Do you need to join a gym? No, really!

Fitness is one of the fastest growing industries in the developed world: even in 2008, in the UK, contrary to the general economic ‘gloom and doom’ it reported an increase in market value of 2,6%. Not bad for an industry that started as the preoccupation of a small number of enthusiasts and professionals using dingy, semi-ruined facilities stinking of sweat and morphed into an aspirational, and later mass, life-style of shiny, clean and organised industry.

According to statistics, currently in the UK there are close to 6,000 health clubs and gyms. These have an estimated value of slightly under £4 billion ($6.25 billion) and membership of close to 7.5 million. If so many of pay good money to use the facilities offered by the fitness industry, we should expect that the levels of fitness are soaring, the levels of obesity are at rock bottom and that we are a fit, toned and healthy, right? Wrong.

Having an economically strong and growing fitness industry does not appear to translate into fitness and health. According to a study carried out by the NHS in 2008 a quarter of the adult population in England can be classed as ‘obese’. Even more seriously, in the same year almost 40% of the adults in England had raised waist circumference – a substantial increase when compared with 23% in 1993. This tendency is affecting our children as well; the same study found that the levels of obesity have risen amongst children aged between 2 and 15 years. Alarmingly, a recent study of the fitness levels of 10 year olds registered a rapid decline in fitness.

And here is the paradox! On the one hand the fitness industry is growing from strength to strength and roughly a fifth of all adults in the UK pay good money on health club and gym membership. On the other hand, the levels of obesity, both among adults and children, are soaring and the levels of fitness are decreasing as well. Consequently, we are becoming a nation of overweight and unfit consumers of fitness.

This begs the question, is it worth joining a gym? Looking at the evidence above, it seems that the answer is a definite ‘no’ – gyms don’t work!

But things are rarely as they seem. Let us first look at why gyms don’t work.

Gyms don’t work because people don’t use them: high dropout rate is what the industry thrives on. Normally, 80% of the people who join a gym stop using it within eight weeks of joining; and exceptions are few and far between.

Decide to get fit first!

Whether or not it is worth joining a gym depends first and foremost on your determination to get fit. Most people join a gym on impulse: every year in January there is an influx of new subscribers and gyms get busier. Every year, in February I know that I’ll be able to exercise in piece again – because the ‘new year’s resolution’ crowd has given up.

Exercise like many other things in our lives is a habit. So, deciding to get fit is not an act: at least at first it has to become a life style choice. When starting a fitness programme you will have to be prepared to choose to exercise every time – otherwise it is too tempting to read, watch TV and/or have a drink.

So, joining the suckers on whom the economic growth of the fitness industry depends – those who may gym membership but not use the facilities – decide to get fit; and persist!

You don’t really need a gym to get fit!

Even after deciding to get fit, you don’t really need a gym to do it. My blogging buddy Miss T at the Prairie Eco Thrifter published some really good article on this one. I fully agree with her and would add that:

2) Joining a gym to use the aerobic equipment is really daft. If you want to run just get out of your house, turn left and love your feet (and there are more annoying things than someone walking on a treadmill but these are very few). If you wish to cycle, ride your bike and get somewhere – to work, to the park; it is your call.

3) Strictly speaking, to get fit you need to do three exercises – squats, push-ups and pull-ups. And you don’t need a gym to do these – you can do them in your house, in your garage, in the park or using a children’s playground. Last year I had great time here in Sofia showing a group of teens what a middle aged woman can do on some of the playground equipment – their mocking stopped at the 50th press-up and it felt really good.

You don’t need to join a gym to get fit! You just need determination and motivation!

Except if you are seriously into a specific sport or the climate is prohibitive to enjoying the outside.

If you are into a specific sport and training you will need to join a gym – you will need to do much more varied exercise that the one I mentioned above; more importantly you will need the guidance of a GOOD trainer. Going on the cheap can seriously hurt you but even worse – it seriously hurts. I for one am very grateful that my marathon training is supervised and guided by my personal trainer. Remember Chris Clark? I intend to win a marathon when I am 80 – I know it is cheating but it gives you the idea that running can be safe but you need proper and professional training: printing programmes off the web is not going to do it!

The second condition under which you need to join a gym is climate: it can be too cold or too hot for some sports. For instance, we paid almost as much to join a gym for a month in Sofia as to spend a week on at the sea. Waste of money you may think but think again: I am training for a marathon and it is 35C outside. When a bravely venture to run 1h 10 min outside I had to rehydrate for a day. Apart from getting tired (it takes loads of energy to cool down) and tripping over; you should have seen John’s face when I came back with bleeding knees! And the speed with which we got to the local gym and joined.

