk in the park, though. You’ll need a truck. And a few friends. And a local tire store that can tell you where there’s a farm equipment yard that has 300-pound truck tires stacked up. They have to pay to dispose of these tires so there’s a slim chance they’ll just give you one. Sure, it’ll tear up your grass but man you’ll be ripped. This guy knows.


Gym Membership: A gym’s biggest advantage here is their trainers. Most equipment for developing agility and flexibility is small. And there’s isn’t much of it. But the knowledge of qualified trainers in helping you gain flexibility and agility is valuable. My gym, for instance, is medically supervised. The staff not only knows how to give CPR, they know how to assess how bendy you are, then walk you through a series of exercises which will make you bendier.  

At Home: But so can YouTube. Or your local library. Or a bookstore. Sort of. You can find a bazillion instructional videos, but you’ll have to decide which ones are right and you won’t have years of experience to help you from the trainer at the gym. Except there are also videos telling you which videos are the right videos. YouTube is a rabbit hole for fitness videos. Abandon all hope ye who click through.

This brings us to the most common home routine that builds strength, agility, flexibility, and endurance simultaneously: yoga. Instead of blathering on about the benefits of yoga, I’ll just shut up because you already know. It has its own pants. It’s a thing. And it’s awesome. Yoga has one benefit I will harp on and that is it just makes you feel better. As your practice helps you develop chains of interconnected muscle groups you literally kind of “get it together.” When your body is balanced and integrated your mind and (hang on to your seats, people) soul follows right along. A quality yoga practice makes you happier in every way. ESPECIALLY IF YOU ARE AN OLDER PERSON. Like your humble reporter who is double-nickels and going on 80, yoga is the bomb. I can’t do the double-eagle pose and that pigeon thing makes me see stars, but the rest of my routine leaves me breathing heavy but through a grin.

Namaste, boomer.

Skipping Gym Membership is Good Bad

Benefits: It’s cheap. An expensive gym costs more than a grand a year. Even the most inexpensive gym membership runs about $200 annually. You’ll save every penny of it by exercising at home. If you do the math, a gym membership works best when you go often (that $300 a year is only two bucks a visit if you go three days a week). But that’s the thing, right? You have to go. Mine is a 20-minute drive and I live in Chicago and it’s winter so I have about -30 reasons for not walking out to my car. It’s easy not to go. If your gym is your living room you go there about 10 times a day. And for the self-conscious, the greatest benefit is that no one is looking. There’s no buff kid named Trevor racking weights and eyeballing your minimal lifts with smug disregard. There’s no locker room with that one guy who hasn’t wrapped a towel around his naked waist even once in the past 10 years.

Howevers: You get what you pay for. And sometimes skin in the game makes a difference. Paying for a gym membership motivates you to use that gym membership. I once missed my gym for an entire quarter. The next time I went I realized I was now paying more than $15 each trip. That’s motivation. Still, when your gym is your foyer, it’s easy to skip. You get home from work and the last thing you want to do is sit-ups. You want to sit down. And you can. Because the couch is your friend and oh look what’s on Netflix and that’s how you’ll die. Also, there is a fridge. It lurks in your kitchen filled to overflowing with salami and frozen pizza and beer. It calls to you. It knows your weaknesses. You may get up from your desk to go do burpees and find yourself standing in front of the open icebox with a block of cheese in your mouth. Finally, no one is looking. Sure, it means you can wear your grimiest sweatshirt to do yoga. But it also means that weird pressure you feel when Trevor is smirking at your lift routine isn’t there to motivate you to lift more. Right back at you, Trevor.

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