Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Gym'll Fix it?

Yet another post about exercise. My lack of it seems to be prompting me to think about it. I'm missing it like a far-away lover!

I've been trying desperately to find something that fills the gap left now I can't run. I must admit that I've been filling it a little to often with sorry attempts at running, returning home limping and without a drop of sweat on my brow.

I've been cycling more regularly, packing a map of the city and allowing myself to explore beyond the streets I know. I've been swimming, but I don't like swimming. In short, I'm still looking. So I contemplated joining a gym.

I HATE gyms. I hate most of the things they stand for, I hate what they do to people, I hate the music and the smell and the fake air blown from huge grey fans. I hate the machines. Mostly, I hate the attitude. I was shocked when I found myself browsing the gyms in York, even more shocked when I dialled the number of the biggest gym in my area, and I almost fell off my chair when the lady with the energetic voice promising me health and fitness to suit me told me how much it would cost. I'm not going to go on about the money-making side of gyms, that is boring, but thank goodness there's no way I can afford it!

Now, I am aware that gyms can change people's lives for the better. They turn around unhealthy and unhappy people and make them feel fit, energetic and most importantly, make them feel good about themselves, possibly for the first time in their life. Not too long ago, I was one of these people. I was overweight, hating myself and needing change, and the gym offered a safe environment to make that change. I was terrified when I joined up: I saw myself as the wobbly one, puffing and panting after five minutes on the treadmill. And I was! But no one looked at me that way - after all, everyone was in the same boat, somehow; everyone had a goal, and everyone was there for their own reasons.

To me, the paragraph I have just written describes something really wonderful. And it is, so long as it stops there, but I've seen a little too closely that it doesn't stop there.

I was lucky: the gym I went to was pretty innocent, with out-dated machines that were incredibly simple to use. When I went for a gym taster day with a friend, I was terrified. It was full of wiry people desperately pounding fake bike pedals and sprinting through fake woodland. These people were serious, and the machines were serious too. My friend showed me her favourite machine - she loves it because all you do is stand there, and it works your body for you! I wasn't convinced...I stood on it and she pressed a button, and my whole body started to shake! I could feel my brain oscillating in my skull, my teeth rattling around my mouth, my thighs wobbling and my stomach groaning...STOP STOP STOOOOOOOOOP I shouted. It was like my worst nightmare!

"It will get rid of your cellulite" someone helpful told me.

This is what I hate. The laziness of it all. The torture. Gyms turn something wonderful and positive into a replacement for real life, into some hellish tri-weekly rite that we are expected to go through just so we can have a burger and a beer. Too often I hear 'I've earned this, I did an hour in the gym today'; an hour of being shaken around, an hour of pedalling a fake bike, just for a slice of cake? This isn't healthy living, this is a substitute for healthy living.

I hate to rant (actually, I love to rant), and as I've already said, gyms can be life-changing, too. But I think that exercise in its best form is the exercise we do because we enjoy it - not so we can eat what we like or drink a bottle of wine, not so we can lose our cellulite and flatten our stomachs; this isn't why we're encouraged to do however much it is we're supposed to do however many times a week. Exercise lifts the spirits, boosts the immune system, fights any number of diseases. Walking, cleaning, gardening, yoga, cycling, playing frisbee, even shopping are all great ways to stay healthy in the body and the mind. Gyms might keep your body healthy (though I'll challenge anyone who tells me that shakey thing is good for you) but it won't do any good for your mind.

So, I'll stick to my walking, cleaning, yoga, pub-work, cycling, maybe even swimming! But I won't be joining any gym.

I'd love to hear your opinions on this though; if you disagree then please tell me why as I'm always interested in differing opinions! Or maybe you agree? What's your favorite way to stay healthy?


  1. Hi~ I like your writing and your rant about gyms is hilarious. I have been exercising for about 25 years, sometimes obsessively, other times moderately. I ran for years now I walk more. I don't know why you can't run but can you walk? There are a lot of hills by my house and I find a good 2.5 mile walk with a lot of hills (everyday) does me wonders as far a firming my entire body, helping me to sleep well and putting me in a fantastic mood. I agree, gyms are bad for all the reasons you mentioned :) Danette

  2. Hi Danette - thanks for visiting my blog! I've injured my knee so am temporarily off running, but yes, I love walking! And I agree - a good walk with a few steep hills is fantastic for the body AND the mind (especially when it's so sunny outside!)! The problem is that I live in a very flat city with almost no hills! However I do go out walking everyday, it just doesn't give me that 'flush' of energy that running does. I'm going walking in the Lake District next weekend though! :-D

    I hear what you say about the obsessive/moderate exercise attitudes, and I think so many people go through that - the quick results we get from a lot of exercise turns it into an obsession, which is why I'm against the quick-fix attitude of gyms.

    I'll stop by your blog and say hello!

