For the first few years I lived in New York City, I had a routine at least three times a week: work, gym, commute, dinner, sleep. While I loved feeling healthy and enjoyed the cardio-induced endorphins, I hated the experience of the gym. The locker rooms, waiting for a machine that’s in use, and the sweaty train ride home afterward was almost unbearable. Since I wasn’t a fan of running, it never occurred to me that I could get an effective workout without a gym membership or fitness classes, until the day a copy of Mark Lauren’s You Are Your Own Gym appeared on my desk.
Lauren, a physical trainer for the elite Special Operations community, argues that gym-goers often fall into static routines: they rely on machines and they don’t challenge themselves. This reasoning rang true for me. My repetitive gym sessions mostly consisted of forty-five minutes on the elliptical, some quick sets on weight machines, followed by a mad dash for the locker room, then home. And as a consequence, I didn’t see results. Instead of wasting valuable time and energy on a routine that isn’t getting you what you want, Lauren encourages readers to work out on their own for just thirty minutes a day, using only their body weight (plus some ordinary household objects like a doorknob and chairs) to build muscle, get lean and become stronger. Enticed by the idea of leaving gym life behind, I decided to give his beginner program a try.
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It wasn’t easy — I had definitely never worked this hard at the gym before. I moaned in pain during long sets of push-ups. I lacked the balance to do full squats and had to hold onto furniture for support. But I stuck it out and by week six I had actually improved! I felt great to accomplish something and meet my goals. I was incredibly proud of myself.
That was eight years ago, and I haven’t been back to the gym since. I design my own routines and also use both free and paid online streaming services like Zuzka Light, Fitness Blender, and YogaDownload. Here are the four biggest changes that came along with kissing my gym membership goodbye.
1. I Got Stronger
Turns out that banging out an elliptical session a few times a week wasn’t doing very much for me. Lauren’s initial program focused on making me stronger and challenged me like never before. After that, I couldn’t go back to straight cardio. My current routines involve dynamic, full-body moves like burpees and jump squats, moves that work your muscles while raising your heart rate and burning fat. Without the ease of gym equipment to set constraints, you have to work harder, and as a result, improve.
2. I Work Out More Often — But Spend Less Time Per Session
After a long day at the office, I was less than motivated to go to the gym, meaning that I went four days a week, tops. Now that I work out in my living room, there are no excuses. Five to six days a week I wake up and immediately knock out my workout, giving me one less thing to worry about for the rest of the day. And because many of my workouts are high-intensity interval training (HIIT) routines, I often work out for 30 minutes or less.
3. I Saved Money
One immediate effect of quitting the gym was that I no longer had to pay $85 a month for a gym membership. Sure I still have workout expenses ($10 a month for the streaming subscription service, plus an eventual investment in some workout equipment) but the long-term savings have been enormous.
4. I Gained Focus and Accountability
You’d think that working out without anyone watching would give me permission to slack off and not push myself, but it’s actually had the opposite effect. Exercising on my own terms has made my workouts more targeted, focused, and consistent. Missing a workout means letting myself down, and can you imagine having to live 24/7 with a pissed off personal trainer in your head? Focus and accountability have carried over into other aspects of my life, including work and personal relationships.
So there you have it! Quitting the gym has made my life better, but I realize that this decision isn’t for everyone. Give it a try and see if you miss the gym. You just may learn that you are more capable of meeting your goals than you thought you were.
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