So do you need to join a gym?

What we all need to do is decide to get fit! Joining a gym is optional except if you are serious about a particular sport and/or you live where the climate can be extreme.

17 thoughts on “Do you need to join a gym? No, really!”

  1. Really liked this post as I I stopped my gym membership few months back. I was keep making excuses to not to go – ”I am so busy with my work” was a good one …I totally stopped excercising for a while, a mini break …But then my body started screaming as ‘ Excercise , excercise… I went online and found Mel C training videos. Now I excercise every day from the comfort of my living room, and feeling very happy about my progress and also my monthly savings.I am walking , cycling at the wekends too , and not missing the gym or its benefits at all… 

    1. @Seb: Well done and keep it up. It gets harder in the winter but not impossible. And I have noticed that everytime I get soaked to the core my run has been really great.

  2. It’s true, if you’re all your doing are sit-ups and push-ups, why join right? I had to cancel my membership because the apt. complex i’m staying at has a free gym but not aloy of equipment which is a bummer, but I’ll stick with it until we get a new house.

    1. @Aaron: Glad to see you around. Aaron. I have not mentioned this one before but I have an alomost completed book on fitness and exercise (with my trainer). Machines are not very good for you – when these were designed your body had to be taken to pieces (so they are designed for different part) and putting it together is hard. Better do exercise that works organically on every part and muscle. The three exercises I mentioned do exactly that – and they can be ‘make you sick’ hard when done properly.

  3. There are only two reasons to join a gym that I can think of outside of the ones you’ve listed: to find a group of people who are “like minded.” (join a class or look for workout partners instead); and to make sure you aren’t training inappropriately (get a physical and take a couple classes, which is a one-time fee instead of an ongoing expense).  I used to belong to a gym. Now I work out with a group of about 15 people. It’s great to avoid the expense AND have some peer pressure to continue.

    1. @AverageJoe: Yeah, you are right: I really enjoy running club and have been trying to get the owner of the gym where I go (who is also my trainer) to start small training groups.

  4. We used to be gym members, but when things got tight this went. I really enjoy the gym since it gives me a place to clear my head, leave the house, listen to podcasts, and oh yeah exercise. When we get our extra money up a bit I’ll join back up. 
    Now, i just do home workouts and go the park, but this blogger is getting a bit chubby and needs to get back to it. 

    1. @Brent: We never cut out the gym – even when thing were really bad. Even when John would never go which almost ended our marriage (well, not really but I was really cross…now he goes three time a week and when he can’t he does his circuits at home).

  5. Haven’t had a gym membership in years… yet have exercised regularly for decades. Walking, swimming, tae bo dvd, yoga dvd’s … all cheap and convenient.1 Even a few minutes of moving around is better than nothing. (good luck in the contest)

    1. @Barbara: I do some ‘ad hoc’ classes as well. As to the Personal Finance Olympics, looking at the results so far I don’t need luck; I need a miracle (still thanks). Which is to be expected – I am one of the small blogs and the only one that is not North American.

  6. We haven’t gone to the gym in over two years and yet we work out and exercise 5-6 days a week. I am probably in the best shape I have been in my life too. We work out at home with a few basic pieces of equipment like dumbbells and resistance bands that were low cost. It works great and saves us a ton.

    Ps: Thanks for including my article in yours. I appreciate it.  

    1. @Miss T: I agree – one can keep fit and not keep a gym membership. For myself, I am just worried that I’ll get hurt; and running an ultra marathon is one of my dreams (what a dream to have; a frined says that she cannot understand all this running without being chased :)).

  7. My younger bro who was always fascinated about joining a gym and getting a good body type but just after a month of gyming he left the same and now doing the home exercises and also says that it’s really far good than the gym and feeling good now so don’t waste money and do formal exercises at your own home.

  8. I’ve never formally paid for a gym membership. I used to play indoor soccer (and may yet again) for about 60 dollars a month, two and a half total per week. The social aspect and the fun factors though were as important as the fitness.

  9. Okay, this is really sad. A large percentage of our population is overweight and obese too, so I guess the same disconnect exists between a booming industry and the lack results in the US too. My question to researchers would be how long will it be until we see the ultimate effects of this improved interest? In other words, will a disconnect always exist?

  10. Hey i’m currently writing my dissertation on gym expenditure and would like to reference this site. However the publisher does not have a last name so I will to be able to use it. Can Maria please add a last name so i could reference this work as i have found it very important for my work!!!!

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