    Catherine :-)

  3. Catherine, I completely agree with you - I don't like gyms and have never been able to go to one on a regular basis without getting sick of it. The only time I went 5 days a week for over a year was when I worked in a high stress job and wore size 20 clothes - I didn't lose any weight ;)

    I had to quit the gym when I also quit my high stress job, because I could no longer afford it. I ended up losing over 30kg a year later without setting foot in a gym once.

    I think they have their place, for the reasons you mentioned. But I am too much of a tight arse to spend money on exercising inside on a bloody machine, when I could be exercising outside in the beautiful sunshine and fresh air for free (I even don't mind running in the rain). I will pay to use a swimming pool, I will pay for yoga classes. But that's it!!

    I keep fit by walking to and from work nearly every day (it's a 3 mile walk each way), running about 3 times a week (more if I have a race coming up), swimming occasionally, and yoga as much as possible. Now I have a bit of free cash because I've stopped going to my counsellor I'm going to spend that money on yoga classes. Figure it will be just as good for the mental health.

    Bloody fabulous post. xx

  4. Another great post. I'm another one who lost stones and stones of weight without a gym to "help" me. To be honest I quite like the gym, I like that the air is cool (I get so ridiculously flushed when running) and I like that I can run and run whilst not missing a football match (my parents gym had sky sports) or cycle along to the Tour de France.

    BUT. For all the little nice things, they are extortionate, and you don't need them, and they are such a false environment. I haven't been running for a while (injury put me out last year, then my routine changes and I've been lazy and not fitted it into my new one) but when I did I had a wonderful track through woodland. I used to immerse myself in my music and the sunshine and trees. It's a totally different happy. I also found that the slightly unpredictable terrain made it harder, but better for my body.

    Gosh, all this talk makes me want to dust off my running shoes...I wonder how dreadfully unfit I am now?!

    p.s. I've just read that back and thought I should clarify that much as I like to say I was a runner, I should be honest, I am clearly a jogger!

  5. I disliked gyms for all the reasons you mention - seemed crazy to me to get on a wheel-less bike bolted to the ground looking at a blank wall when you could have the wind whistling through your hair on a real one. I made the decision to join my local leisure centre last year because I could get access to everything (gym, swim, courts, classes and spa) for about the same cost as my twice weekly swims. I reasoned since the gym was 'free' I'd give it a try but I've never really got into a routine with it as I just don't enjoy it (I thought I'd hate running most but the Cross Trainer is my idea of hell and sends me hastening towards the treadmill). I was pleasantly surprised by the atmosphere in the gym though - there are people of all ages, backgrounds, shapes and fitness levels because there are membership packages to suit everyone (it's council run, family friendly and very competitively priced).

  6. Okay, yes!

    I really like your thoughts on this- not because I'm necessarily the most sensible health-not-image type of girl, but because it make such good sense.

    Sometimes I read a magazine and come away thinking, "I need to do everything I can possibly do to look like ___". And that is sickening. It's not a healthy goal- it's an obsession. That can be the "gym mentality" you're talking about.

    At the same time, exercise (yes, ellipticals and written-down routines) is so much fun for me, and I really enjoy the challenge and the mental clarity from it. We have a couple pieces of equipment at home, so I don't have to go to a nasty gym- actually I've never stayed and worked out at a gym, that would be depressing, I think.

    But yes- with all my rambling, I'm trying to say that I AGREE. Love your thoughts on this :)

  7. Thanks for such great responses! I was expecting more disagreement actually, I must say!

    I certainly appreciate the convenience of a gym - and Nip it in the Bud, I agree about joining for the pool/classes/etc, I'd love to do a yoga class and then swim a few lengths at no added cost! In fact, I do hope to join a sports club at some point when I can afford it - at the moment I have to do yoga at home, but it's never the same as in a class!

    Yesterday evening I went for a jog around York, and it was the best feeling - everyone was out there, either running, cycling, walking, roller skating - I love enjoying the perfect evening in the city like that, and you know that everyone you pass is enjoying it in just the same way! You certainly don't get that in a gym!

  8. This is a fabulous piece of writing!

    And I do agreed. Gyms serve a purpose in many ways. When it's been raining for several days I can go on the stationary bike at the gym and cycle up an imaginary hill but I'd rather do it in the fresh air.

    I agree with you about the attitude. When I have taught yoga in gyms it is always a nightmare. I am seen as somewhat inferior to the supercharged superbuff spin and bodypump tutors, but I'm past caring these days. If I can change one superbuff gymgoers mind about yoga so they practice it as well as their usual fitness routine then I'm the winner :)

    I hate the air-con though more than I could ever express in words!

  9. As I hadn't done anything exercisy ever since I had to quit dancing when I went to York I was really getting sick of the laziness.
    So I signed up for horse riding when the semester started three weeks ago. It feels great to exercise on a weekly basis and I wouldn't want to miss the lesson as I'm paying for it :-/ But I have to say it's worth the money. It is exhausting and fun at the same time (and increadibly good for your back).
    Lots of love,