Is the Gym Really Necessary?

Here in the US you can look around and probably find a gym in every town, and sometimes multiple ones within miles of each other. Rows and rows of machines/treadmills, body pump classes all day and enough free weights to go around. But is it working? Are all these gyms helping or hurting? Do you really need the gym or does it need you? I’ll share with you my own journey with gyms and you can see if you can relate to it.

I worked long hours in them

Before I was ever a personal trainer, I belonged to gyms consistently since I was 16 (I remember my first gym, the Jack LaLanne club). I would go 3-5x/wk to workout in some fashion using weights/machines. I also had a set of barbell weights in my basement at home that I used off and on as a teenager, but nothing overly consistent.

Later on in life when I was working as a full time trainer at the gym, that meant pretty much living there almost every day. Early AM clients, clients at noon, more clients at night. Back and forth all day long. It was my main home, with time to go home to get some food or go to sleep and repeat the next day.

But I hit a Wall

I had all the energy in the world when I first quit the corporate world and went full time as a trainer. I was following my passion of helping people after all. But after working many years of training I started to hit my own burnout wall.

I was seeing a gym so much that the last thing I wanted to do on my off time was workout in it (I wanted to get out of there!). This is when I started to explore more outside activities like mountain biking, running trails and even doing sprints at the local HS track. I needed something else in my life to keep me active as the gym was draining the life out of me. It was no longer motivating or fun to be there.

and Back in the Gym

I had to take a mental break (some time off) from full time training to explore other avenues of what else I wanted to pursue, as I was just not loving it anymore. I had to follow my own rule of “if you don’t love what you do…do something else”. From there I began to explore more online fitness consulting, writing (blogging) and coaching, as well as some other projects that stirred my creativity and passion once again.

A funny thing happened after that. I joined a whole new gym where no one knew me (so people would not ask for tips or want to chat with me all the time) and started to enjoy going to the gym again. I was focused and in and out enjoying my own workout.

Why a Gym may be Necessary

One can make the case of why a gym may be necessary, and I can attest to it. If you like going, then it’s going to keep you motivated. The days I could easily talk myself out of a workout, I still drive my butt to the gym and walk through the doors and then get a workout in. Once I am there, I put in the effort.

There was a while (during my gym burnout years) where I tried to keep a consistent workout routine at home with a barbell set and bodyweight exercises. They were good workouts, but the problem became that the consistency was not there for me. Seeing how I also work from home quite a bit as well (off a computer/phone), I was not getting a break from it (much like days of working in the gym).

I really needed to have that separate place for me mentally to keep my workouts going. I needed a place like a gym that got me out of the house, as the weights sitting around at home didn’t give me the motivation (as I could put it off for another hour, or two, or day…etc).

But Why I Do Not Need a Gym

Although I still do alot of bodyweight training with weights at the gym (squats, lunges, pushups, dips, pullups), in a sense I could also do this workout from home, the park or anywhere. I also keep a set of strong resistance bands at home to use on occasion as well (as you can work the whole body with a good set of bands…see the video below).

I enjoyed running group outdoor bootcamps for clients in the past with only bands and bodyweight. You don’t need all that expensive equipment to be healthy, lean and fit. For now, I still do enjoy going to the gym but I really use it for more of the movements (heavier squats/deadlifts) that I can not get with bands/bodyweight training. However, a gym is not a necessity if one can find the motivation to keep a solid workout program going outside of it.

Here’s a great video below from Mike over at Mode Athletics on how to use minimal equipment (bands), while enjoying the scenery outside as well (that amazing background is from Vancouver!). Who wouldn’t want to do that?

My Goals Have Changed Over the Years

Back when I was a teenager, I wanted to get a big bench (I mean, because you had to always answer the question “Whadda Ya Bench?” in high school).

When I went to college I did more bodybuilding workouts and loved working on the “guns” (go ahead, have a good laugh!).

Once I got into the corporate world I worked out pretty regularly with the same type of program, although more traveling made it inconsistent and not that motivating on the road.

As I worked as a trainer I would implement all sorts of new programming on myself just to see how it worked (so I could know what to do for clients). This was a phase of more training using bodyweight/cables and also bands (I rarely trained clients on machines).

Now as I get closer to 40, I look at my training for more sustainability of movement, performance and injury prevention. This means more bodyweight ROM, multi-planar full body movements, explosiveness and most of all keeping it fun and motivating.

Mark Sisson recently shared one of his training philosophies about just wanting to “play”…and I couldn’t agree more!

I spent a fair amount of my life training for grueling endurance contests (marathons, Ironman triathlons, 24-hour relay running events). Only just recently did it occur to me that I NEVER really had fun while I was competing or while I was training. Admittedly, I could sometimes get into “the zone,” but that’s really only a temporary zone of less pain. I did appreciate the valiance of my efforts and certainly felt pride in my accomplishments, but from the time the gun went off until I crossed the finish line, I never once could truthfully say, “Isn’t this fun?”  In contrast, today I plan most of my (minimal) training around being able to participate in fun activities later.

So What is the End Result?

When dealing with clients and recommending workouts, I look at 3 main things…their goals, their lifestyle (how busy, what they do) and what is going to be the most “realistic” plan of attack.

It makes no sense for me to make complicated or gym based programming for people who may not even make time to go to the gym. While there may be others who may need that focus on going to the gym (as they wouldn’t do the workout consistently at home either).

But it is also very important for people to realize that workouts don’t have to be at the gym, because you can always do pushups at home or go for a walk around the neighborhood at any time. It is sad to see people who are out of shape, but they have a gym membership paying monthly and they never go (gyms love that by the way…in fact, they run a whole business assuming most will never show up).

Make Your Fitness Lifestyle Fit You!

So you have to focus on making whatever fitness lifestyle works for you. Figure out what will really keep you motivated, what you really will make time for and it doesn’t even have to be overly complicated.

  • If you like going to the gym and workout hard there, then do it! Nothing wrong with that as long as you are seeing the results you want.
  • If you have a gym membership but never go, time for a reality check. Start adding in more fitness at home when you have time (do 5 minutes of pushups….we all have time for that!). Think of the world as your gym, go out and play! You don’t need to start buying $1000 of home equipment (like everyone does around New Years), instead get a simple workout plan going with simple equipment like bands and your bodyweight. Build up from there first! (You can also read up on our past article on how to setup a simple home gym for equipment ideas/options.)
  • Find more things you will enjoy doing such as individual or group based activities. It could be playing tennis with friends, walking your dog, taking hikes on the weekends or even maybe some dancing or martial arts classes. Find what you want to do and get out there and do it! Have an “active lifestyle” mindset, as I know plenty of people who drive to the gym to use a treadmill but won’t walk around their neighborhood!
  • Get motivated in what you do through a support group around you (such as forming your own little neighborhood workout club) or measuring progress in what you do somehow (heavier weights at the gym, more rounds of a bodyweight circuit workout). Find a plan and use that as your motivational tool, don’t just “wing it” walking into the gym. Know what you need to do and get it done!

There are many ways to be fit, healthy and lose weight. Many different workout programs, many different types of equipment. But what you need is a plan that will keep you motivated and consistent. If it is not realistic or doesn’t fit your lifestyle (and you will burn out on it), then it is not of value for you. Most of all, have fun!!

What is your fitness lifestyle all about nowadays? What have you learned on your journey?

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