Pros & Cons of Joining a Gym

“I need to join a gym!”

It’s the war-cry of the frustrated.

Whether overweight; feeling inadequate; low on energy or dealing with any other mobility or fitness-based issue; this is one of the most common default statements reeled out when that feeling of frustration builds up.

Alternatives to this include, “I need a personal trainer!” or “I need to go on a diet”.

If these are more relevant questions to you, they are covered in more detail here:

[When not to hire a Personal Trainer]
Or
[Lose Weight Fast]

Where hiring a PT can often feel like the quickest route to a solution (they’ll be able to tell you exactly what to do right?), the cost can be off-putting (read the article linked above for more info on the cost versus value of a personal trainer).

But you can join a gym and get it done yourself.

Besides, people are working there who will keep you right, so of course, it’s a good option.

Not so fast!

This is the most comprehensive guide to joining a gym you are likely to find.

Throughout we will cover the advantages & disadvantages of joining a gym.

We will review membership costs and perceived value.

Which deals are worth your attention and those that are misdirects.

We will also review common frustrations gym members faced and what you can do to overcome or even contribute to changing things for the better.

If you are a novice or total beginner, we run through some prep work that will make it easier to make decisions on which gym to join. We cover things to keep in mind to get the most from your experience.

Ultimately, we will look at a path to determining if a gym membership is the best option right now. And if not, we review several alternatives you may want to consider.

As this is such an in-depth guide, it is well worth bookmarking this page to return and review as questions arrive.

Skim through and read the sections that are currently of interest. Then return when you have more questions or need a refresher.

The intention is to continually update this resource, based on feedback or changes in the industry.

So check back often!

Before you go rushing into a decision, take a moment to think this through. Just because it is the common route, doesn’t make it right for everyone.

Even if, on reflection, it is the best solution for you, which gym should you join?

How much should you pay?

How do you make the most of your membership?

Below we are going to review a variety of questions, scenarios, and alternatives worthy of consideration before making a decision. These may not all apply to you, so skim through and see which questions might be worth your time, and feel free to skip those that don’t.

Why Join a Gym?

Gym memberships are frequently misunderstood.

Too often, the act of joining a gym is seen as the solution to a problem.

So, let’s get this one out of the way quickly.

It is not!

Joining a gym is simply a statement of intent.

It is a commitment to make changes and progress. An investment in accessing tools to help you achieve that progression.

We’ll cover this more below, but inflating the significance of a gym membership is only increasing the odds of disappointment and frustration.

That is not to say, however, that making that statement of intent through action is not significant. And it is one of the biggest advantages of joining a gym in the first place.

By taking action you move from wishing to doing.

That step alone infinitely increases your chances of success.

You are never going to achieve anything by just thinking about it.

However, as we’ll see later, there are many more ways to take action that could be of greater benefit.

So, joining a gym because it is the first thing that came to mind when you decided to take action is certainly not a good reason for doing it.

Nor, for that matter, is joining because your friends have done so (though that are advantages to this that we will review further).

On a similar note, just because it was suggested to you by someone whose fitness journey you are envious, doesn’t make it right for you.

So, it is worth reflecting on why you are considering joining a gym in the first place before reading on.

Advantages of Joining a Gym

Whilst there are many advantages to joining a gym, there may not be as many listed here as you might think. That is because many obvious advantages of gym memberships are little more than perceived advantages.

And keep in mind, joining a gym is not the only route to many of these benefits.

Access to abundant dedicated fitness space

Access to Abundant Dedicated Fitness Space

Regardless of the size of your home, unless you bought or rented with a home gym in mind, it is unlikely you have space that is dedicated exclusively to exercise.

Often, when planning to train at home, you think of a space you can use. This may involve the temporary rearrangement of furniture and in an area you are unlikely to want to leave set up for workouts 24/7.

And even then, it’s unlikely to allow for unlimited options.

In most gyms you will have space to allow for sprints; jumps; ball throws; ropes and sleds etc. Finding space for anything like that in your home, even if technically possible, is likely to lead to compromising your living space.

Access to Equipment

This is the thing that most likely sprang to mind when you thought about the advantages.

There are counter-arguments, but there is no denying that, in most cases, you will have access to much more equipment, usually of much higher quality, than you could hope to have to hand at home.

To put this in perspective, most large commercial gyms will spend hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, on the equipment alone.

Though that doesn’t always translate to value for you.

A gym that has purchased 50 treadmills does not give you, the consumer, 50 times the value of having one treadmill at home. And having equipment on premises that are so busy you never get a chance to use it, certainly doesn’t have any meaning or value to you (something we’ll look at shortly).

What it does do, though, is give you access to a large variety of equipment. And that equipment is likely to be of a higher quality than you would buy for home use.

Think of it this way.

If you were looking to build a boat, it may be possible to do it with some basic tools you bought from the supermarket and some timber from the local DIY store. But if you had access to a workshop with high-end tools that allow for extreme precision and nuance, you are likely to do a better job, in less time and with fewer frustrations.

Often this shows up long after you have joined.

You want to work on your grip strength and read up on the benefits of fat grips or thick bars. Your shoulder mobility is causing restrictions with your pressing and you discover the use of a Swiss Bar or a Safety Squat Bar. You realise you need to work on your explosivity and the benefits of band resisted movements.

When you are considering joining a gym, it’s unlikely these type of things will be foremost in your mind. They are rarely going to influence your decision making. But they are there for when the situations arise.

There will be equipment you never use too (yet you are still, technically, paying a contribution towards it) but too much equipment certainly trumps too little.

Help on Hand (sometimes)

This one is, often, a disadvantage (see below).

Gym staff are often undertrained, have little experience and are not paid to be much more than a safety feature.

Some budget gyms don’t even have floor staff (hence the sometimes) and so you become reliant on [hiring a personal trainer] if you want any advice or assistance.

But you will often find fitness instructors on the premises who can write you a basic programme. Cue some of your technique to keep things safer. And give you a spot if you are worried about hurting yourself.

We’ll come to costs later on. But keep in mind, these members of staff are being paid by the hour. If you consider the cost of the average gym membership, then look at the overheads just to provide the building and the equipment, you would be wise to temper any expectation as to the quality of the advice received and the time that will be invested into your progress by individual members of staff.

Low Barrier to Entry

The common comparison to joining a gym (though, as we will see, not the only alternative) is training from home.

This could be setting up a garage or basement gym. Allocating a section of your home. Or carrying out ad-hoc sessions in your lounge interspersed with outdoor cardio activities (walking, running, cycling etc).

However, it is extremely difficult to do much without any equipment.

For the outdoor pursuits, a set of running shoes and some clothing that will eliminate chaffing would be a common starting point. For cycling, well that’s pretty obvious.

For indoor training, there is much you can do. But for a balanced approach, there will be some equipment required.

When you join a gym, most of the equipment you will need is there for you from day one.

To get anything near that at home would require a huge financial outlay.

Whilst some gyms charge joining fees, comparatively speaking, the amount of equipment you have access to is vast compared to your initial outlay.

Though you will still, inevitably, require appropriate clothes and shoes. But as you don’t have the outdoor elements (weather, uneven surfaces etc) to deal with, savings are possible here too.

The Environment

Depending on the layout and size of your home, you are likely to find any designated area within the house stuffy and harder to find enthusiasm.

In a garage or basement, things improve, but this does depend on how well things have been set up (including insulation and ventilation levels).

Many gyms poorly misjudge things when setting up too.

Some gyms get set up in glorified office spaces, with low ceilings and ventilation not fit for heavy breathing etc.

But most of the larger facilities have good air conditioning, high ceilings, regular air change and expansive space available.

That said, in an attempt to ‘look’ good, the solar effect can often be wildly misjudged.

If you have ever been to a large gym with a heavily glazed façade in the summer, you will understand.

But in the main, the air quality, feeling of space and the general set up is vastly superior and feels much more comfortable than training at home or outdoors facing the elements.

The simple fact that it is a designated training space can help switch mindsets too.

Training at home leaves you in the same building (often the same room) as other things that demand your attention. Whether you have work to do, household chores, or the simple fact that the TV is calling out to you. A function-specific venue is going to keep you focused on that function.

And if you feel focused and more comfortable doing something, you are more likely to feel the benefits and continue doing it.

Community and Atmosphere

Gym members looking happy and enjoying each others company and enthusiasm

Where equipment and advice are often what is thought of when joining a gym. The thing that keeps most people returning and often delivers the most benefit is the shared experience.

Improvements from exercise come from challenging your body to do more than it currently does.

However, that means moving beyond your comfort zone. Something that is not an appealing prospect.

When you start a new fitness regime, it is usually a result of a recent burst of enthusiasm [covered in this article on goal setting].

But enthusiasm and willpower will only take you so far.

On stress-filled days; times when you are feeling lethargic; or when the sheen of the new routine has worn off, continuing to push yourself to do something uncomfortable and taxing is not going to be easy.

Being alongside others who are putting themselves through the same thing can be a fantastic motivator.

This is why it is easier to run a long-distance race during an event than on your own. The feeling of being ‘carried along by the crowd’ is true in all difficult pursuits.

Even if you are not training with the other people, subconsciously you are part of the club.

Many friendships form in these shared experiences too.

And being surrounded by others who are taking the steps you wish to make, will always result in greater results than attempting to make changes surrounded exclusively by the same people you were surrounded by in reaching the point where you felt change was necessary.

Those around you reflect and influence who you are.

Joining a gym gives you instant access to a new, positive, crowd.

This is, therefore, one of the most valuable, but often overlooked, benefits of joining a gym.

That said, there are other ways to achieve similar benefits, which we will explore shortly.

A Statement of Intent

Sometimes the most important thing you can do, when you have decided to make a change, is to take action.

Whether that or not that step is ideal, the fact you have acted is a statement of intent that you are committed to making a change (as mentioned earlier).

Action is the difference between dreams and objectives.

We all ‘wish’ we had things we don’t.

But without action, those ‘goals’ are little more than fantasies.

