Flex some consumer muscle

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:

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.

Text © Sarah Ditum, 2012; photo by a.drian, used under Creative Commons

10 thoughts on “Flex some consumer muscle

  1. I used to use the gym in Bush House when I worked at the Beeb. Cheap, right across the hall from my office, and because I worked nights it was almost always empty. It was bliss. There is no other gym on the planet I would go to; none would match up to that.

  2. Thoughts from the cheap seats:

    1. There is often a council gym attached to the swimming baths that’s cheaper and you pay as you go. I think it’s worthwhile going there as they have trained staff who can put you on the road (arf) to fitness.

    2. So one of the moves I learned was the usefulness of a chair or stool – hold a sturdy one behind you (ooh matron!) and dip, lowering yourself down and then up on your arms.

    3. At first do ‘press-ups’ against the wall and you can squat down with your back against a wall too, sliding down and up. Good if you can afford to go skiing!

    4. You don’t need weights so don’t fret if you can’t afford them (we’re not all rich journos!) use a couple of those big plastic bottles full of milk, start small and work up. Drinking the milk is better for you than cheap vino too. Don’t use a child.

    5. If you want some proper fitness equipment you’ll find folk are always giving their dusty unused stuff away – look on Freecycle (on Yahoo.com).

    6. Once you get the stuff always remember to keep all bits together. If there are attachments then keep in a bag tied together. If it runs on electricity then keep the lead with the item – I have a lovely treadmill I can’t use because I can’t find the blasted lead! Don’t let small children near the equipment as it can be dangerous.

    7. Running in the streets (it’s in the trees, it’s coming!) is free but IMHO even if you’re poor get some good running shoes. Sweatshop (www.sweatshop.co.uk/) provide an excellent service (I am not affiliated to them at all) and have some good sales. They will put you on a treadmill and guage your pronation etc. allowing them to give informed advice.

    8. The most difficult thing once you have your running shoes is to actually use them for running. I followed an inspirational runner online for a while and that worked for me but you might like a running buddy? And there are online tools too such as MapMyRUN.com you can use.

    I hope that’s helpful to someone as I’ve stopped exercising and am at home getting fatter and feeling more ill every day. No matter how intelligent you are, however many degrees you have or however big your salary you know that starting to exercise will take effort and hurt a bit and another cup of tea will slide into your hands, which will of course need a biscuit… and you promise yourself you’ll start tommorow.

  3. My gym is Virgin Active and it’s great. And it’s in my building. And I use it a lot. But I agree you can do most of what you want at home or out running. Or get some TRX straps for a bodyweight workout; you can tie them to a door or tree. If they’re good enough for Navy SEALS….

  4. Excellent advice. I know gyms are invaluable for a lot of people, but they are certainly not essential. My best investment has been my rowing club membership. For way less than the cost of a health club, I get use of the club’s gym (nothing fancy, you understand, especially as it gets flooded once every couple of years), as much rowing as a body can take, coaching, circuits, a bar (important!) and a whole bunch of excellent new friends.

  5. Fully agreee with most of what you say about gyms (I had a nightmare cancelling my contract with one such provider when I moved away from Manchester). However, I can thoroughly recommend those which are run by The Gym Group. They’re £16 a month, you’re not tied into any contract, all the machines are nice and new and modern, they’re open 24 hours and (best of all) you can cancel at any time you want. I love it. Saying that, I am one of those wusses who is actually too scared to run in public (I never feel completely safe, and I’m always scared I’m going to have things thrown at me).

  6. Good tips here, though I feel obliged to point out that I’m a long, long way from being a rich journalist. My workout equipment is a pair of New Balance trainers (£50 in the sale from Running Bath, who give great advice), various bits of kit from TK Maxx and chaity shops, and a case of dumbbells that cost £20 from Argos.

  7. I used to go to Genesis in Bath (http://www.genesisbath.co.uk/) which is essentially a converted barnhouse. It’s small, but super friendly – all the trainers in there are really nice and will help you out even if you’re not booked in with them. This made a massive difference to me, as when I used to go to Fitness First and the YMCA gyms, the trainers were just glassy-eyed health bots who’d just stand behind the counter rather than give you advice on how to use the machines, or what kind of exercises you could do, or just come over to ask you how you’re doing.

    It was a tad expensive – I paid £140 for a ten-week course (included one supervised session, one unsupervised session, and all the freetime I could eat), but I lost an astonishing amount of weight, and felt a lot stronger too. The only reason I’m not there now is…well…because I’m lazy. /shame

  8. Love the good gym stories. They are really cheering — I especially like the idea of joining for a specific function (like the rowing club, girlontheriver). That seems much better planned than the sort of nebulous “I must join the gym” thing people sometimes come up with.

    And Miss Cay: I want to take you running in the lovely outdoors. I have lived in shitty places that I didn’t want to run in (*cough* Pitsmoor *cough*), though: it is tough getting over the idea of other people looking and judging. In the end, I decided that anyone who runs would be sympathetic, and anyone who was snotty was an idiot headed for heart disease and so didn’t matter.

  9. I should probably point out here that I do go to the gym quite a lot, and that I’ve been to plenty of gyms that I do think were/are worth what they charge. Couple of other things:

    -I don’t really think doing curls or whatever with soup tins/water bottles/milk cartons is that helpful, they’re too light and they won’t give you any more of a workout than carrying the shopping already does. It’s much better to spend your limited time doing squats, planks and other full body stuff.

    -Machines aren’t that good for you, since they force you into an unnatural motion and probably weren’t designed for someone exactly your dimensions. I haven’t been on a weights machine for about two years.

    -One of the many things I miss about Bath is the running there. Man I loved Ralph Alan Drive.

  10. I’ve been a member of 2 gyms, both of which I quite liked. I went through phases of 6 months or so working out hard and going to every class I could find time for, detemind to get my monies worth. But then I’d give in for the rest of the year. I did however keep up swimming and my pilates class so I was always just about in exercise credit. The worst thing about gyms for me were always the other people. Despite the staff at my local council gym being very helpful and informative if you asked, they did nothing to stop idiots overloading their bars and running on the x-trainer until they turned purple. Once a woman of about 30st passed out while 2 members of staff compared their own work out plans. Gym staff don’t tell you that harder and faster won’t offer up instant results, or that just because you can haul those huge weights over your head doesn’t mean that you should. If I can find gym close to the new house that is reasonably princed and offers plenty of classes I would be prepared to join again, but in the meantime I’ve got all that I need to get fit at home. And I’m sure that you’re very pleased and not a little smug that you got me running too!

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