Ditch the Gym, You Don’t Need it…Mostly

Wait, wut?

Andrew, you’ve spent the last month exhorting the world to live a healthy lifestyle; clean up the diet, lose weight, lose the stress, get better sleep, and on, and on, and on, and to do so through exercise. Get inspired, make a plan, make a schedule, and just show up.

Yes, indeed I have. But I never told you to go to the gym. Okay, that’s a lie, I’ve totally told you to go to the gym. What I’m saying today is, you don’t have to.

Somewhere along the way I told y’alls that when I don’t know what to write, one of my go-to sites for inspiration is livestrong.com. Well, this morning I sat down to the keyboard and…nothing. So I checked my email, and there I found a link to “10 Reasons to Ditch the Gym for At-Home Workouts.”

It tells you that you can still get the benefits of a tough workout, without the usual gym hassles, no;

  • Waiting for equipment
  • Accidently getting your picture taken
  • “Is anyone looking at me?”
  • Time and scheduling hassles
  • Germy, sweaty, unclean public equipment
  • Fees…$$$

So, get the benefits but save the costs and hassles of a gym membership. And, honestly, I can’t really disagree with the major points raised in the article.

But, and you knew there was a “but” coming.

But it all depends on showing up. I have a buddy who lives out in farm country. The only way he could make use of a gym membership is between the end of work and going home, because after getting home the trip back into town for exercise just isn’t going to happen. Fortunately, he is highly self-motivated. He bought an exercise bike and every day after work he heads down to the bike, turns on YouTube, and puts in his time. He shows up.

The flipside of that is the people who get inspired to lose weight and get in shape. They buy the gym equipment of their preference in the Boxing Day sales, set it up, use it a once or twice and then it sits in the corner collecting dust. Having the space and having the equipment is great and all, but it’s a waste of money and space if you don’t show up.

Beyond that, the Livestrong article makes mention of streaming workout services and fitness apps. Which are also great, if you have the self-discipline to hold to your schedule and show up.

There is one thing in the article with which I do disagree, vehemently. In mentioning fitness apps the author specifically mentions yoga, Pilates, strength training and boxing. It is here that I part company with her.

If you are disciplined enough to show up, and already have the base knowledge to lift, box, do Pilates or yoga, then great. But if you’re new, and looking to learn any of these, I would strongly council against doing so in the absence of an actual teacher or trainer.

Any exercise program has risks and pitfalls that you only learn through time and experience. Some, such as both Pilates and Bikram Yoga (and I speak from painful personal experience here), if done exactly as taught, can actually harm you. My hip and lumbar structure make certain “required” Pilates and Bikram moves harmful to my lumbar spine.

I was doing them exactly as prescribed, and my back problems were getting worse. It was only through learning from a spinal mechanics researcher, and a yoga teacher who works with him, that I learned what the problem was, and how to correct it.

You need an instructor/coach/trainer who not only knows the program and what it can and cannot do for you, but also knows the potential risks, and how to adapt the program to you specifically, to ensure maximum benefit and minimal risk.

As to learning boxing from an app? I taught Karate for 10 years. I will say just this, if you’re learning a fighting system from an app, please make sure you’re only doing so for exercise.

In short home workouts are great. They do have all the benefits described at Livestrong and, as it happens, my wife and I both supplement our yoga memberships with yoga at home. But if you either

  • have motivation or discipline issues
  • or are looking to learn something brand new

Please, please, please make sure that you spend time with a seasoned instructor. Working out is amazing, wonderful, transformative, but working out the wrong way will harm you, potentially long term or even permanent harm.