You know those girls who frequent the gym in cute spandex outfits, striding on the elliptical machine while reading Self magazine and sipping Diet Coke? What a ridiculous sight. I’d never be caught dead doing that, except when I did exactly that every day for eight years. (Self magazine had the new secret to obtaining honed abs, and Diet Coke is delicious, okay?)
Yes, I will admit it. I was a gym junkie. Every day, I would drive on over to our local airplane hangar-sized gym, beep in with my VIP membership card, nod at the desk employee whose tank top was as tiny as his muscles were huge, and hop on one of the 500 elliptical machines available. They even had a cardio cinema room that played movies on a huge projector while people worked out. It only took one trip into that stinky sweatbox before I realized I didn’t really feel like playing the “how many people didn’t wear deodorant today?” game while working out.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved the gym for the consistency it provided in my morning. It was nice to know I could take a break and work out some stress while in a comfortably air-conditioned room, drinking a delicious beverage. And I don’t mean to gang up on gyms, because they’re a worthwhile solution for a lot of people who may live in extreme climates or big cities where it isn’t safe to workout outdoors. But when I cut my own gym membership card in half and said farewell, my life changed in the best way.
Gyms can be pretty expensive. Granted, there are some reasonably priced alternatives, but if you need childcare or a personal trainer, the costs can add up quickly. You also have to compete with crowds of people during the busy times — forget about snagging your favorite machine when the guy in the uncomfortably short shorts claims it first. And the time it takes to drive to and from the gym can be a sacrifice in its own right.
When TJ and I got married, we were DINKs (dual-income, no kids), so I was able to splurge on a gym membership without much of a fight. We lived in a very expensive area of California and spent roughly $50 each month on a tiny gym a mile away from us. It had huge mirrors on every wall, so I was treated to a lovely vision of myself red-faced and sweating for an hour next to the dozens of other people crammed next to me. It was such a habit for me to go to a gym, I didn’t even realize how unhappy I was until I signed up for my first race, the San Francisco Half Marathon.
My gym was so busy, there were strict time limits on each of the cardio machines, which meant I needed to complete my longer training runs outside. I still remember taking my first few steps on the path around the lake near our apartment. The sights, the sounds, the people! All I can say is running out in the fresh air transformed me. I had music in my ears, the wind on my face, my gross reflection not staring back at me. It was heaven! I came home euphoric.
The race itself was so much fun. San Francisco is a beautiful city, and the course took us through Golden Gate Park, Postcard Row, Fisherman’s Wharf, all the classic sights you’d expect to see while in the Bay Area. I knew after that race I never wanted to go back to the gym if I could help it. I couldn’t believe I had paid so much money to be so miserable! And the best part about running outside? Mother Nature doesn’t charge a penny.
Since then, I haven’t looked back. While I do occasionally hit up our community center to join in on a hardcore group workout session, I love my daily runs and consider them my therapy. The sunsets and sunrises, reflections of the mountains on the lake, birds singing, stars twinkling — none of that can be appreciated while stuck in a gym next to a guy who ate Indian food the night before. I even run with my kids in a jogging stroller a couple days each week, and they love to stop and feed the ducks or play at the playground near the end of my route. And TJ certainly doesn’t complain about the extra cash in our bank account each month. All in all, it’s a win for everyone.
Maybe if I were more focused on weight-lifting instead of cardio, I’d be singing a different tune. But hey, if Rocky can train against the Russian by throwing boulders into a wheelbarrow and bench-pressing logs, I can too, right?
Do you think gyms are worth it, or are the outdoors the way to go?