While everyone is still motivated to make a change in their fitness at the beginning of the year. I have a bit of advice. Cancel your gym membership. You read me right I said cancel your gym membership. How in the hell is that going to make you fitter in 2019?! Let me explain.
Like most fitness consumers, I too once saw a gym membership as essential. Unlike most fitness consumers, I also worked in gyms. One of our dirty little secrets was that we had way more gym members than gym goers. A subtle but important distinction. This fact is true for every big box gym. If it wasn’t, they wouldn’t be in business any longer. For most people, gym memberships are like cable subscriptions, monthly liabilities that once one takes it on, he rarely thinks about again.
People are actually more likely to cancel their cable service than their gym membership. In order to cancel, one must make the painful realization that he does no use actually use the gym. Again most people fall into this category but to admit to as much is tantamount to quitting. Instead, most people continually pay their monthly fee and wrongly presume that next year will be different. It won’t be. This is exactly their business model. Think I’m wrong. Take a look next time you walk into a big box gym. Are their more squat racks or sales desks? This ratio should tell you what these outfits are about.
To be honest, I wasn’t like most gym members. I was a regular user. As one of the few consumers getting some utility for my purchase, why did I cancel? Even though I was getting a decent value or the price per workout, something infinitely more valuable, my time was being wasted on a regular basis. If I wanted to work legs and all the squat racks were taken, I’ll wait. Want to bench on Monday? I’ll wait. The truth of big box gyms was it was nearly impossible to plan a workout before walking into the gym and executing it as I had planned. Some modification or waiting was always required. Not to mention the fact I live in Los Angeles. Drive to the gym, park, walk in…30 minutes. Get whatever workout I can. Walk back to the car, drive home…30 minutes later I’m firing up the blender for my post-workout. On days where I got to work everything I wanted, the drive wasn’t unbearable, but on a day where I couldn’t squat because a guy had to get his curl on the time spent going to and from the gym was obviously wasted.
Eventually, I got tired of all of it. I took my gym expense, $70 a month cheap by today’s standards, and extrapolated it out to a year. With that as my budget, I went shopping for my own gym. I cleared some space in my garage and bought a barbell and plates. No racks, no benches, just a barbell and plates, and a few rubber tiles. The entire package only set me back about $500 dollars, and just like that, I had my own gym. Albeit a minimal gym at that, but to be honest, the minimalism had its advantages. Without racks and benches, I had to get good at all the lifts you can do without racks and benches. Lots of deadlifts, cleans, front squats, military presses etc… If a movement required that the barbell rest on my back, I needed to be able to lift and place it into place. All that practice made my deadlifts, cleans, and push presses a whole lot better. What my routines lacked in novelty that first year working out at home, they more than made up for in mastery. I was forced by the simplicity of my gym to actually get better at each and every movement that until that point in my training I had been able to neglect.
As time wore on, my gym grew and grew. Sometimes I’d get lucky. A friend would donate a piece here and there, I’d found a discarded bench left of for trash day and requisitioned it, or I’d go out and buy a new piece here and there to increase the functionality of my home gym. A power rack, kettlebells, medicine balls, TRX, specialty barbells, sleds, heavy bags, battle ropes, and even a concept 2 rower have all been incorporated into my home gym over the years. What started as a minimal setup now has more options than any gym I travel to. I have even gotten so accustomed to training in my own space that it is challenging to get a decent workout when I do invariably go with a friend or client into their big box. At home, the dress code and music is all my call. Shirtless, shoeless, with dogs and blaring hip hop or hard rock is my preferred style. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told to put my shoes on while squatting or deadlifting in a commercial setting. Agree to disagree kind sir. As a result, even my programming has changed. I can execute much more demanding circuits at home because I don’t have to worry about monopolizing space or equipment or violating an arbitrary rule that doesn’t take human anatomy or performance into the equation. It’s all mine. Loaded carries, throws, jumps, and Olympic lifts worked in combinations that would get your member ship revoked from any decent gym. It’s all I know now. The freedom and flexibility that training in your own space offers cannot be matched in a commercial setting, not only when it comes to your time but also to the programming of the actual workout. Training at home I’ve never walked outside to discover someone curling in my squat rack. There is literally no excuse to not get the exact workout I want to do every single time.
If I had to do it all over again, I would. However, I would do it a little differently knowing what I know today if I were just starting out. If I had to go back and do it all over again, the first piece of equipment I would have bought would have been two kettlebells of equal weight. I would also recommend this to anyone wanting to try this experiment for themselves. Get two kettlebells and master all of the basic movements. Double kettlebell deadlifts, goblet squats, Turkish get-ups, cleans, snatches, push presses, swings and loaded carries like the farmer’s walk, fireman’s carry, and kettlebell crosswalk are more than enough to get you started. I love barbells but kettlebells have a few advantages, particularly when it comes to the home gym. First is space. Kettlebells take up none. I was fortunate to have a good size garage to dedicate to training, not everyone has that. Everyone has enough room for two kettlebells. The cost is a lot less than your gym membership. Kettlebells are also more intuitive to learn than barbells. If one learns movements on kettlebells, the technique will carry over very easily to barbells if and when the time comes, but kettlebells do not force joints into fixed positions and they are the easiest way to master many movement patterns.
Another great option for starting out would be a suspension trainer. This is admittedly a distant second to the kettlebells for me but I know many people are intimidated by picking up heavy weight. Suspension trainers are great because one’s bodyweight is the resistance. One can make a very compelling argument that any individual should be able to manipulate his own body weight into every essential plane of movement. Even for someone who is hesitant to pick up an external load can understand that if they can’t dynamically move their own body they are not fit.
Whatever equipment you decide on it will cost less than your gym membership. Hire a trainer to come and teach you how to use your own equipment. Many people probably assume that getting a trainer is out of their price range. If you give a man a fish you feed him for a day, teach him to fish, feed him for life. That is how to best use trainers. There are plenty of trainers out there willing to be a cheerleader or guru and there is clearly a market for that. That is however only a small part of the industry. I myself as a trainer, go out and take workshops taught by other trainers. That’s how I learn new skills that I turn around and teach to other people. Rather than showing up and eating the same old smelly fish every day, why not learn to fish for yourself? Book a couple of sessions or attend a workshop on the equipment you have purchased. Investing the time and resources to learn to use it for yourself if the only way to truly build lasting fitness. No one else can do it for you, and if you need someone else to get started, you’re never going to reach your goals.
The fitness industry is full of shiny new objects and it is easy for anyone to get distracted. Truth is, I made some of my best progress as an athlete and trainer by skipping out on the gym scene. Fitness is a lifestyle. It’s cliche, but true. By cutting out all the noise, creating a dedicated training space that I do not have to get in the car to use or compete with others for space, I get in more higher quality training sessions in less time and less monetary commitment. Quitting my gym ironically made the lifestyle far more intuitive. When you dedicate a personal space for training, fitness is part of your lifestyle. Once you make this shift, the results can’t help but come.
Why not try something different this year? I know there’s a ton of special offers available right now. Use them to create your home gym budget and make 2019 the year you take responsibility for your fitness!