Do you need to join a gym to be fit?


Patrick Dale



For many would-be exercisers, financial cost is a major barrier to getting fit – one of the main costs being having to join a gym. Other problems associated with joining a gym include inflexible opening times, crowded facilities, time spent having to commute to and from the gym and the fact that for reasons that are hitherto unknown, gyms always almost always play terrible music!

So, just because you can’t or won’t join a gym, does that mean that you are doomed to a life of unfitness and weakness? Absolutely not!

While gyms offer a several benefits, they are not the be all and end all of exercise and, contrary to what the gym membership sales person will have you believe, you can develop a high level of fitness and strength without joining a gym. All you have to do is think outside the box…

Developing fitness

If you go to a gym, you can develop your heart and lung (commonly referred to as cardiovascular or cardiorespiratory) fitness by attending group exercise classes or using a cardio machine such as a bike, rower, stepper or treadmill. If, however, you do not have access to such facilities, you can develop as high or even higher levels of fitness by simply heading out for a run or cycle in the great outdoors or grabbing a plain old skipping rope and doing some jump rope.

Of course, exercising outdoors means you’ll have to contend with some inclement weather from time to time but for the price of one or two months gym membership, you can buy some swanky training clothes that will keep you warm and dry whatever Mother Nature throws at you while you work out. And where the all too common Justin Bieber music marathon is not conducive to a good workout, you can program your MP3 player with the perfect workout soundtrack.

Outdoor cardio offers other benefits. For starters, it is more functional because you are doing natural movements rather than a simulation. Running on a treadmill, for example, is not the same as running on the road – your muscles are used in a completely different way. The same is true of exercise bikes versus “real” bikes. The fitness you develop on a treadmill or stepper cannot and will not transfer well to real life activities. Also, because exercising outdoors means contending with inclines, headwinds and other forms of resistance, outdoor training inevitably burns more calories.

If running and cycling are not for you, consider swimming or even joining a rowing club. Bottom line: if you want to get fit, you do not have to confine yourself to a gym.

Developing strength

Strength is the ability of your muscles to overcome resistance. The thing is, your muscles can’t see so they do not actually know if you are working your pecs with a state of the art chest press machine or doing a set of press-ups with your hands on a couple of bricks. All your muscles know is tension and so long as the tension applied to the muscles is sufficient, they will get stronger.

Gyms provide a huge array of equipment for you to use to work your muscles but, ultimately, many of the exercises on offer are all but ineffective and are simply distractions that prevent you from doing the exercises that are best for you. For many MANY years, men have developed prodigious strength using nothing more than barbells, dumbbells and their own bodyweight for resistance.

You really don’t need leg extension machines, cable machines and pec decks to get strong and stay strong. In fact, you can develop a high level of strength using nothing more than your bodyweight. Check out the physiques of male gymnasts for a reality check as to how effective bodyweight exercises can be when properly applied.

Still not convinced? Consider that many boxers and martial artists plus the armed forces almost exclusively use bodyweight exercises to get in great shape. These men face fitness tasks that are literally a matter of life and death so don’t kid yourself that bodyweight exercises are not effective.

If you really want to lift more than your own bodyweight, you can get a great home strength workout using a TRX or similar (and probably cheaper) suspension trainer, or by lifting heavy sandbags or rocks in your garden or garage. Odd object training, as hoisting sandbags and rocks is often known, will get you much stronger than doing set after set of biceps preacher curls.

Gyms are like supermarkets – they are convenient. But, like supermarkets, gyms often try to sell you things you just don’t need. When it comes to getting fit and strong, the amount of equipment you actually need is laughably insignificant. You really don’t NEED a whole bunch of fancy machines and facilities. For less than a year’s gym membership, you could build your very own garage gym that will last you a lifetime or, if you really want to do fitness on the cheap, remember that your body is really the only exercise machine you will ever need.