Don’t belong to a gym? Don’t worry!

November 15, 2008 at 6:33 pm Leave a comment

I have sometimes felt guilty about the fact that I do not work out at a health club.  Somehow, exercising at the gym seems more legitimate, more serious.  Even TV shows like “Biggest Loser” emphasize the hardcore nature of the gym, giving the impression that you’re not really ‘bringing it’ if you’re not grunting loudly on gleaming machines.

I started exercising in a storage room with a small TV and VCR.  I briefly joined a gym after a girlfriend took me to a free class, but it never really stuck.  Although I went regularly, I didn’t really enjoy it.  And, ultimately, to save money and time, I cancelled my membership.  Now I use a stability ball as an office chair, climb stairs, do combination strength training moves with hand weights, and pop in DVD funky workouts at home.  I generally fit my workouts into my work day whenever it works with my schedule, not even changing clothes when I do 15 sets of 1st-thru-4th stairs, rockin’ out to my iPod.  (It sounds nasty, but I freshen up afterward.) 

I love the flexibility of it and the fact that it’s low maintenance.  But, I have this nagging impression that, as someone who’s lost 120+ pounds, I should be wearing brand-name workout clothes and sweating profusely in a spin class, surrounded by mirrored walls and pretty people.

So, I felt vindicated when I read “Is Your Workout Wasting Your Time? A no-nonsense look at the often nonsensical world of fitness clubs.

“If you belong to a gym, it’s likely that most of what you’re doing there is nearly useless—and might be ruining your chances of getting fit.”

Wow!  Those are pretty strong words.  Gyms are useless?  Ruining our chances of getting fit?  I’m not a fan of gyms, but even I wouldn’t normally go that far.  The reasons the article gives for those assertions, though, make sense.

“The health-club culture tries to create a dependency on machines,” says Vern Gambetta, a trainer with 38 years of experience training professional and recreational athletes, and the author of Athletic Development: The Art & Science of Functional Sports Conditioning (Human Kinetics, 2006). “If you have a limited amount of time to work out, you’re better off ditching the machine to do different kinds of body-weight and whole-body exercises. You’ll get more caloric burn for your time spent.”

Besides diminishing the bang of your exercise buck, machine-centric movements also promote injury and do not train you well for functional activities.

“Researchers, for instance, have known that the leg-extension machine … trains you to do just one thing: become very strong at the leg-extension machine. In one of the few studies on this subject, researchers from the University of Kentucky studied 23 patients with knee pain to see what made them stronger: a step-up test or doing leg extensions. While they found that both groups eventually became stronger at doing leg extensions, only the group doing the step-up test actually became stronger at stepping up and doing functional activities. The reason: The seated leg-extension machine has nothing to do with how we use our legs, which are meant to hold us upright against gravity while we walk, climb or descend.”

Health Clubs are also problematic because they excessively emphasize entertainment.  Working out should be fun, but it’s not about tuning out.  Studies have shown that our bodies respond much better to exercise when we focus our minds on what we’re doing.  Blaring music, flashing lights, banks of TVs, and socializing all distract us from the activities we’re engaged in.  Align your body and mind in focusing on a task, and you’ve got a powerful tool for improving your health on a number of levels.

The article goes on to discuss how health clubs are adapting to the new research and provides tips on how to make the most of your gym experience, avoiding some of the pitfalls.  That’s cool, but I’m not interested in returning to the gym.  My plan works for me; it has for a long time.  I remain committed to looking at ways to balance out my exercise regimen: adding more yoga, varying my cardio more, etc.  My DIY approach is adaptable and affordable, which means I’m likely to stick with it for life.  And, that, as we all know, is the only way to ensure that a lifestyle change will truly last a lifetime.

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Entry filed under: exercise equipment, news around the blogosphere, tips & techniques.

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