The gym contract is a swindle. Once you’ve paid your money and signed the papers, you’re not that likely to go back. Instead, a mixture of indolence and guilt means you keep on letting the direct debits trickle out of your account while you tell yourself that, yes, last month you failed but this month will be different. You’ll be the mayor of the NordicTrack cross trainer! You’ll trudge along on that treadmill with the noble dedication of an ultramarathoner! Other gym users will look at you with an awed sort of slant, and murmer, “Hey, you really seem to know your way around!”
None of those things will happen. And even if you don’t know it, the big gym companies do: their business isn’t getting you fit, it’s convincing you that they can get you fit, then siphoning off monthly payments while you sit at home feeling tired and very slightly ashamed. Still, you’re not on your own: a paper called Paying To Go To The Gym (PDF here if you want it) found that people joining health clubs estimated that they would use the facilities more than twice as often as the actual average attendance, and spent an average of $185 dollars on membership fees after they stopped going. Gym companies even try to enhance the effect by making their contracts near impossible to cancel – even if you’re pregnant, your partner is unemployed and you’re moving 12 miles away from the gym, there are gouging bastards like LA Fitness who’ll try to string you along for the maximum payments.
Enough. They make their money screwing you, so it’s time to say, “Screw them.” (If you use a really brilliant gym, please mention it in the comments – I know there are some out there.) And the best thing is, you probably don’t need them. For 50p more than the Fitness First joining fees, you can get a set of completely decent weights to use at home, and they won’t have anyone else’s sweat on them. Worry you’ll miss the treadmill? Well, you have roads, which you can use for free without anyone fixing a screen at eye level to pipe News 24 into your reddening face. Best of all, if you go off the whole fitness business, at least you can sell this stuff on rather than paying for it to pick up dust bunnies under the sofa, which is what most people do with a gym membership.
Not to brag (NB I am bragging; I am super pleased with myself about this) but over the last two years, I’ve hugely improved my fitness without stepping foot in a gym. When I had my last health check-up, the nurse looked mildly awed by my excellent blood pressure. I dropped two dress sizes. I gained the kind of handy, everyday strength that means I can pick up my sturdy five-year-old or manhandle heavy shopping bags painlessly. I can outpace a child on a speeding scooter whenever I need to (often). Basically, being fitter saves me at least two moments of wet-eyed helplessness every single day. No gym. Just running and dumbbells, available for me to use within five minutes of getting out of bed, with my own shower at the end and any recovery snack I fancy waiting for me in the kitchen. It doesn’t even take up much space: I keep the weights under the sofa, and use a 12’x6′ slice of my dining room to exercise in.
I asked sometime Paperhouse contributor and fulltime Men’s Fitness features editor Joel Snape for his get-fit-at-home essentials. These are his recommendations:
- Pull-up bar “You can work virtually any muscle with bodyweight moves apart from your pulling/back muscles, and it’s crucial to keep them as strong as anything else. If you had nothing but a pull-up bar you could still do some great workouts.”
- Dumbbells “Super cheap for a set from Argos. Vastly expands the range of stuff you can do, as well as letting you add weight to bodyweight exercises. Think overhead press rather than bicep curls or tricep kickbacks, though.”
- Maybe a kettlebell “… depending on how much fragile stuff you own. I would rather have a 16kg kettlebell than dumbells, personally, but they’re a bit more expensive and take more practice to use properly.”
- Gymnastics rings “To hang off the pull-up bar/a tree. That’ll let you do dips and make pressups or planks (everyone should do planks) harder, as well as expand your repertoire of ‘pulling’ moves.”
Altogether, I reckon you could pick this lot up for around £110 – that means you’ll spend less than most people waste on gym memberships they’ve given up using, to buy kit you’re more likely to use regularly, and (bonus!) give the megagym corporations one in the eye at the same time. That is flexing some consumer muscle.