So, making the effort to take action, regardless of the quality of that action, shows commitment to improvement.

The biggest issue with this, as we will explore below, is the temptation to do something just because it is easy. The only result being a feeling of accomplishment that allows you to put off doing anything else.

Often this takes the form of making a purchase.

Buying a fitness magazine; hiring a personal trainer; or joining a gym.

Once the money has been paid, you convince yourself you have taken a step forward. This justifies further procrastination over the coming weeks.

Paying a gym membership is of little use if you never turn up.

That said, you can’t go if you don’t sign up.

Therefore, with the right mindset, this is a positive first step.

Safety

As a business dealing with the public, gyms must provide a safe environment for their clients and customers.

Safety, however, is a relative term.

Keep in mind that all exercises and movements carry a potential for injury. Especially if carried out incorrectly.

As such, quite rightly, the facility will usually put the burden of risk back on to you.

All reputable facilities will have you complete some form of background questionnaire (or ParQ) to assess any inherent risks that would preclude you from carrying out the physical activities common to the venue.

If the results are questionable, you will have it suggested that you consult with your doctor.

However, you will also be required to complete a waiver of some form. The reason being that, lifting weights or pushing your body in any way, will always have an element of risk.

It is up to you to assess the risk level and compare it to the potential reward. Then decide if it a risk worth taking.

However, it is not in a venue’s interest to be associated with unnecessary injuries or accidents.

As a business, open to the public, risk assessments are a must. Usually enforced by the company’s insurance provider.

Plus, most personal trainers will have gained certification in first aid. And most venues will insist on at least one first aider being present at any given time.

The fitness staff (if there are any) will have a level of qualification that will, at least, allow them to give instruction that will keep you safe when performing complex or potentially dangerous movements.

And, at the very least, other members being around should be enough to ensure that, if anything does happen, help is at hand. (I can remember 2 occasions, in my early training days, where I was stuck under a bar and had to call on someone to help me escape).

Overall

As we shall see in the next section, many of the advantages of a gym membership, whilst correct, are not as great as they can be perceived initially.

To what extent these advantages exist is, primarily, down to the environment created by the owner, manager, or franchise.

However, at face value, the main advantages of joining a gym are:

  • A feeling of achievement for having taken a step forward.
  • Putting yourself in an environment that surrounds you with people more likely to inspire you.
  • Access to appropriate equipment.
  • An environment that is appropriate for exercise.
  • Non-limiting space.
  • Safety

Disadvantages of Joining a Gym

On the surface, the only disadvantage of joining a gym is the cost. After all, if you simply paid, but didn’t go, that is all you have lost. And as we’ll look at, when we cover costs, the spend is minimal, despite the perception you may have (caused by the industry itself, in its attempt to sell false promises).

However, as a possible solution, or part of a solution, to your current frustrations, many disadvantages are worth considering. Some of which may seem surprising.

Crowds

Whilst space on offer is often a perceived advantage (see above), if that space is compromised due to being filled with too many people, then that advantage no longer exists.

The frustration of trying to find the space you need can be a stressor, to such a level that it can harm your progress. Even move you in the wrong direction.

The subject of stress is one for an article of its own (which I will cover soon). But in short, elevated stress levels can cause increased fat retention and prevent muscle growth.

This is extremely simplistic. But the point being, elevated stress levels are a barrier to progress.

The problem with 90% of modern gyms is, the focus is on selling, not service.

Most gyms will operate on the sardine tin model. Selling many more memberships than they can reasonably accommodate. With the view that a large percentage (40-80% in most cases) of members do not show up regularly. And if they do, then it is their problem to negotiate the crowd.

This means that, if your optimal training time is at a ‘peak’ time (7-8 am or 5-8 pm as a rule) then you are likely to have to face an overcrowded building and space is not going to be your friend.

Which leads us onto equipment.

Equipment Access

The Quality of the Gym Equipment is Irrelevant if it is too busy to access any of it.

One of the biggest perceived advantages of joining a gym is the vast array of equipment you will have available to you.

As outlined above, the quality and quantity of equipment available are likely to exceed anything you are likely to achieve through a home setup. It will also exceed most personal training or physiotherapy setups. So, the value is huge.

That said, even if there were a million pieces of equipment; if a million members are using the equipment already, you still don’t get to use any of it. (Obviously, this is extreme, simply to make a point).

As mentioned already, peak times are left to the members to organise themselves. And very quickly, a well-constructed workout or focused plan can go out the window.

The more experienced the member, the easier it is to adapt and tweak workouts.

But as we will explore shortly, anyone new to training is quickly going to feel lost, overwhelmed and easily put off.

However, even if you do have sufficient experience to tweak and alter your plans. Every shift is a step away from the ideal.

The more you have to make changes like this, the bigger the impact on your progress.

You could end up following a training pattern that has very little connection to your initial plan because your first, second and third choice of equipment were all being used.

A Personal Example

Around 3 years into my personal training career, the gym I rented space from had grown its member base in line with this model.

Where a year earlier, space was rarely an issue, it had become massively overcrowded. Particularly at peak times.

One evening, at 6pm, a longstanding client arrived for his session.

15mins prior, the gym floor had filled up rapidly.

The workout I had planned was instantly trashed.

I walked to the area I had intended to use for the core of the workout. The dumbbell rack was almost empty. The only options were the 2kgs, the 40kgs and the 42.5kgs.

The latter was too heavy for this client. The 2kgs of little use.

There were no benches available. No squat racks. The cables were being used. And almost every piece of equipment was being guarded as if made of gold.

Not only that, there wasn’t even floor space.

We moved around the gym looking for anywhere there was space sufficient even for bodyweight exercises.

The only space we could find was right in front of the door to the female changing rooms.

This gym was about 85% male, so that door wasn’t in constant use. I had to have my client use that space and if the door opening (it opened outward) was in danger of hitting him, I had to stand directly in front of it, just in case.

Fortunately, I had a few pieces of equipment of my own. So we used those, along with an available mat.

This was the catalyst that ultimately drove me to open my own facility.

I checked out every gym within a 5-mile radius and not one had a model that would prevent a similar issue from occurring.

The remainder of that story is for another time.

But, for anyone who has been in a busy gym, this is likely to feel somewhat familiar.

Though for anyone who was just starting, I would imagine (faced with such a prospect) they would be more likely to walk back out the door.

Personalised Advice and Guidance

The idea that guidance is a disadvantage of joining a gym may seem confusing. After all, how can help and guidance be bad?

Ultimately, it depends on the quality of the advice.

If you are given poor directions, you are going to end up more lost than before.

And generic guidance, that doesn’t consider your specific needs, circumstances and limitations could do more damage than good.

There is a misconception as to the authority, knowledge and experience held by personal trainers and fitness instructors. We will explore this in a moment.

However, even if the fit-pro was eminently qualified to assist; as mentioned at the beginning, the time required, versus your investment, almost guarantees this service is not going to live up to your expectations.

Think this through [as discussed in this article on goal setting] it is physically impossible for a gym, following the standard model, to provide the service it projects.

The average gym cost in the UK is around £40 per month. For budget gyms, it is less than half that.

Even if the fitness professional in question is only earning minimum wage (which instantly puts a question mark on their experience level). If you were to take up one hour of their time per week, the gym would be running at a loss. In a budget gym, if you took up 2hrs of their time in a month, they are running at a loss.

And that’s without considering any overheads, equipment costs, taxes or expenses etc.

It doesn’t take a genius to follow this logic through to the conclusion that any advice or guidance offered as part of your membership is either being offset through upselling or is going to be generic and of little benefit.

Personal Trainers and Fitness Instructors

To be clear, this is not the fault of the fit-pros in question. It is the model they are forced to work within.

Though I must qualify that by pointing out that those who join such facilities, in search of a paycheque, are supporting that model. So they are not entirely blameless.

What is important, for those reviewing gyms to join, is to understand that not all fit-pros are equal when it comes to advising.

There are various levels of qualification in the fitness industry.

The two most common are fitness instructor and personal trainer (though there are many others).

A fitness instructor is often referred to as Level 2 qualified. However, other qualifications would put the instructor at this level.

Within this level, there are gym instructors and exercise to music instructors.

The latter qualification is the one required for many of the classes you find in commercial gyms. The former is the qualification most likely to be held by the person delivering an induction or programme review on the gym floor.

What is key here is, the qualification is relatively basic. The main goal if this qualification is to ensure the instructor can deliver a safe and effective programme for a new member. With the emphasis on safe! It also ensures the instructor is aware of the industry codes of practice; how to deal with sensitive information; health and safety procedures and so on.

In other words, it is a route to procuring insurance and covering the facility from the likelihood of legal action.

What it does not do is qualify the person to construct a long-term, personalised, training programme for an individual.

This is why, if you pay attention, you’ll notice most induction programmes delivered are extremely similar.

Personal Trainers have usually received more in-depth training in constructing long-term programmes for one to one clients. (I say ‘usually’ as not all course providers are equal).

However, the course remains relatively basic in its content and there are glaring gaps in the syllabus that can be exploited by students looking to simply qualify, rather than improve their education level.

The experience of a newly qualified PT is often extremely limited.

What makes for a good or great PT is further study; experience; and a passion for making a positive impact.

The benefits and flaws of hiring a personal trainer are outlined here:

[When NOT to Hire a Personal Trainer]

But often, as part of their rental agreement, or to ensure a regular baseline income, a PT will work on the gym floor carrying out the same job as a fitness instructor.

This could mean the advice will be more useful or dependable. But that is rare and also goes to the caveat of time versus income to the PT.

The takeaway here is, just because someone works on a gym floor, does not mean they have a high level of knowledge or experience.

And 2 people, with the same personal training qualification, can be poles apart in their ability to give quality, beneficial, advice.

Gym Floor Intimidation

Where being part of a crowd of other like-minded people with similar goals, frustrations and struggles, can be empowering and beneficial. Walking into a crowded environment, where everyone else seems to know what they are doing when you are completely new to training, can be overwhelming.

Even if an induction session and programme was provided, the issues already mentioned can leave you feeling lost.

