Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Workout for less

Gym memberships have been on my mind lately. Last year when I was laid off, I had just joined a high end fitness club: individual TVs on all the equipment, towel service, good shampoo, and disposable razors (not that all of my time was spent in the shower, but you know what I mean). And it was the one luxury I could not give up. Instead, I switched to the "matinee plan" which basically meant my hours were restricted to the times when the gym's empty (11am-4pm weekdays, 1-8pm weekends) and that suited me just fine for the months I was without a job.

A year later, I'm starting to rethink the gym membership. For starters, I rarely go anymore -- but not for the reason you're thinking. I don't go because it's more convenient and enjoyable to workout from home. After months of exploring classes, doing circuits on the machines, and trying really hard to enjoy the elliptical, I honed down my workout to two activities: weight lifting and running. The funny thing is, both require next to no equipment.

Lets talk weight lifting first. In December, I bought this book: Men's Health Ultimate Dumbbell Guide by Myatt Murphy. I bought it because I wasn't seeing results with the weight machines at the gym and I didn't feel like shelling out money for a trainer. I also bought it because the instructions, routines and equipment were simple. The pictures were uncluttered and showed both men and women doing the exercises. As someone who has never been formally trained in dumbbells (or any other weight lifting) this was *so simple* to understand. Total investment was about $30 for dumbbells and $19.95 for the book. Results? AWESOME! In just 2-3 sets per week of the beginner routine, I saw major changes in the first month. Far better than the months of machine work that yielded next to no results.

Next, running. Well, I love running. I'm very slow (11 minute mile, people), but it's one of the most satisfying activities to do outside. It relieves stress and burns calories like nothing else. Plus, there's not too much you need to know, aside from a few good stretches at the end. Investment here was $50 for running shoes and $50 for an iPod shuffle (I need music to run.) Again, outstanding results in a short period of time. Just about all of my pants are loose after a few months of running for 30 minutes 2-4 times per week.

Annual Cost vs. Benefit
My at-home workout of weight lifting and running, which yielded noticeable results, totaled $150. My gym membership, on the other hand, cost $960 for the year, and didn't have much of an impact. So, if you're in the middle of a layoff, or just trying to cut back, I suggest doing a cost/benefit analysis of your exercise expenses versus results for the year. You might discover that it's not much of a sacrifice to ditch the gym membership.

For some additional ideas on how to workout for less, check out this article from the San Diego Union Tribune: "Survival of the Fitness".


  1. So true. Running is the only workout that truly helps me manage my weight. And it gives you so much energy! For people that find it hard to motivate, I suggest signing up for a race - any length will do. That way you know you'll have to run a certain length on a certain date, and that really helps get your butt in gear.

  2. Yes!! I found this out when I moved to my new place and lost my small but well equipped gym from my condo. This place also has a gym, but no free weights. I also learned a good routine, got my free weights and went so far as to invest in a used treadmill for the winters. This year, I learned not to be afraid of cold runs and invested a bit of money on good cold weather running gear. Craig's list, here we come!

  3. Bernadette, Frances -- great advice! One of these days I'll sign up for a race. A little motivation goes a long way. And it's encouraging to hear about the cold weather running gear. Have to admit, I wimped out and used the treadmill at the gym during the really cold months down here. Next winter, I'm joining you outside!