There’s a scene from an old Friends episode that encapsulates why I hate the gym – the one where Chandler and Ross try to cancel their unused gym memberships to avoid paying the high monthly fees. The trainers at their gym ask “Can you honestly say you’re happy with your body?” yet all Chandler can utter in desperation is “I wanna quit the gym!” Instead of quitting, both are guilted (read: bullied) into buying more gym services.
In that brief two-minute sitcom scenario lies manifold reasons why the gym sucks. Let’s start with the first point: high monthly fees. Sure, there are deals and discounts to be had. If you join a gym an hour outside of the city center with no contract or initiation fees, that only has treadmills from 1985, second hand equipment with ripped padding and missing parts, no showers or locker rooms, and no fancy distractions like televisions or magazines, you might be able to get away with a $15-20 monthly membership fee. However, the convenience of central gyms with pools and “Zumba” classes and iPod docks and hot stone massages and “Reiki” (I don’t even know what Reiki is; sounds like gardening to me) and personal trainers and the latest equipment and contracts ensures that gyms can charge anywhere from $75-$200 a month for memberships.
And what kills me is, people will pay it. Yes, personal trainers can be knowledgeable and motivating. (Not to mention gorgeous. I’m never certain whether or I want to workout with them or stuff them into a bong and smoke them.) And having access to a pool and a gaggle of weight and resistance choices is ideal. But I do not need to PAY someone for the attainable goal of optimal fitness. Even during the new year resolution rush when fees are waived and memberships are cheap, you’re still giving away hard-earned money. Many gyms won’t put your monthly fees on hold either when you’re on vacation or out of the country, and if you want to quit, you have to give them several weeks (sometimes months) notice. If you never read this fine print, you could wind up paying more than you bargained for just to drop a dress size.
Secondly, gyms bank on the widely-held insecurity that unless you are the gym-iest gym-er who ever gym-ed, you won’t be able to lose weight, sculpt muscle, or maintain your health. Gyms employ impeccable physical specimens to demonstrate what could be yours if you joined their body-morphing establishment.
“Why look like you when you can look like us?” is the implication. Their brand of motivation is to make you believe you look like a big pile of mushy cottage cheese layered by undefined flesh, when in fact, there’s probably very little (or nothing) wrong with you. They do these highly ‘scientific’ body mass index tests and fat-ratio tests that, without context, can imply an underweight person is actually “fat” due to their fat-muscle ratio. Sorry, lady who weighs 110 pounds, didn’t you know people call you Fatass McGillicuddy behind your back?
These scare tactics have enormous effect, as the last thing anyone wants to be called is overweight, even if they should know better.
When I tell people that I don’t belong to any gym but workout regularly, I get several shocked responses in return. First they’ll ask, “What do you do then?” as if exercise could never predate the existence of gyms. Here’s what I do, for the record: pushups, burpees, jumping lunges, jumping squats, football drills, basketball drills, track and field drills, jumping jacks, and combinations thereof. I am also a regular runner, and I loves my bike. LOVES MAH BIKE. Why take the subway or drive when you can cycle there, and instantly feel like an 8-year-old again?
I lift weights as well (I have a nifty collection at home) and use resistance bands (great for traveling). What’s great about all these exercises is that they require almost no financial investment to do them. You don’t need equipment or membership fees to do push-ups or jumping jacks. If you can’t afford to purchase free weights, lifting objects around the house provides the same amount of resistance (water bottled, books, canned foods, cats, young nephews . . . you get the idea). All you need for jogging is a rocking set of tunes pumping through your mp3 player and good running shoes. Sure, you need a bike to go cycling, but my 18-speed mountain bike was a one-time fee of $90. Sure beats paying $1800 a year in gym fees.