A common scenario is for a new member to walk in with a programme card. The very first exercise is impossible to do because the equipment is in use. Now that person doesn’t know if the sequence of exercises is important. Can they skip to the next one or must they wait?

Often the crowds can be so great that there are few options to skip to.

And when they run out, the member doesn’t know what to do.

The most common result being, they leave.

Making the time to get to the gym is often hard enough. So after such an experience, it’s going to be even more challenging to return.

But, even if the programme or equipment access is not the issue. If you feel less experienced than those around you. Or, if you have a lack of confidence in your approach or knowledge. Regardless of how true it is (something we will review below), it is easy to feel judged or intimidated.

And having that associated feeling can, as before, make it challenging to find the drive to return.

Any small hurdle will be latched onto as an excuse not to go.

The issue of intimidation still applies more to women than men. Especially in the weights area.

But that isn’t to say it doesn’t affect men as well. It certainly does.

And it is an issue which, if those holding the keys to the facility truly wished to address, it would have been dealt with already.

The answer is not segregation. Having women-only gyms or classes is not a solution.

For the moment, though, there is no doubt that this issue does exist. And to what extent it is likely to affect you is certainly worth considering before choosing to join a gym and certainly in selecting which one.

Germs & Viruses

Man disinfecting gym equipment from germs and viruses

This has become a hot topic since the emergence of Covid-19. But it has always been an issue to some degree.

Gyms are breeding grounds for viruses.

And when equipment is so readily shared across each day, the chances of spread are high.

The level to which this problem exists, though, varies wildly from gym to gym.

A facility that relies heavily on machines is likely to have a higher risk factor. Though a predominantly free weight focused facility is still problematic if good hygiene and cleaning protocols are not in place.

One of the greatest benefits of the Covid-19 pandemic is the heightened awareness it brought to personal hygiene. And with heightened awareness and tightened legislation, all public-serving businesses, including gyms, have had to up their game when it comes to sanitation.

If history is anything to go by, this will last for a while. But as the threat subsides and falls into memory, the rigours of individual approach are likely to dwindle. Both from the member side and the owner.

Some personal accountability can be taken here. If this is a concern, then by ensuring good personal hygiene, sanitation and cleaning of equipment prior to use, you limit your risk.

But the more crowded the facility; the lower the ceiling; the poorer the ventilation etc the greater the aerosol effect. Meaning it is impossible to avoid breathing in the particles left by others.

This should, however, not be thought of in a vacuum.

Exercise and good health contribute greatly to the strength of your immune system. So there is a balance to be struck.

That said, it still holds that training in a less crowded, more spacious facility is going to have a lower risk than being packed in like a sardine.

And given that any respiratory virus is going to require a backing off or elimination of exercise for a while (not to mention the effect on your work and quality of life while you recover). This is certainly worthy of consideration.

Overall

As with the advantages of gym memberships, the extent of these disadvantages is going to vary from venue to venue.

However, to summarise, some of the main disadvantages of joining a gym are:

  • Crowds that have to be negotiated
  • The need to queue, share or forgo the use of equipment
  • Low quality, rushed and generic advice (masked as professional advice)
  • Intimidation
  • Germs and Viruses

This is far from an exhaustive list. But hopefully, it serves the purpose of demonstrating that, many of the advertised and surface-level advantages of a facility may require closer inspection.

This is by no means intended to put anyone off the idea of joining a gym.

When done correctly, the advantages and value can be huge.

But, as we are about to explore, there are alternative routes that may be more beneficial. And simply joining the nearest or cheapest facility is rarely the optimal choice.

Cheap Gyms Near Me

It doesn’t matter the industry or product, one of the most common search parameters used, when exploring options, is the price.

One of the most commonly searched terms, when it comes to gyms, is the phrase, “cheap gyms near me”.

Whilst understandable, this is unfortunate.

To get to the point where someone is searching for a gym usually means there has been a serious shift in intent to make a change in that person.

But to then instantly be looking to pricing as the deciding factor is an immediate step in the wrong direction.

It’s not the price isn’t a factor. And it can be a significant one, depending on your situation. However, as the initial filter in searching for options, it could be extremely damaging in the long run.

As mentioned already, there are many possible advantages to joining a gym. Similarly, there are many disadvantages. And the balance of these, versus the cost of membership, is ultimately going to determine the value to you as the consumer.

By looking only at cheap options, or even favouring them in your search, you are no longer looking at value. And often, unfortunately, you get what you pay for.

You could flush £5 down the toilet every month and it would be cheaper than any gym membership.

But there is no value in that.

You may feel that, even if it is cheap, you are at least adding some value. And any improvement is better than nothing.

But what if that ‘investment’ actually moves you further from your goals?

Budget Gyms

With this topic, I’m going to try and temper the strength of my personal views (for now at least). However, my general view of the budget gyms, that have begun to flood the market, is that they are nothing short of a Cancer on the industry they claim to serve.

Click here for more background detail [Is the fitness industry broken]

For now, let’s review what you are getting for your investment.

It’s cheap!

We’ve established that. So you are not expecting much.

But they have a facility packed with hundreds of thousands, if not millions of pounds worth of equipment.

No negatives so far!

As a Beginner, Surely This is a Good Starting Point?

Actually, for a beginner, it’s worse.

As outlined, under the disadvantages of joining a gym section, if you don’t know what you are doing, how are you going to navigate all this equipment to make the most of it?

If you don’t know what you are doing, you’ll likely gravitate to whatever machines are available (ie the ones that no one else feels are useful enough to be using). Or you are drawn to one of the huge banks of cardio-based machines because it’s hard to screw up running or cycling.

Then couldn’t you simply have bought a pair of trainers or a bike? At least you’d get a change of scenery and some fresh air.

Perhaps You Received a Programme on Your First Day

So now you know what to do, right?

But as we’ve already discussed, your programme has either been provided by someone with few qualifications and experience. Or it was through a personal trainer whose livelihood depends on converting you into a paying client.

Unless you seem like a solid prospect for further, paid, sessions. Chances are there will be little exploration into you as a person.

You may be asked what you want to achieve. If you have any injuries. And some other superficial questions. But then your workout is going to be based on what you can be safely left to do on your own. Not what is best for your progress.

Machines are likely to make up a great deal of your plan (despite even the most inexperienced instructor knowing that they are problematic and sub-optimal). And what gets added to your plan will be based on what is available at the time.

(Hopefully, this won’t be you, but if you are ever in a position to receive an induction programme in the future, take a note as to when the programme is written. Was it written before walking on to the gym floor? Or was it written ‘as you go’? My guess is, it will be the latter. Especially if the gym is busy at the time).

What if You Know What You Are Doing?

That partly depends on whose opinion that is.

Far too many gym-goers feel they know a lot more than they do.

Commonly, after around 6 months of consistent training, a false sense of confidence builds.

In part, this is great, as it eliminates that intimidation factor referred to earlier. But when that confidence edges towards arrogance, that’s when the problems start.

The truth is, everyone could benefit from some outside help or assistance.

Though, that doesn’t hamper the value being received.

In truth, there may be some value here.

Having sufficient knowledge and skill to adapt on the fly is certainly going to allow for leeway (perhaps enough to make all the difference) in extracting good quality workouts from the facility.

That said, it is still true that the equipment can be of very basic quality. Oftentimes dropping from a commercial-grade quality to what is known as ‘semi-commercial’.

Ironically, for a beginner, this may have little impact. But for a more advanced athlete, the differences are both noticeable and often significant.

Also, regardless of knowledge level, there are capacity levels that are simply not traversable.

If there is no equipment available, or space is heavily limited, there are very few options open to work with (see the personal example earlier).

Regardless, however, of your own ability to traverse the situation. This is a highly selfish viewpoint.

The set-up is still going to hamper others.

Those who pay but then feel intimidated to show up.

Should you be benefiting from the facility’s failure to support them?

The “I’m alright Jack” mentality is what ensures nothing changes.

And those who remain frustrated or intimidated never progress.

Just keep in mind. If the support from that end (those who have been sold false promises) dries up. If they stop paying their unused memberships in mass numbers. The result will be an unsustainable business model. As your cheap membership is not going to suffice in paying the overheads, nevermind turning a profit for the business.

How Much is a Gym Membership?

With the above points made, being left in the dark completely could be off-putting.

So, this feels like a good place to discuss gym memberships’ cost.

To cut to the chase, the average cost of a gym membership, in the UK, is around £40 per month.

However, as with all public-serving services, each venue and service’s cost can vary wildly.

At the budget end, you can find options anywhere from £7.99 per month to £19.99 per month.

One of the many issues with these memberships is that their very existence is being touted by many as “normal”. With comments from many, seeing any price over £30 and tagging it as a “Rip-off” (a comment I have genuinely seen numerous times).

As we have already covered though, there is a marked difference between cost and value.

And it is not uncommon for the lower cost to equate to a much lower value.

Though keep in mind, just because something is more expensive, does not default to a higher value.

Without specifying, there are a couple of venues I’m aware of that charge around £79 per month. On rare occasions, it is higher than that. But then you are likely looking at access to other services or facilities. (ie saunas, squash-courts and the like, or inclusive PT services).

If you were looking for these elements, then this is certainly a good value investment.

But if you had no intention of paying for any of these when you went looking for a gym, these extra services are of no value to you. Thus, should not be forming part of your decision-making process.

Only look to the elements that are important to you.

Don’t get drawn into the shiny objects being used to enhance your perception of value.

And keep in mind the true value of what you are investing in. Not the comparative price of one gym to another.

As we’ve already covered, the cost of the equipment, the overheads on the building and the cost of the real estate, plus the cost of staffing the facility, means that a certain income level is required to ensure a profitable business model. There has to be a trade-off somewhere for you to consider.

A Personal Example

Around a year after opening my gym (Dynamic Core Studios) I delivered a tour and consultation with a prospective member.

We had a chat about what he was hoping to achieve. I showed him around the facility. And then we sat down to discuss membership options.

