The Gym – And Why There Are Better Ways Of Keeping Fit

The rise of the gym and health club has been unstoppable in recent years. There’s now a multi-million pound industry focused around state of the art gyms & health clubs across the globe. And yet, we have never been as unfit or unhealthy as we are today.
Whilst gyms have done a huge amount to encourage people to get fitter and are now more accessible than ever, I am convinced that they can sometimes do more harm than good in the battle to “keep fit”. Before you dismiss this idea, read on and see what you think about the following drawbacks of gyms…
I have seen so many people use gym machines incorrectly that they are not only training the muscles incorrectly, they are also sometimes putting themselves at greater risk of sustaining an injury. Walk into any gym and you won’t have to look far to find someone using a machine incorrectly. Whilst most gyms require people to have an induction prior to training, this is usually a quick walk round the gym pointing out the machines with the odd random demonstration. There’s very little follow-up and monitoring or feedback to ensure people are performing exercises correctly every time they come to the gym.
The very fact that there are often 20 or more machines in the gym leads people to believe they should actually use most if not all of them at some point in their programme, thinking they should train all the muscles they possibly can or just out of curiosity. This is a misconception. I often train clients with nothing more than the correctly-sized stability ball, some dumbbells and a mat. In a gym, I may use the cable machines but I will rarely put a client on a fixed resistance machine. Such machines can cause the development of faulty recruitment patterns and muscle imbalances and will most likely de-train crucial stabiliser muscles required for functional movement patterns. A shorter workout doing the right exercises for you & your body is much more effective than a long workout using every machine available.
The equation of having to go to the gym to get fit is a personal bugbear. How many people do you know who say “Oh I really need to get fit but just don’t seem to have time to get to the gym”? My response to this would be “Why do you need to go the gym to get fit?” There is so much you can do outside of the gym to improve your fitness and you don’t need tons of equipment to do it. A simple solution – pull on a pair of trainers and go for a walk or a jog. In the time it’s taken you to get to the gym, get changed and get going on the treadmill, it’s been 20 minutes and you could already have gone out for a 20 minute walk and be back at home on the sofa (or doing your core exercises on the living room floor!). Incorporating more activity into your daily life is a step in the right direction and can be easily achieved with a bit of thought and planning.
It is also hugely discouraging when people go to the gym religiously and yet see little or no progress. This is mostly due to lack of knowledge about what they should actually be doing in the gym – how often to go, what exercises to do, how hard to train, how many sets, how many reps, how long to rest for, when to go, what to eat and when. It is not surprising that people don’t know what to do when they get there – it’s one reason why I believe that people should view using a qualified fitness professional as a way of getting the most value out of their gym membership rather than an unnecessary additional expense.
And for people who do make progress at the gym – lose weight, bulk up and get to where they want to be – that’s great. But going on holiday for a couple of weeks or just missing the odd session here or there means they easily get out of the routine of going regularly and start to lose their fitness. Because of their previous success, they now associate getting fit with going to the gym and if they can’t get to the gym, feel they can’t get fit again until they do. This also works the other way – if people don’t like going to the gym or find it has never really helped them get fit despite going regularly, they can develop negative perceptions of getting fit by associating it with going to the gym and feel despairing that they’re never going to reach their goals.
But what’s the alternative? Well, how about spending the money you’d spend on gym membership on someone who is qualified to design & coach you through a personalised programmme? This can be a personal trainer (although not all personal trainers are equal, see my article), a fitness coach or a C.H.E.K-trained practitioner.
By working with a qualified fitness professional, you can guarantee you are following the right programme to achieve your goals. More conveniently your coach can often visit you at home and bring any equipment needed and they can help you plan & increase your daily activity levels to improve your overall lifestyle without ever setting foot in a gym. This doesn’t mean you have to use a trainer every week for the rest of your life but it’s great to have someone who can update your programme, give you a boost every now and then and keep you on track, once you’ve got reached your initial goals.
In the long term, this is a much more sustainable approach to improving and maintaining your fitness levels but you’ll never again be able to use the excuse of not having time to go to the gym!