It’s January – the month when all the gyms are opening their doors to lots of geared up, hopeful clients who are ready to kick-start their new year’s resolutions. But, before you sign yourself into an expensive gym contract, have a think about whether you, as an individual, really need to be a member of a gym.
Have you signed yourself up to gyms in the past and then by March you are barely stepping through the doors? Do you constantly tell yourself, “I’ll start going to the gym more next month”? Are you so busy that driving to the gym, changing, working out, changing again and driving back just seems to steal too much of your precious time? I am a total believer that we should all make the time to train no matter what, but are their quicker, easier ways to maintain healthy living? Yes. Do you dread going? If it feels like a chore to attend the gym, then is it worth being a member?
I understand that gyms work for a lot of people, I really do. In the past, I have worked and trained in some great gyms – and there are some brilliantly equipped ones out there. To some, they provide a bit of “me-time”, an escape after work, a social opportunity, greater possibilities of training. However, they are not for everyone or for all circumstances. A gym membership is not a vital ingredient in the recipe of living a healthy life.
I’m a personal trainer and it often comes as surprise to people when they find out that I hardly ever go to the gym. I work out regularly. I’m fit and healthy. I stretch, mobilise, lift and run. But I am not a member of any gym and I haven’t been for years.
I don’t drive to a gym to ride a stationary bike! Instead, I get my cardio in by a daily dance session with my daughters – crazily and energetically busting moves out until breathless (no one can see our hair flipping or booty shaking – we just lose it in the music! I sometimes power walk the streets with my youngest daughter (5) on my back, her chatting away about life in my ear and me answering questions on why “ladybirds don’t have fingers” and why you “can’t eat the sun”. I used to power push her pram through many parks when she was younger. I accompany my eldest on regular 5k runs (she needs a lot of physical activity to help manage her ADHD). I power walk alongside the pair of them with our furball Jack whilst they ride their bikes or scooters. I occasionally run alone as the sun comes up, with crisp morning air filling my lungs and a motivational playlist or podcast playing through my earphones. Instead of viewing the back of the person’s head on the treadmill in front, I look out over lakes, at trees, birds, flowers and a morning or evening sky.
I don’t need to worry about what I look like to others as I workout, or who may witness an escaping boob as I perform press ups or mistake my sweat for tears! I can perform deadlifts in my pjs if I like! I don’t need my hair to be perfected before a workout. I can groan and grunt my way through those “extra few reps” without getting any odd looks! I push hard in every workout, no one is watching. Oh I tell a lie…little eyes are always watching, and as James A.Baldwin said “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them”.
I don’t struggle to find childcare whilst I train. If I want to really push myself I will use my creative, intense home-workouts to sculpt my body at home whilst my children sleep early morning or late evening. However, often I get them involved in exercise, completing rounds of fun bodyweight strength and cardio drills with my two active daughters. I turn it into a game – Mountain Climbers become “running leopards”. Burpees become “crazy fleas”. Lizard Hops become “grasshoppers” Sprints on the spot are “Supergirl sprints”. We call Press Ups “kissing the floor” and we let off loads of energy by hopping and jumping like “bunnies”.
I don’t always rely on machines or overcrowded exercises classes. Instead I use my expertise in the fitness field, along with a whole lot of imagination and my surroundings at home to devise varied functional programmes and exercises. Pike press ups on the stairs, interval stair sprints, door-anchored TRX suspension exercises, pull ups, push ups, endless plank combinations, kettlebell complexes, landing strip agility ladder drills, wall handstand press ups, weighted step ups on dining chairs, sofa elevated hip thrusts, functional dumbbell workouts, skipping in the garden, bear crawls, lizard and crab walks across the landing, plyometric workouts, barbell lifts, resistance band glute activation exercises and stretches/mobility work whilst waiting for the tea to cook.
I don’t use crazy “quick-fix” gadgets, pills/shakes/juices, count points or follow highly restrictive diets. I aim to eat mindfully – choosing fresh, unprocessed, whole food and meals MOST of the time. I cook quick, easy recipes that I have collected over the years. I don’t make my family their tea and then sit down and ‘enjoy’ a shake with them. I appreciate the gift of our family gatherings over good food. I eat nutritious food around 80% of the time and then whatever I fancy the rest. I will enjoy a meal and drinks out with friends and order whatever I want off the menu, whether or not it’s considered to be “healthy”. I will sit and watch a film with my partner whilst enjoying sweet treats or a big bag of crisps/popcorn once a week. It’s not about being perfect to me. It’s about being consistent most of the time. This is maintainable…This is living.
I do not let the stresses of life overwhelm me – being a working mother, trying to juggle my children, partner, friends, businesses and housework. I have those days where nothing seems to go right. When I am dizzy with frustration, on the verge of tears… yet one simple workout at home can turn things around. I don’t need the added stress or shame of not managing to fit visiting the gym in that day/week. Even if all I manage is 15 minutes of training in my pjs on my living room floor one day – so be it, it doesn’t always go to plan. And that’s ok.
I aim to not obsess over my body in the mirror too much. I ensure I never say the words “I feel fat today” or “I’ve put on weight” in front of my daughters. In fact I don’t actually say or think those things at all. I want to teach them that the main reason for working out and eating healthily, is not solely to “look good” or to fit into ‘that’ dress. I want them to grow up viewing exercise as a hobby and not a chore…as an opportunity, not an obligation. To release endorphins, the reward of a natural high, feel energetic, positive, fresh, strong, confident and empowered. I hope to teach them to love their body; move it as often as possible, nourish it, appreciate what it is capable of and feel safe and comfortable within it. As Baz Luhrman says in one of my favourite tracks of all time “Enjoy your body, use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own”.
So if you are feeling the pressure to “join a gym” this January, then take a moment to really think about it. If it truly suits you, your life and your individual circumstances and you like going, then I say do it! But if it doesn’t there are other options and other ways of achieving the body and mind you hope for. You do not NEED a gym membership, the latest gadget, ‘magic’ pill or shake. You just need you, your body, a little learning (or help from an understanding and non-judgemental Personal Trainer like me, of how to train absolutely anywhere) and the dedication to keep as active and healthy as you can be, with the least amount of pressure, barriers, restraints or expectations as possible.