As we completed the walk-around, he said, “This is by far the best gym I’ve ever seen”.

I’m not saying this as any form of promotion. The gym doesn’t exist anymore. And there are better-equipped gyms in the world. But for delivering what was truly needed to make solid progress, a lot of thought and effort went into the fit-out and layout of the facility.

Then we discussed membership options.

Based on what he was looking for, the membership that would have best suited was £59.50 per month.

There were cheaper options (and more expensive ones) but this fitted in perfectly for his needs.

He said he was keen to start, but had to hand in his notice at his current gym, so would be back in a month.

I never saw him again (and we were not in the business of hard selling or pushing someone to return if they were not keen. We were either for you or we were not).

However, around 5 months later, that same person posted on a Facebook group for his gym. The reason I know that is, someone who had been a member there had joined our facility and told me this story.

He had posted a question to the gym saying, “Is there any chance we could get a barbell and a squat stand? The Smith Machine is not ideal and there’s only one, so it’s hard to access it anyway”.

The member that had moved to our facility, not knowing this person had been for a tour previously, innocently stated, “You should check out Dynamic Core Studios. It’s not too far away and has all the bars, racks and power cages you could need”.

To which she received the reply, “I’ve been there. F**king extortionate!”

Think about this.

The gym he was in (which I happen to know charged £36 per month) did not have a single barbell in their weights area. This person wanted the use of a barbell and was frustrated and unable to train the way he would have liked.

Our facility was an extra £23.50 per month but would have delivered him everything he needed to make the most of his efforts. (And the benefits went far beyond the inclusion of a barbell and somewhere to rack it). Keeping in mind that, before hearing the price, he had described it as, “The best gym I’ve ever seen”.

Which venue was offering greater value?

Now don’t get me wrong. For some people that additional £23.50 may have been an impossible bridge to cross.

But if money is that tight, is paying out £36 each month, to a gym that does not house the equipment you need, seem like a savvy choice?

Gym Offers

Deals and offers on gym memberships are extremely common. So, are these worth looking out for, or is there yet another catch?

This isn’t as straight forward.

Some facilities use offers wisely and for the benefit of all.

Others use it to capitalise on a trend and to pad their profits.

And some use them out of desperation.

From the outside, the consumer is unlikely to know the reasoning behind the decisions. But the key thing is not to become blinded by discounts or bonuses.

If a particular gym is a good fit for you and you would have joined anyway, but they happen to be running a promotion, that’s great!

But a discount does not suddenly turn a poor fit into a good one.

As an example of when discounts and offers are used well.

There are gyms that use offers to control member numbers, without completely halting their intake.

The head of marketing for one of the large chain facilities broke this down for me.

They had a member cap of 6000 members (which in my view was too high for the venue size, but far from the worst I’ve seen).

This was not an official (known to the public number) just something they worked to.

The goal of the sales and marketing team was to keep the member base above 5900. But not to go above 6000 if possible.

So, as standard, they had a sign-up fee of £100. If the member base was at or over the 6000, that sign up fee would be required in full. If there had been a very slight drop-off, but the numbers remained above 5980, the sign-up fee might drop to £20. But, if the member base had dropped below 5900, there would be marketing in place to advertise no sign-up fee required. Plus, other incentives may be added (2 months free being a common one, or a free Bluray player was another).

This may feel like it only benefits new sign-ups. But the system benefits existing members. As it ensures the member numbers don’t suddenly get out of control causing the facility to become unusable (or, at least, more challenging than they were used to).

New Year Deals

The most common time of year you’ll see the deals out in force is at New Year.

Everyone knows there is a big upswing in gym membership numbers every January. So each facility looks to ensure they get their piece of the pie.

The problem is, these offers are generally focused more on greed than any level of value.

The upshot being, those who are committed to making a change (and didn’t wait for an arbitrary calendar date to join the crowd) are the ones who suffer.

Suddenly there is a huge influx onto the gym floor.

The ability to construct any level of programming goes out the window.

If this influx was truly indicative of a renewed enthusiasm for health and fitness, fantastic!

But the truth, as we all know, is that around 80% of the newly signed-up members will no longer be attending come March.

And given they are joining at the busiest time of the year, the time spent in the gym is likely to be hampered and far from optimal.

All this achieves is an interruption to the flow and consistency of those who were already members of the facility; a sub-par experience to the new members; and a poorer view of the gym going experience as a whole.

The only people these benefit are the gym owners.

And even then, because this can put off both member camps, whilst it may be a net benefit financially, it is going to lower the quality of the testimonials and quality of results coming from the gym floor.

If a Discount is Possible, Why is it Not the Norm?

This is not a fitness industry only issue. But if a discount can be applied to a membership, why can that lower price not be the price for everyone?

This is a tricky one, because, again, it depends on the reasoning behind the deal.

If the facility is struggling and needs an influx of new members to keep it going, then clearly that influx benefits the existing members (without the newly attracted members, the gym may close).

But the idea that those who have supported the facility are given a poorer deal than new people, feels in very poor taste.

Also, if the deal is simply to capitalise on a trend or a time of year (ie New Year), padding the profits for the facility, but to the detriment of everyone (as outlined above), then this question very much holds.

There could be other reasons, but the one I’m about to outline may be personal to my views and are certainly going to be rare.

The point is, it is worth taking a step back, whenever you see a ‘deal’ or a ‘special offer’ being advertised.

Before jumping on it, be sure to ask yourself what the implications are. What is the motive behind it? And how could this affect others?

A Personal Example

During my 9 years as a gym owner, deals were something I was always uncomfortable with.

There were a few occasions where it felt necessary to do something, as we had perhaps hit a slump in our turnover and we had to build up our income quickly (to pay the bills). Which, as mentioned, is really for the benefit of everyone as, without it, we would have risked closure.

That said, whenever we did take this approach (which was rare) it was on the provision that the ‘deal’ benefited existing members just as much as new ones.

Therefore, it was never a case of simply dropping the price.

Some examples include a tied discount. So if a member introduced someone new to us, both the new person and the existing member received a discount for as long as they both remained with us. This also meant, if 2 people joined together, they could be similarly tied.

We also had situations where for every block of new sign-ups we had (say every 10) we would draw a name out to receive a month of free personal training. However, all members would be included in the draw, not just the new sign-ups.

However, most of our ‘offers’ were done with the benefit of our members (or any new members) in mind.

For example, we may have created a deal that involved group training around December, because we had noticed a marked fall-off in attendance during that time. It’s a busy time for many, so this was to encourage people to try and fit something in rather than saying they will “start again in January”.

We also introduced challenges (12 days of fitmas for example) that involved prizes. Or competition-style challenges with a leaderboard (Prowler Push Challenge) knowing that the ‘workout’ would last less than 2mins.

After the first Covid lockdown, we gifted everyone access to personal training and assessment sessions, because we were concerned too many people had done very little during the lockdown period and it would be dangerous to let everyone jump straight back into their training without reviewing any postural issues that had come up from lack of movement or poor working from home setups (using a computer at the kitchen table being high on that list).

I’d suggest that deals or incentives such as these are in the spirit of the industry. Incentivising the concept of health and fitness for all. Rather than incentivising spending.

There is a huge difference!

And as consumers, it is possible to influence how those within the industry act!

Because, ultimately, the more flashy, profit-focused routes continue to be deployed because, at the moment, they work!

24 Hour Gyms

At first glance, having 24hr access to a gym is a definitive benefit.

The freedom to access at a time that suits you has to be good. Right?

This is another of these value additions that sound good on paper, but with a little additional exploration of the facts, there may be more food for thought than you might think.

Starting with the obvious.

Many people work shift patterns or have family commitments that mean more regular gym opening hours are out of the question.

How true is that though?

Given most gyms will be open, at a minimum, from 7am until 9pm. Commonly it is more like 6am to 10pm and then there are weekend hours.

Most people work within the [working time directive]. Meaning that they cannot work more than 48 hours a week. This can be averaged out over 17 weeks. So yes, in a given week someone can work more, but over time they would catch this time up.

There are certainly exceptions. But this applies to the majority of people.

So, even if those hours are irregular hours. With gyms being open almost double the hours most people work, there are times available to train.

Whether those times are convenient or not, is another matter.

But if 24hr Gyms are Available, Surely the Convenience Should be Utilised?

This returns to the conflict of doing what is easiest or doing what is best.

First, consider what is required of the facility to keep it open 24hrs per day.

The utility costs being the obvious ones.

When a gym is open 24hrs, it is not going to have the same attendance figures at 3am as it does at 6pm. But the same number of lights are required (often more in the summer) and heating requirements are higher during the darkened hours. Even more so due to the reduced body heat.

It is common for there to be little or no staff on at these times. So, now there are security risks.

Access to members who happen to be falling out of a nightclub and looking for somewhere to head to keep the party going is not an uncommon use when there is no staff.

If there are staff, they need to be paid, often at an inflated rate.

Ultimately, it’s a good sales tool to attract those who have put the time issue as a reason for not joining a gym previously. But as we’ve explored already, for many, this roadblock is more a case of it not being a priority than an absolute barrier.

Thus, this can attract those that are not majorly serious about their progression. But who are likely to join and not cancel despite not using the facility.

This is especially true since 24hr access is commonly associated with budget gyms. So, there is little to lose and it’s there for ‘next week’ or ‘next month’ when they are convinced they’ll find the time or the energy.

The 24hr access also acts as a get-out clause for the facility. In that, when members become frustrated at the crowded nature of the gym floor, they can adjust their timetable to gain access at a time when it is not so busy.

It is therefore not uncommon to see the more serious gym goers posting on social media about how they have the gym to themselves. But a glance at the time of posting shows it is 4.45am.

Gym Issues & Frustrations (and why members are to blame)

The issues people have with gyms, on an operational front, tend to be fairly standard from venue to venue.

To list a few of the more common ones (some of which we have already covered):

  • Too busy to access desired equipment.
  • No staff available when needed for advice, review or a spot.
  • Contracts not flexible enough when circumstances change.
  • Seemingly unreasonable charges (ie sign-up fees).
  • All lockers in use. None available.
  • Weights not put back neatly (if at all).
  • Difficult cancellation policy.
  • Long-term contracts.

