I am a certified personal trainer. I love working out... and I mean LOVE it. It's a bad day if I don't get to exercise at least 30 minutes. Every time we visit Target, my spouse makes an obligatory trip down the exercise equipment aisle just to appease me so I can ogle the yoga mats, kettlebells, and other accoutrement. But this week, I quit the gym... and immediately upon sending in the cancellation form, I felt happier, empowered, and 10 pounds lighter.
My relationship with gyms has always been a rocky one, most likely as a result of self-consciousness and a lack of confidence in an environment where everyone around me always seemed to move easier, be stronger, and look better. Imagine entering the college recreation center at the age of 21 and weighing 215 pounds. I believe that feeling might be akin to what a Basset Hound must feel like walking into a dog park full of Jack Russell Terriers. While I was in college, despite the free membership afforded to students, I can count on one hand the number of times I went. So what did any young woman in the late 1990s who hated the gym do to lose weight? She met with Billy Blanks several times a week. Yes, TaeBo is responsible for kickstarting my weight loss and my passion for fitness.
Thirty pounds lighter (thanks TaeBo), a few years older, and seeking to conquer my gym-aversion, I joined the fitness center at my first professional job: East Carolina University. To this day, the ECU Rec Center defines the perfect gym for me. It's actually probably the reason why I'm a gym snob now 10 years later... I have yet to find a fitness center that lives up to it's greatness. Perfectly laid out in a split plan with cardio equipment on one level, strength training equipment on another, the rec center also hosted a lovely indoor lap swimming pool, 8 racquetball courts, an indoor walking track, a rock climbing wall, basketball courts, and an amazing outdoor pool. Staff was friendly, the center was well-maintained, clean, and aesthetically pleasing, and they offered numerous ways to get involved (group fitness classes, intramurals, challenges/contests). My 4 year relationship with the ECU Rec Center helped me shed 45 additional pounds, nurtured some great friendships, and fueled my fitness passion that had begun with TaeBo. Even after I left ECU, I would pay for a day guest pass when I returned to visit friends in the area, just so I could workout in THE fitness center of all fitness centers.
I worked at several universities after ECU and joined their gyms as well, but they just did not compare to the ECU Rec Center and it wasn't a good use of my money. So my fitness journey returned to working out on my own, with various DVDs guiding me along the way. During the next 5 years my weight slowly climbed back up when I got married (yes, marriage adds weight), took a job I didn't enjoy (yes, depression adds weight), and reduced the amount I was exercising (yes, laziness adds weight). When I finally quit the job I hated, I bought a treadmill and renewed my commitment to health and fitness. Within 2 years I was once again 45 pounds lighter and at the age of 32, in better shape than I had EVER been.
After I purchased a home in Orlando, FL and now having my Personal Training certification, I began to explore a gym membership at the local "box" gyms and the YMCA. "Box gyms" are the chains: LA Fitness, Planet Fitness, Lifestyle Family Fitness, etc. I felt a gym membership would allow me to get out of the house and socialize more since I work from home, it would help me improve my fitness by providing access to a greater array of equipment, and it might open some doors for part time employment as a Personal Trainer. (During an interview for a part time training position at a local box gym, I was looked upon with scorn when I told the interviewer - who resembled a bald Meatloaf by the way - that I worked out in my home gym.) After 4 months of investigating and taking tours of all the gyms within a 20 minute radius, I decided on one and became a member in October 2011. To remain professional, I will not disclose which facility I chose. It will suffice to say it is a nationwide chain.
My spouse joined with me and quit after 3 months... which really isn't a surprise. We knew going in that it may not have been a long term relationship there, but I certainly applauded the effort. (We are a case of opposites attracting: exercise-phobe with exercise-freak.) I, on the other hand, diligently went 2-3 times a week. Unfortunately, after only a month, disappointment was creeping in. I was barely acknowledged when I handed my membership fob to the staff member to be swiped as I entered the gym. When I asked a staff member at the front desk how to use a machine, I received a curt reply and no offer to SHOW me how to use it. When I went to the stretching area to cool down, the mats on the floor had puddles of sweat on them (yes, a sign of a disgusting and rude fellow gym-goer, but also a testament to the staff's attitude who clearly saw it as they walked by). Switching to an empty section of the gym to stretch and cool down, I noticed sand all over the carpet. The next day it was still there. I guess they didn't own a vacuum.
About 2 months into my membership, one of the sales reps asked me how I was liking it. I don't think he expected me to give him my laundry list of complaints judging by his pale face and inability to make eye contact with me afterward. (I delivered my constructive feedback in a very nice way, I assure you.) I can say that after I expressed my dissatisfaction at the level of customer service offered by staff, I did notice an improvement in the friendliness during the check-in process. But I was no longer enjoying my trips to the gym. They had become a chore that I dreaded, merely going so that I didn't feel I was wasting my money. I didn't enjoy my workouts... I didn't get into the "flow," where you get lost in the movement and lose track of time, which commonly happened for me when I worked out at home or jogged outside. And I hadn't made any fitness improvements. The gym wasn't serving me any purpose. My trips to the gym lessened to once a week. But I hesitated to cancel my membership, wondering what that said about my commitment to fitness or my credibility as a Personal Trainer.
After a month of marinating, I made the decision this week to cancel my membership. As I sent off the form to the corporate office, I felt an immense sense of relief and my workouts this week - AT HOME - have been some of the most productive and enjoyable that I've had in the last 5 months. I still have 6 weeks left of membership, given that you pay for your last month when you sign up. I will probably go a few more times, just to squeeze the last few cents out of my membership dollar.
The point I'm trying to make with this lengthy blog post is that there is no requisite environment for a good workout. Gyms are certainly beneficial and some people may enjoy and need that environment in order to enhance their health and fitness. But for the population who doesn't like the gym, or even fears it, that's ok! You can get equally good results by working out at home or in the park/neighborhood. If I am judged because I work out in my home gym, so be it. My weight loss and strength gains are a clear indicator of the results you can get without gym machines. And my credentials as a Personal Trainer should not be based on where I do my own workouts, but the effectiveness of the workouts I design and the rapport I have with my clients. If only I could go back and tell that baldheaded Meatloaf interviewer to "suck it"... :-) And yes, I still do Tae Bo.
Blogger's Note: Only a week after posting this blog, I came upon one of my favorite fitness experts (The Angry Trainer Alfonso Moretti) who wrote a blog on the Top 10: Ways to Spot a Bad Gym. It makes me chuckle that my former gym met more than half of the criteria. Be sure to read that blog and if you're a fitness guru, bookmark The Angry Trainer Fitness site.