Back in May, and in good timing for our mid-June move, my Australian gym membership expired. At the time, I mentioned to a friend that I had been a member for over 5 years. When I later reflected on that statement, I realised that I had been a member for 13 years. Clearly I am losing track of time in my old age!
|My new 'gym'|
With that length of membership, you may imagine that giving the gym up was unsettling. In fact, the transition has been surprisingly lovely. It has also been very freeing. With being a member for so long, I'd come to view the gym as something I 'needed' and an essential lifestyle feature that I would always indulge in. Before I discovered running, the gym provided my main (sole) source of exercise, and it was one of the few places where my thoughts could wander or work through problems in peace. But then I did discover running, and in particular, the joy of running outside. I gradually gave up some gym days so I could fit in outdoor runs, but there was an uneasy tug-of-war between my desire to run and my desire to get good use out of my gym membership. In May, I was running outside 3 days per week and using the gym 3 days per week; as previously, I was struggling to fit in pilates. I would have liked to run more, but didn't want to use the gym less.
Now? I have been gym free for 15 weeks and I don't think I will ever go back to a regular gym membership. I am running 4 days per week, doing home pilates 1 day per week, and still have days spare for walking / active rest. I can imagine moving up to 5 days of running in time. If it rains, I wear a cap (to keep the rain out of my eyes) and waterproof running jacket, or I just get wet. I don't spend time travelling to the gym, I don't have 'junk' workouts where I amble aimlessly through familiar equipment, and I am taking in outdoor scenery instead of computerised screens. Sometimes the 'scenery' consists of cars and buses, but other times it is made up of trees, flowers, gardens and rivers. If I don't like what I'm looking at, I can turn a corner or find a new route. Perhaps best of all, I am more in love with running than ever.
|Herb gardens in Greenwich park|
Of course, I have been enjoying the outdoors in summer. Running in the rain will no doubt be harder when it is dark, freezing and icy. I also expect that I would like to use a gym every now and then, for novelty and variety. Our local gym looks excellent, and has single entry ticket options that I anticipate using on occasion. The key, though, is that those times will be occasional, and possibly only seasonal.
|Beckenham Place Park|
This is a self-focused post, but I wanted to write it for two reasons. One was the obvious and somewhat selfish one - I like to use this blog to organise my thoughts and reflect on topics I care about. The other, though, is that I know a lot of people are as attached to gyms as I was. If we had stayed in Australia, I may not have had the courage to cease my membership and I may still be spending 3 hours each week watching morning 'news' shows while my legs pedaled equipment on autopilot. There is nothing wrong with that, and for many people it will be the best form of exercise for them. However, now that I've tried the alternative, I want you to know that there is an alternative. That alternative can be fun, and freeing, and challenging, and invigorating - and even save you money.
If you have thought about moving some of your workouts outside, or moving to gym-free exercise, here are some ideas from my own transition.
- Don't think you have to go cold turkey. I stopped my membership altogether when we moved, but the shift to 3 days of outdoor running happened gradually. In 2009, I was in the gym 6 days per week. I changed my routines over time.
- The first time you exercise outside will probably feel odd. You won't have a machine counting every step or telling you how many watts you are producing. You may miss the option of reading / watching TV while exercising. Give it time.
- Focus on your outdoor surroundings. Notice the little things. Explore new routes, and seek out parkland or green space.
- Cycle paths are excellent for running (or walking, or cycling!) on. They tend to be flat, smooth, bitumen clad (vs. harder concrete) and interconnected in coherent routes.
- Off road paths are also excellent for running (or walking) on. Your pace will probably be slower, but you'll feel like you've had an adventure. Go through some puddles - it's fun.
- With the money you save on a gym membership, you can definitely justify new shoes and/or exercise clothing.
- You don't have to be a runner to enjoy the outdoors. Cycle, walk, rollerblade, skip, horse ride, swim - or play football, tennis or netball.
- If you like company when exercising, there are sports and running groups in most areas. Search online, or ask around.
Last but not least, if you do enjoy a gym, I don't mean to imply that you should shift outside if you don't want to. Exercise should make you happy and suit your needs and lifestyle. If a gym fits your needs, then enjoy all that yours has to offer. If it doesn't, though, or you aren't sure - take a chance on outside. You might be pleasantly surprised.
What are your thoughts on gyms? Or have you gone through different exercise phases yourself, swapping one style for another?