This list could go on and I’m sure if you are, or have ever been, a gym member, at least some of these will be familiar to you.

Remember, in principle, the fitness industry is there to serve the needs of the public.

So, why are these issues so prevalent throughout?

In truth, a lot of it is down to the public, not the businesses themselves.

Many of the issues, particularly with contracts, are required due to the way a large number of people tend to act when it comes to managing their side of the ‘contract’. So safeguards have to be put in place (see the personal example below).

With regards to the lockers, busy gym floor or unkempt nature of the equipment, where people remain insistent on prioritising price at the point of selecting a gym, this is the trade-off that is expected of you.

Joining a Gym Versus Using a Gym

When you are deciding on whether to join a gym, your choice may be influenced by many factors. But one of the most commonly influential parts of the process is the tour.

A large chain gym is well equipped to show you everything you need and make the resources look plentiful.

When you see hundreds of lockers, it makes you feel you will always have access to one.

When you are walked around a large open space, it makes it feel like there is an endless choice available to you and you’ll never be queuing.

It’s unlikely you’ll be paying attention to whether the dumbells are in order on the rack, the weight plates are stacked correctly or the equipment is where it is supposed to be.

The banks of treadmills, cross-trainers and bikes all look neat. And again, the abundance will make it feel like there is never a struggle.

A browse at the class timetable shows 30-40 options per week. Clearly, you’ll find a few amongst them to suit.

You may be shown machines that specifically work on the areas you are concerned about. For example, you may have told the person showing you around you want to burn fat off your thighs. Rather than explaining issues with spot reduction and how you might go about re-framing your approach for best results, they simply point to the abductor and adductor machines. These have diagrams on them showing that they work the muscles in that area (thus suggesting you will be burning fat from there, which is not the case).

It is only once you join and start using the facility regularly that you realise the details.

Yes, there are hundreds of lockers, but there are thousands of members.

There may be a lot of space, but the space you had planned on using is already being used.

You waste about 20% of your workout trying to find equipment that has been put back in the wrong place.

There may be some treadmills free, despite it being busy, but the first 3 you try are out of order.

That stacked timetable, upon review, only has 5 classes you can actually make. 2 of them are not of any interest to you and the other 3 are fully booked.

Your Membership is a Contract

The fit-out and visuals might be being pushed in that direction by the actions of the members looking for cheap above value. But the long-term contracts, cancellation policies, sign-up fees and so on, are fully in the domain of the managers and owners.

But where you might feel these terms are about maximising profits, that is often likely not the case.

Before looking at a specific example, to showcase this point, it is important to remember that your membership is a contract.

That is to say, it is an agreement between two parties with each side bound to hold up their side of the agreement.

On the gym’s side, they agree to give you access to their facility, use of their equipment and an agreed level of personalised services etc.

On your side, you are agreeing to a pre-determined monthly payment. Possibly a minimum period of commitment. Most likely, to give notice if you intend to cancel beyond this period. And to conduct yourself safely and respectfully whilst on the premises. (ie not causing any malicious damage or making others feel uncomfortable).

The truth, however, is that, whilst most gyms will continuously hold up their side of the agreement (even if it, retrospectively, is not to the quality you had hoped it might be in your mind), a large percentage of members do not hold to their side.

If a significant enough number of members cannot be trusted to hold up their end of the agreement, it forces the business to build in safeguards.

So, rather than including these policies to push up their profits. They are simply protecting themselves from losses.

A Personal Example

When I first opened my gym, I did so intending to undo as many of the headaches and frustrations I had encountered over the years of using other gyms.

To a large extent, this is something I kept to throughout the entirety of our existence.

However, it quickly became apparent that it was not going to be possible to hold to all the differences and remain open.

At first, we handed out access fobs on a trust basis.

Nor did we charge sign-up fees.

I’m not sure if this is true of all gyms, but being a small set-up, we had to use a broker to manage our Direct Debits. This cost a monthly fee, charges to add a new Direct Debit, charges to cancel a direct debit, and charges for any unpaid Direct Debits.

Plus, to make changes and cancellations, we had to put them through with a lead time (set by the broker).

After our 3rd year, it had become clear that when cancelling and around 90% of our fobs were not returned. Plus, around 60% of people did not notify us of the cancellation.

The result being, our projected income was lessened by the unforeseen loss of membership. Plus, we were charged by the broker for the attempted payment, the missed payment and the cancellation.

Plus, the time taken to set up the Direct Debit was not insignificant.

The worst period of this was our 2nd January. Having completed a public transformation journey with 3 competition winners, which resulted in a magazine cover and content, we signed up around 40 new members and PT clients.

They were clearly hyped by what had been achieved. But many wanted the ‘magic bullet’ that would get them there instantly.

At least 60% of the sign-ups took the time to go through analysis, have programmes written out and demonstrated to them and then never turned up again. And at the end of the month, cancelled their Direct Debit (before the first payment came out).

The upshot, after 3 years, was our books showing over £3,000 in missed payments. And around £1,800 in charges we had been caused by these actions.

As a result, we had to introduce something to protect us from these charges.

We added a £20 sign-up fee and a £15 returnable fob deposit.

This didn’t stop people from doing this, but we did receive more of our fobs back. The number of sign-ups dropped slightly, but the percentage of cancellations dropped too (as people were less likely to sign-up unless they were sure they were invested in what we had to offer). And even though some people continued to cancel their Direct Debits without notice, the sting was lessened a little.

It is unfortunate that this then affected everyone. But it hopefully makes it more understandable why some facilities have these fail-safes in place.

Businesses Respond to Market Forces

It is certainly true that a large proportion of the fitness industry is more interested in profit than optimising improvements in people’s lives. But ultimately they will only be profitable if the public allows them to be.

So long as members are willing to put up with the systems and methods in place, gyms will continue to follow this path.

And so long as people continue to default on their side of the contract, you cannot expect businesses to ignore that and take no action to protect themselves.

The only way the services and facilities are likely to change is if a considerable proportion of their audience starts making more informed choices.

By being more selective and seeking out services that truly suit your requirements, rather than taking the easy route and following the crowd, will force the industry to adapt.

When Should I Join a Gym?

Given all the issues raised, it may look like this article is suggesting you avoid gyms completely.

Far from it!

As outlined in the advantages section, there are many reasons why joining a gym could be one of the greatest investments in yourself you will ever make.

The issues that tend to arise when joining a gym is something that is done with little thought.

Too often it is seen as the solution to all your problems.

The pattern generally goes something like this:

“I need to <insert something you don’t like about yourself>”

Typically this will be something generic, like “lose weight”. But it can be anything that creates an emotional reaction within you.

“I need to <insert an action you need to take to change this thing>”

In the loose weight example, it is likely going to be “go on a diet” or “exercise more”. Though, commonly it will be both.

“I can’t because <insert restriction>”

Here you find [excuses] that have stopped you until this point.

  • You don’t have time.
  • You don’t have the right equipment.
  • You don’t know what to do.
  • You don’t have space at home.
  • You’re not disciplined enough.

The list goes on.

Eventually, you decide enough is enough and you are going to do something.

And the thing that is pre-programmed in your mind as something people do when they want to change a physical element about themselves is, they join a gym.

If you know someone who goes to a gym, you ask them about it.

Then you go see it.

And then you join.

Or, you look for the most convenient ones (near work or home). And then join the cheapest one that is easy to get to.

Do You Have a Long-Term Fitness Plan?

None of the thoughts or decisions listed has any thought as to what your plan is for utilising the gym once you have joined.

You may feel that will all be sorted out for you by the fitness instructors who work there. But we have already covered why that is a poor assumption.

Perhaps you think you will simply join in with the classes, or you’ll get a programme and do that as you need to start somewhere.

As we’ll see in a moment, there is some truth in that. It’s often better to do something than continue to find excuses to avoid doing anything.

But if you have no idea what you want from the gym you are joining, how can you make an informed decision as to which gym to join?

Or, for that matter, is joining a gym is the correct solution?

Without evaluating what you need, you can’t possibly know if you should join a gym. And if so, which one?

What Should You Do Before Joining a Gym?

Take time to reflect.

Once the “need” to do something hits, taking time to do anything other than getting on with it can feel like lost time.

“Measure twice cut once”

Taking a small amount of time to truly reflect on what you hope to be your destination and the optimal route to getting there is going to save a lot of time and frustration later on.

It is of crucial importance to work out what it is you truly want to achieve.

This involves being positive.

Rather than [lose weight fast], a positive version would be to, “become healthy, lean and agile”.

Everyone is a unique being, with individual feelings and emotions. And each person’s circumstances will be unique. Therefore, there is no one size fits all answer to what this is.

You must find it yourself.

If, however, you are struggling to do this, then perhaps this is your issue.

And as we will explore, when we come to the alternatives to joining a gym, if your initial goal is to “define your goal”, working with a Coach may be a path worth exploring.

However, once you have set out a clear target for yourself, the next stage is to define the obstacles in your way.

The key element here is to be truthful with yourself.

You may have convinced yourself you can’t train at home because you don’t have the right equipment. But if the truth is, you won’t train at home because exercise is uncomfortable. If you are going to continue to find reasons to put off training. Then adding the ‘excuse’ that you don’t have time to travel; it’s too cold to leave the house, or any other reason means that membership is going to be a waste.

It is also key to sequence your priorities.

The next common issue to long-term progress is dealing with obstacles in the wrong order.

It is usual for this to happen due to implied urgency.

The ‘need’ (there’s that word again) to get there fast.

You may want to [lose weight fast]. And so you may feel endless cardio is the way to go. Or HIIT style training.

Essentially, there is a belief that the harder you push yourself, the greater and faster the results.

No pain, no gain!

However, if your posture is poor; your body is in imbalance, or your mobility is lacking. Pushing yourself through repetitive cardiovascular based movements is only going to cause injuries and setbacks.

