For a frugal workout, skip the gym membership

Working out at home is a better deal, and just as effective

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/File
Members of Gold's Gym work out on treadmills. The author argues that there isn't much to do at a gym that you can't do at home, without the membership fee.

Let’s face it: if you live in a small town, your gym options are limited (at best). Even if you live in a city, going to a gym can be expensive if you’re trying to get into shape.

The question I always ask is why go to a gym? What does going to a gym offer than home exercise does not? Here are some of the issues I worked through before deciding to give up my gym membership and exercise at home.

Equipment Aside from a small number of weights, I found that I was rarely using any of the equipment at the gym. Instead of using the treadmills or the ellipticals, I would just jog outside (the only exception to that is in the worst part of winter, which really doesn’t last that long). Instead of using a stationary bike, I’d just go… ride my bike. All that I really need at home is a small set of weights and knowledge of how to use them.

Honestly, though, most of the exercises I find value in require little or no equipment. The exercises in the book You Are Your Own Gym or in some key videos you can find demonstrate very valuable exercise without any equipment at all.

Trainers I have never in my life been in a gym environment where I’ve received more than cursory help from a trainer. I have found much more help from watching online videos, reading books, and asking questions in online forums.

One could easily argue that perhaps I didn’t demand enough attention from trainers at various times. What I found, though, is that getting sustained attention from a trainer was expensive. At every gym I’ve ever attended, trainer session times cost a significant extra amount and trainer free times were incredibly overcrowded.

Obviously, we’re not talking about perfect form on powerlifts here, just suggestions for keeping in basic shape.

Motivators Again, there is no motivator in the world that works better for me than the mirror. Someone yelling at me to push myself might work, but I’ve found that just listening to my own sense that I need to improve and demanding that I do the work is the best motivator out there. I’ll use pictures of myself and when it comes to a “crunch time” moment, I’ll yell at myself just as harshly as any motivational trainer.

Ideas That’s what the internet and books are for. There’s an abundance of exercise ideas wherever you look.

Activities Most of the physical activities I really enjoy, such as ultimate frisbee and basketball, are completely free and provide a very good cardio workout.

This isn’t to say that there’s not value in participating in a gym. There certainly is, particularly from people who need guidance in certain areas or need the motivation of having a dedicated place for exercise.

For me, though, the state of my own body is the best motivator for exercise and I already have the equipment I need in the form of my own body, a bicycle, and a few weights. Why should I drop some significant amount on a gym fee?

When I fail at exercise, it’s my fault, not the gym’s. The same is true when I succeed. The hard work comes from me.

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