Sometimes, no pain is simply no pain.

And if working on your mobility is, therefore, the key element to move you forward, then this is going to inform your choices.

Perhaps you’d be better in a yoga studio. Possibly the gym is ideal, but you need one with space and appropriate equipment (and possibly expertise) to help you progress. Or, maybe you can work on this at home and focus solely on these elements, combined with building discipline for regular, habitual, training.

Again, we will look into the options in more detail shortly. But the key takeaway is to ensure you have put some serious thought into what is important before rushing to take out a membership.

However, what this advice is not here to do is give you a license to procrastinate.

I Need to Lose Weight Before I Join a Gym

At surface level, and to a logical mind, this is an incredible statement to make.

Yet, it is amazing how often this excuse gets rolled out.

Setting everything else we have discussed aside for one moment. If a gym is a place to go to exercise and improve your health, fitness and body composition. The idea that you have to do the work that you are joining for before you join, is very twisted logic.

What this is usually subtext for is, “I feel intimidated” or “I’m embarrassed” to join a gym.

This is where being honest with yourself is important.

Often this does not rule out joining a gym. It simply means it is of greater importance you select the correct gym (if such a facility is available in close enough proximity to be viable).

But it could also mean you need to work on something else first.

Perhaps, on review, you conclude that some of your basic daily habits are of a bigger priority.

Possibly drink very little water. Only sugar-laden drinks.

It could be poor sleeping habits that must be addressed first. Late nights combined with snacking are your biggest hurdle.

Perhaps you simply need to spend time educating yourself on improved nutritional choices.

Again, as it is my area, working with a Coach to review your mental blockages, help build confidence and an actionable plan, could be a strong starting point.

What is key here is that you don’t deflect from a problem you are uncomfortable admitting exists.

Ignoring it is not going to make it go away.

Joining a Gym for the First Time

The very idea of walking onto a gym floor, when you have never done it before, can be daunting for anyone.

Most people have a picture in their mind that either looks like the sweatbox full of chiselled hulks, as in Pumping Iron (with Arnold Schwarzenegger).

Or it may be more the impression of the Globogym, from Dodgeball, where everyone is fit, superficial and mediocre is seen as freakish.

There is also the feeling that everyone else knows what they are doing. And it’s easily justifiable because everyone there has been there longer than you (even if some of them have only been there 20mins longer).

Even if this isn’t your first gym, just a new one, it can still cause a feeling of trepidation. And it’s likely to take a while to get used to where things are, find a flow that works for you and build a feeling of familiarity.

But there are a few things worth bearing in mind when joining a gym for the first time.

Arm Yourself with a Purpose

As we’ve already discussed, it is worth having a concrete idea of why you are looking to join a gym in the first place.

What is it you are looking to achieve? And what steps are required to move you forward efficiently?

Then, with this in mind, you can begin your search for a facility that is best equipped to start you on your journey.

Remember, you don’t have to stay with one gym for eternity (though some of their cancellation policies and practices may make it feel that way). What you are looking for is a facility that will provide you with what you need for the next step on your journey.

For example, if your ultimate goal is to burn off fat, become lean, athletic and agile. You find a gym with high tech cardio equipment, a range of Bootcamp style classes and a weights area that looks ideal for training the person you hope to become. It is easy to be seduced by that and want to join instantly.

However, if you took your time reviewing your projected journey, you might realise there is foundational work to be done.

It could be that you need to improve your posture; strengthen your core; your mobility is appalling. And if you don’t address these points first, you are likely to injure yourself or stifle your progress.

If the shiny gym you have discovered doesn’t allow space, advice or equipment that will help progress these foundational issues, you are setting yourself up for failure.

You will become frustrated at not being able to move these parts forward. Or, more likely, you’ll start following what others are doing and skip the foundational parts.

Either way, the lack of long-term progress or habitual injuries, will cause you to lose your drive and you’ll just stop going.

So, find the facility that will best serve your NEXT need.

Once you have moved on from that to a new phase of improvement, if in doing so, you have outgrown the gym you started with, you can always move to the shiny, high-tech one later.

How Important is a Gym’s Location?

As with most things fitness related, when choosing your gym, the importance of proximity is one of balance.

You could be extremely lucky. The gym that is perfect for your needs could be 2mins from your front door. Or you may pass it every day on your way home from work.

However, it could also be true that the gym that best serves has you travelling past 4 others to reach it.

The decision to stick to the plan and prioritise what is important, rather than just doing ‘something’ for the sake of it, is key here.

By ignoring the value of the gym and going for the closest one, what you are effectively saying to yourself is, you are only willing to give this goal the minimum possible effort.

Is that really how you want to begin your fitness journey?

That said, if there are no suitable gyms within a reasonable travel distance, then what do you do?

This is where the balancing act comes in.

What seems unreasonable may simply be that same question of priority. If you have to travel an hour to reach your ideal venue, is that too much? What about two hours?

The truth is if you have done the groundwork in understanding what you want to achieve. Why you want to achieve it. Taken stock of where that goal sits among your current priorities. This becomes a much easier question to answer.

Once the travel distance becomes so demanding of your time it interferes with anything higher on your priority list, it is no longer viable.

The additional stress and disruption caused are counterproductive to progress.

If that leaves you with no viable options, then so be it.

Don’t be tempted to join somewhere closer if you had already ruled it out.

Look at some of the alternatives to joining a gym (below). Or look to reduce the demands that occupy your higher priorities to give you the time available to travel to the gym that will serve you best.

How Often Should I Go to the Gym?

A common question for those new to the gym is, “How often should I go?”. Or the alternative of [“How long should I workout for?”].

The linked article above covers this in more detail. But the key point to keep in mind is that it doesn’t matter what is technically optimal. It matters more the effect that training pattern will have on other parts of your life.

Returning to the example of the gym that is too far away. If it is too far away for you to go every day, but you could go twice or three times per week and do a little more each time, that would be a useful tradeoff.

It is still better to go to a suitable venue less frequently than to attend a place that will cause frustration more often.

With that ‘more often’ being an ideal that is unlikely to stick if the facility is not working for you.

However, all things being equal, the more frequently you can attend, the better.

Just remember that frequency and intensity should be inversely proportional.

If you can attend more frequently, either lower the intensity level or the training duration for each session. But because you can fully recover more frequently, it will allow for greater overall output (again, providing you have selected the appropriate facility).

Have a Plan from Day One

This can be tricky.

As we’ve already discussed, the quality of advice (and introductory training plans) may not be ideal. But if you did your prep work well, you should be clear on what you intend to be working on.

And if part of your plan involved finding a venue with suitable assistance, you should be confident in the guidance you receive.

However, whether you researched and developed your plan, or you have received a training plan from someone else, there is still a potential hurdle.

We have already discussed how most gym models result in busy training areas.

Again, if you have done your initial part in researching options, you have hopefully minimised this issue.

That said, it only takes one other person on the premises to potentially block you from executing your plan.

So, whilst having a plan is better than walking in and winging it. It is important to remain flexible in your approach.

[Is Your Training Plan Fluid or Rigid?]

As in the article linked above, this can mean fluidity based on how you feel that day. If you are feeling lethargic and your performance level is down, it is OK to fail earlier than usual.

The important thing is to get the metrics right.

But as a novice gym-goer, adapting on the fly in a way that is fully in keeping with your plan might be beyond your scope.

Therefore, it is important to have an understanding of, not just what you are going to do, but why you are doing it.

Is there a reason why the sequence is important?

For example, you may be looking to work on your upper back muscles for postural reasons. But you may wish to ensure they are not fatigued before, say, a deadlifting focused part of your programme.

That said, it may be that the upper back exercises have been programmed prior to a deadlift to ensure a mind-muscle connection is in place to work on improved form and technique.

In either case, switching the sequence could damage the intent of the training session.

It could be that the goal of a session was to work on imbalances in your body. If that is the case, substituting a Cable Split Squat for a Romanian Deadlift, because they both work the posterior chain, is not a useful substitution.

If you do not want to further your understanding, but rather just want to know what to do, you may have to hire an experienced Personal Trainer.

If you feel you need to develop this understanding but your priorities don’t allow for sufficient research and understanding in your diary, you should look to hire an experienced Coach (who should be able to help with much more than just this).

The key is to have reasonable expectations. Know what your plan is. But be willing and able to adapt, so that the slightest upset doesn’t have you walking away deflated. Or worse, injured.

At What Age Should I Join a Gym?

Though this is a topic a little outside the subject of this article, it is a fairly common question. So, to ensure this remains a comprehensive resource, let’s briefly address it.

Many gyms will have restrictions on the age of their members. In most cases, these restrictions will have been enforced by their insurance company.

Similarly, most Personal Trainers are limited to training over 18-year-olds as there are additional checks and often qualifications required to allow them to work with a minor.

The PT course curriculum covers some very basic information on the difference in training children to adults but then states they should refer them to an expert for anything other than surface-level advice.

Most commonly a gym will restrict access to under 18s or, in some cases, under 16s.

Some venues will have specific days or sections of their facility for children over 14 years old.

But assuming there are no restrictions, the question is more a case of, at what age should a child start training?

For that, kids are usually exercising heavily from the moment they can walk.

They never seem to stop moving.

Often their fixed position for play is in a deep squat.

So, in truth, there are no restrictions on age other than their willingness and desire to take part.

But what about resistance training?

When is it OK for a Child to Lift Weights?

This is more the question that is being asked when it comes to children training.

Whilst, for many years, it was suggested that resistance or load-bearing exercises would be detrimental to a child’s growth. This has not been researched and debunked.

So, in short, there is no reason, from a growth perspective, for a child not to lift weights or carry out any other form of resistance training.

The risk is then one of focus and discipline.

Lack of focus or respect for the risks involved can be harmful at any age. But, indeed, attention spans in younger children is often limited.

Similarly, at a very young age, coordination is still lacking and day to day cuts and scrapes are commonplace.

So, the ideal age for a child to start lifting weights is a combination of when they feel compelled to do so, their coordination is well enough developed, and their focus and respect for the risks are at a high enough level.

All that said, they are still children, so it will remain the responsibility of their parent or guardian to assess the risks involved.

What Age is Too Old to Start Training?

Never!

That’s the short answer.

But, again, it comes with caveats.

Someone later in their years cannot begin training similarly to someone in their twenties.

That may be obvious. But it is also the case that someone beginning their fitness journey in their 50s should not be training as someone else in their 50s who has 30 years experience.

There is no denying that, from around 40, the fight against injury, aches, pains and degradation, begins to increase.

So, as with young children, caution should be employed more readily as your body racks up mileage.

That said, this is not an excuse to do nothing.

If you truly want to make a positive change, it can be done at any age. Just keep in mind that, where children, teenagers and twenty to thirty-year-olds can often get away with poor technique, limited planning and ego-fueled training. The further from that zone you get, the quicker such practices will catch up with you.

Therefore, taking expert advice can become necessary for optimal progress.

Is it Worth Joining a Gym?

Given the extent of everything laid out above, you may be asking yourself if it is worth the hassle to join a gym.

In truth, only you can answer that.

What is true is, joining a gym, most likely, is the only route open to you that will give you access to such a large range of high-quality equipment.

It gives you a venue to go to that is specifically to work out. Thus, by going there, you are more likely to be focused on your training than either procrastinating or being distracted by other pressing issues, such as work.

Providing you have taken the time to assess whether a gym is a necessary component in moving you forwards in your fitness journey. You have done your due diligence in reviewing the gyms available to you. And you are sure the one you have selected is going to meet your immediate needs for long-term progress. Then absolutely, a gym is an amazing investment.

If, however, your primary concern is the cost. You are unwilling to travel. Or you have been cajoled into joining by someone else. The chances are this will be a waste of your time and money (even if it is very little due to going the budget route).

Anything that is going to add frustration or stress is a poor investment.

There are already too many gym members who spend their days complaining about the crowds; the crowded changing rooms; the broken machines; the overbooked classes; or the fact that they have been going for months, or even years, and haven’t improved.

If you are one of those people, realise that you are to blame.

If you complain, but continue to pay, the business model won’t change.

If you are willing to stop supporting a facility that is providing a value-driven service in order to save a few bucks, you are exacerbating the problem.

The industry, as a whole, will only adapt when the consumers, in large numbers, begin to prioritise value over cost. And whilst that may mean seeking alternatives or paying more than the industry has led you to believe is the ‘going rate’, these changes are in your hands.

Where the decision to make changes should be emotional and resonate. Financial and logistical decisions should have as little emotion attached to them as possible.

Something that is not easy to do. But having the awareness this content has, hopefully, provided you with should help.

Alternatives to Joining a Gym

With everything outlined, it may be that you have concluded that a gym membership is not the ideal next step after all.

Or, it could be that a gym membership is a useful part of the equation, but it doesn’t, on its own, resolve your issues.

But if all you know is, you want to make a change and instantly default to the idea of a gym membership, because that’s what people do. It is worth reviewing some alternatives to see if there is a better or complementary option available to you.

Personal Training

This is the other common go-to option. Many of the issues remain the same because PTs often hire space or are employed by the gyms we are discussing.

On the plus side though, they will mostly be better versed at navigating obstacles caused by crowds. Though, no level of experience can overcome the obstacles created by a gym floor at saturation point.

As with joining a gym, the very act of hiring a PT is often seen as the magic bullet to success. And similar to the gym membership option, this can very quickly lead to disappointment and frustration.

There are certainly benefits to hiring a PT.

Though, as with selecting a gym, doing the prep-work prior to selecting a Personal Trainer to work with is crucial. Perhaps more so given the increased level of investment.

However, if you need someone to hold your hand and guide you confidently through your workouts; make structured plans for your progress; check your form; cue you properly; and importantly, keep you safe, then finding the right Personal Trainer could be the ideal investment.

If this is something you feel you might consider, have a read at this [When Not to Hire a Personal Trainer] before going any further.

Coaching

Given this is my area of primary focus, we may as well cover this early on the list.

Having worked, extensively, as both a Personal Trainer and a Gym Owner (as well as teaching classes and the like), I have consistently returned to the same conclusion.

True Coaching is the key that too many overlook.

Feeling that there is limited enough time to focus on health and fitness (or anything that is not at the whim of others). The idea of spending time talking, analysing and planning can cause an instant reaction of aversion.

It’s not burning calories. It’s not building muscle.

Therefore, there is a gut feeling that it is wasting time.

Think of it this way. If you had to travel somewhere you have never been before (and let’s assume, for this analogy, Sat Navs don’t exist). Likely the first thing you would do is plan your route.

You’d get out a map and you’d work out where you are going.

But one route may be full of low bridges and you are driving a lorry. One may be dangerous and extremely risky. One could be prone to accidents, roadworks or congestion.

You get the idea.

It would make sense to speak to a guide, who could discuss the options with you. Help discuss the balance of speed, fuel economy, scenery, stop off points etc.

And if you got lost, then having that guide to contact for directions back onto your main path would be useful.

It may slow you down at the start, but it will get you there quicker and with fewer headaches.

That is what true coaching is in a nutshell. A guide to help you make decisions that benefit the journey, not the instant gratification part of your responses.

In this context, a Coach could be someone you work with alongside your gym membership. But it could be someone who helps you make the most of a tight daily schedule that does not allow for regular gym visits.

Whether the immediate goal is to overcome the intimidation factor; clarify your true goals; navigate obstacles; understand the sequencing required to reach your target; review your posture and imbalances and understand their impact on your progress (and potential for injury or stagnation); or simply develop clarity in any aspect of your journey. Then an experienced Coach can be helpful.

What is the difference between a Coach and a Personal Trainer?

This is an understandable question.

A high-quality Personal Trainer should be involving coaching in their service. And a high-level fitness Coach should be experienced in Personal Training.

The nuanced differences could take up an article of their own (which I may produce in the future).

But for the sake of a quick clarification. If we return to the analogy of the trip (above). A Personal Trainer may be seen more as someone who ensures you are driving smoothly and with focus. That you are optimising your speed. And for, maybe, 1 out of 50 miles, jumps in the car with you to check you are still going the right way (during which time, they’ll tell you to take a left here; be careful as there is a speed bump around the corner etc).

OK, it’s not a great analogy. But it hopefully paints a picture.

The focus, as the name suggests, is more on the Training side of things than the planning.

There is a common approach within PTs to feel that the client is at fault if things are not going well. Because their system works. Unable to understand that the system simply isn’t suitable for the person in front of them.

Where Personal Training is about maximising the output from the client (and with good PTs that includes outwith the session). Coaching is about discovering the most favourable journey for their client. Working with them to maximise their potential in general, not just in the gym.

To put it another way, Personal Training is often about making changes from the outside in (improving how you look in order to feel better about yourself).

Whereas Coaching is about changing from the inside out (changing how you feel, to improve how you act, which ultimately leads to an external expression of that change in how you look).

This is something we can return to in future content.

For now though, if Coaching is something you might be interested in. Or if you have further questions. Have a look at my [Coaching Page] and feel free to get in touch.

Yoga

When looking at the important foundational elements to address, it is rare that posture, mobility and general imbalances are completely absent and can be skipped over.

Whilst having these elements reviewed and analysed by an expert would be the ideal solution. Yoga classes can be a cost-effective route to long-term consistency in addressing these elements.

Although the focus is not primarily on these things, in an analytical sense. There is no denying that a well-structured Yoga class will develop improved mobility, body awareness and stabilisation. This will, undoubtedly, lead to improved posture. Plus, it will organically address some elements of imbalance.

Not only that, but the focus on breathing can be highly beneficial to improve hormonal function. This alone can be a huge stumbling block when it comes to burning off stubborn fat stores.

Keep in mind there is an array of Yoga forms. Ashtanga, Hatha, Aerial, Hot Yoga are just a few of the commonly known options. There is even Stand-Up Paddleboard Yoga if you want to be adventurous.

As with everything we’ve reviewed so far though. The important thing is to understand what your objectives are. What is important to you. And do your due diligence.

Just because it has the word Yoga in the name of the activity, doesn’t make them all alike.

Physiotherapy

Knowing that the issues that impede progress for many come from imbalances and posture, it may be prudent to contact a physiotherapist, a sports therapist or a movement specialist before even considering a gym membership.

Where this could be highly beneficial is when the physio can transfer their diagnosis to your Personal Trainer or Coach (if that was on your solution path). It creates a useful flow of information that is very focused on you, bringing multiple expert opinions together for an improved solution (rather than conflicting opinions that leave you even more confused).

This could also be something you leave until later in your journey. As it may be possible to address these issues by other means.

But if pain or restricted movement is extremely high on your priority list to be addressed. This is certainly a worthy investment.

Walking, Running, Swimming, Cycling etc

These are very different disciplines. But they are grouped here for both brevity and because many people see these as somewhat interchangeable.

They are all forms of cardiovascular activity. And as such, they are often dipped into routes to weight loss simply based on the availability of venues, or personal preference.

Although these are legitimate alternatives to gym memberships, if you planned to run on a treadmill or use a stationary bike etc. (The view is likely better. As is the air quality). This is likely to be only part of the equation of a truly balanced approach.

Getting outside to do something that requires little thought, but gets the blood circulating, is not only good for your heart and lungs, it can be a great way of destressing. Often the escape from the daily stressors can be useful in sparking creativity, problem-solving or just helping to relax.

The downside comes from the repetitive and time-consuming nature of these activities.

To continually progress, the challenge to your body must continually increase. The only way to do this, with these exercises, is to add intensity or increase distance (or a combination of both).

This isn’t easy if you are already short on time available.

Plus, as the movements are repetitive, you tend to train your body to become good at those movements alone. Leaving you open to imbalances, injuries and long-term joint pain.

For example, walking and running both foci on the muscles that propel you forward. Therefore the muscles that allow for lateral movement tend to be neglected. Plus, as the upper body is not being particularly challenged, there is no reason for your system to strengthen anything there either.

So, whilst these are certainly useful and could be a solid starting point if your immediate issue is lack of activity. A more rounded approach to training would generally be advisable.

Sports

The best exercise is the one you will actually do!

It’s all very well working out what is best on paper. Ensuring you have the optimal solution. But if you don’t follow through, it doesn’t matter how good the plan is, you won’t see any improvement.

Many people find participating in a sport to feel more enjoyable than training in a gym. And if that is something that brings joy and consistency, then it becomes the better option.

Whilst many sports add a little more diversity to the movement patterns involved than the standard cardiovascular exercises listed above (walking, running etc). The movements are still limited to the restraints of the sport.

Add to that the need, often, for sudden changes in direction and some cases, contact with other players. Suddenly injury can become a greater concern.

However, if the now necessary inclusion of weak point training, postural correction, imbalance correction, and so on, become a route to improving your prowess at a sport you very much enjoy. That alone can improve adherence and reduce the feeling that it is a chore.

Dance Classes

Similar to sports, if there is joy associated with the activity, you are more likely to commit and be consistent with it.

The ability to increase intensity is fairly limited though. So, there is likely to be a ceiling as to how much physical progress can be made from this activity alone.

That said, as with sports, improved physicality will allow more freedom of movement and options. So working on your mobility, posture and strength could then become inspired by your desire to improve your dancing prowess.

Anything that gets you moving more is always beneficial. And anything that inspires a desire to improve will remove the feeling of it being a chore. Thus, adherence becomes a choice rather than a struggle.

Home Training

This is the obvious alternative for many. And often it is seen as the option that must be taken when the frustration of the crowds reaches saturation.

The most common issue here is that the idea of home training can be far from reality.

When training is done in the house or flat itself, it is instantly intruding on the day to day living.

For someone who lives on their own, that is going to be easier. But if it is a family home, then problems can begin to surface.

Possibly a room or space can be dedicated to the cause. If not, it will likely involve setting up and tidying away equipment each time. Which can quickly make it something that gets put off or avoided.

Using a garage, a basement or garden area (usually covered or purpose-built) can be a much better solution.

It causes you to leave the living area of the house. Thus, separating yourself from other activities. This is more likely to allow you to focus on your training, without distraction.

However, the fact that you have to leave (often in the rain or cold), combined with the convenience of the location, can often lead to the “later” or “tomorrow” trap.

Depending on the foundational goals ahead of you, however, there may be little or no equipment required. In which case, keeping a clear, dedicated space that can be used may be ideal.

If you do need something more structured, just be sure to have a realistic and honest view of how you will utilise your set-up.

The number of exercise bikes, treadmills, benches and the like that become glorified clothes racks is extremely high. And this is a testament to the concept that the idea has proven different from reality.

The elements that often keep home workouts consistent is accountability.

I have found that coaching clients have been able to remain consistent with home training because they know someone is checking in on them. But this is often true when couples or housemates decide to train from home (providing one was not pushed into it by the other).

Home training can work. But it is important to be realistic about your commitment and the logistics.

A Bite-Size Approach

When the issue of joining a gym is the time commitment, often this is an issue with most other alternatives.

But it should never be an all or nothing situation.

Although it may not feel like it, in anyone’s waking hours, there are always opportunities for small disruptions to the day.

The reason it may not feel like it goes back to your current values and priorities.

No matter how much work you have on, you’ll stop to go to the toilet if it is necessary. If the roof started leaking, you wouldn’t just sit under the leak. These interruptions may feel stressful if you are up against it.

Studies have shown that it is impossible to be productive beyond 55hrs per week.

You can work longer, but the productivity and focus become so poor that the output is no greater.

And obviously, the better your health and well-being, the greater your productivity (not to mention your immune system, shielding from injury and other distractions) are likely to be.

So, when taking hours out of your day for travel, or even an hour for a full-on workout (plus the change of clothes, showers and the like) are too intrusive. If you know what your highest priority elements to work on are. You can look to work on them in bite-size chunks.

This could involve desk stretches, morning mobility routines, stair runs, short, but frequent, walks; some adductor engagement whilst boiling a kettle; squats in the shower. The list is endless.

The important thing is, the less time you can devote to self-improvement, the better your prep and understanding of what is needed and will best serve you has to be.

If you can spend 2-3hrs per day in the gym, you can aim to cover all your bases. That scatter-gun approach means your likelihood of doing the right thing increases.

If you are severely limited in your shots at the target, you need to take your time planning to ensure every shot counts.

Meditation, Mindfulness, Breathing

The simple things are often the most overlooked.

We all breath pretty much all the time, right? But you’d be amazed how often people get confused by breathing when asked to focus on it.

And when it comes to exercise, breathing is hugely important.

It is also a large component of physical change and hormonal balance.

Stress is such a huge factor in blocking fat loss progress. When muscular development or even maintenance can be heavily influenced by it too.

Just taking a minute to breathe can often make a huge difference to your feeling of well-being.

Mindfulness or full-on meditation sessions can be extremely useful in practising controlling your sense of being and ensuring you are breathing correctly.

Though even just taking a little time daily (as in with the bite-size approach, above) to employ some breathing techniques, may be more beneficial than adding further stress to your life (such as joining a gym, when you already feel overwhelmed).

Books, Magazines, Videos, Podcasts etc

This one has been added with some reluctance.

Taking the time to expand your knowledge on the subject of health and fitness can be extremely beneficial.

The reason for the reluctance is, this can often be a route to perpetual procrastination.

Reading books and magazines, watching videos and listening to podcasts for years on end, without ever implementing anything, can be a useful way of tricking yourself into believing you are taking positive steps.

So, using these as your starting point, when trying to structure your approach going forward, is a valid alternative to joining a gym. But if this continues to be all you have done after a couple of months, you are kidding yourself and need to re-assess your priorities.

Martial Arts

This has been separated from sports because it is more of an all-encompassing discipline.

It is a craft that teaches a beneficial skill. But it also has a goal of preventing injury.

This means the training (if done well) will involve a balanced approach between posture, balance, strength and movement. Imbalances will be highlighted and, hopefully, worked on.

On the negative side, it can involve being thrown around, hit and involves close contact with others.

That’s not for everyone and should not be taken on simply for the health benefits. But if it is something you feel attracted to, this is certainly an option.

Keeping in mind that, whilst this is an alternative to a gym membership. They could compliment each other (just as in sports).

Gardening / DIY

As with sports, doing anything active, that you find enjoyable, can add benefit to your health, physicality and well-being.

The main issue with these forms of activity, if relied upon for the majority of your physical exercise, is the lack of focus.

The activity in front of you is likely to be taking up your attention. The result being, your body will do what comes naturally to it.

This is a common route to amplifying imbalances. Causing long-term injury or pain. And so it is not ideal to simply feel you are getting exercise from these routes.

That said if the prep work has been done to highlight imbalances, structural and postural weaknesses etc. Then these could be kept in mind whilst carrying out these activities.

Then, by changing your posture, position, or emphasis on certain muscles, improvements are possible.

Playing

This might sound a bit weird, but there is a reason why children are, for the most part, comparatively lean and healthy.

They are always on the go.

For anyone in their 40s or over, if you have not yet used the phrase, “I wish I had their energy” when in the company of children, then you are in the minority.

Kids don’t like monotony.

Then again, neither do adults, they just accept it more easily.

But if you want to burn calories and use your body in unique ways that cause it to develop improved coordination and wake up unused muscles, have a go on a bouncy castle; play tig on the beach; play hide and seek, hopscotch or any other children’s game.

The point is, if you are having fun, the exercise part isn’t noticeable (until you collapse after you are finished).

But, as with all these options, when you stop seeing it as a chore and start seeing the process as enjoyable, everything becomes easier.

A Word on Diets

It may be noticeable that one of the options given as an alternative is not to focus on your diet.

The reason is not that diet and nutrition lack importance. But rather, diet alone as a route to improvement is rarely ideal.

That’s not to say there are not elements of nutrition that could be important in your foundational choices.

For example, if your water intake is poor, that is something that should be immediately on your priority list. Something that you should certainly look to resolve before putting time and effort into a gym membership.

But in the end, food is fuel for survival and activity.

The type of activity you engage in determines how you should, ideally, be fuelling yourself.

Therefore, diet should be seen as complementary to exercise, not as an alternative.

[If you would like more information on Diet & Nutrition, head over to the portal on that subject for more content that may be of interest.]

Should I Join a Gym?

Despite the depth of content outlined here, the intention is not to put anyone off joining a gym. Nor is it to push anyone towards doing it.

Its purpose is to encourage anyone considering joining a gym, moving gyms or even looking at cancelling their membership and giving up, to take time to reflect.

As with any service or facility, a gym is nothing more than a tool. In this case its intention is to assist your progress.

So, if you are not clear on where you want to progress to and what obstacles you need help with, then it becomes a lottery as to whether you stumble across the right path and tools to get you there.

The question always comes back to you:

Why do you want to join a gym?

What do you hope to achieve?

What do obstacles are first on the priority list for optimal long-term progress?

What are you willing to do?

What other priorities are higher on your list?

How much time will this leave you?

How enthusiastic are you about making the changes you claim to want?

These are the types of questions you must ask yourself.

Only then, once you understand what is driving you and what your limitations and obstacles are, can you make truly informed decisions.

And if that decision leads to a gym membership, it could be one of the greatest investments you ever make.

But by rushing to that decision without really knowing why, the fallout from the bad experience could be a bigger setback than never joining at all.

Your body and your health are your greatest asset.

Invest in it wisely.

The Pros & Cons of Joining a Gym | The Gym Paradox by Coach Mark Tiffney
The Gym Paradox
by Mark Tiffney

Hopefully, this information is of use.

If you have any thoughts, questions or personal experiences you’d like to share, feel free to comment below or get in touch with me directly.

We all have the power to create change. Whether in ourselves or the services provided to us. It’s just a matter of believing we are worth the effort.

And if you wonder if that is the case, know this …

You are!

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