In Defense of the Gym

(cross-posted from Hahví.net)

I was moved to write this post in reaction to an article cited over at Andrew Sullivan’s blog. The original article is called Clean Up Your Fitness Routine: The Case Against Gyms. Here’s the infamous quote:

Gyms are energy-sucking, disease-riddled, crowded, and often expensive. It’s an industry that exists because people pay a lot of money for the privilege of not meeting their personal health goals.

Energy sucking? Meaning, you’ve exercised so you’ve burned some energy? Uh, this is a feature, not a bug.

Disease riddled? Hmm—been to the mall lately? A movie theater? I’m going to play the mom here for a moment and tell you one of the best ways to avoid picking up random cold germs is to never touch your face (eyes, mouth, nose) if you haven’t just washed your hands with soap. I’m serious. Huge difference.

Expensive? I pay $33 and change per month at 24 Hour Fitness, on a month-to-month contract (my advice: don’t sign long-term gym contracts). If you’re paying thousands of dollars a year, as one respondent complained, find a different gym! You don’t need fancy. Come work out with us hoi polloi. We’re really not that bad.

Condescending gym rats: this was another complaint lodged by a respondent, and I have to say, give me a break! I don’t know about your gym, but at our gym we have an amazingly wide spectrum of people that includes polished, silver-haired executives, middle-aged women facing up to years of physical neglect, pods of steroid boys (they rarely seem to work out alone), the elderly, the seriously overweight of all ages, beautiful young men and women, and occasional youngsters. I do not see people getting harassed. I have never been harassed.

I’m out on the floor all the time, where the gender ratios are maybe 80/20 men to women. (Women seem to prefer the classes.) There are no issues. People are extremely polite. Sometimes a guy will be leaning on a machine, watching his buddy take a turn at another device. He’ll move immediately if I ask him. Sometimes someone who doesn’t know the rules will leave too many hundred-pound discs on a leg press. I just ask the nearest strong guy to move them for me. They’re always happy to help.

And every time I’m at the gym door at the same time as a man, he will open the door for me. Young guys, old guys, it doesn’t matter. I never cease to be impressed.

So if your gym is full of snobs or misogynists, find a different gym! And tell management why you’re leaving.

I live on Maui, and you might wonder why anyone would bother going to a gym when they live here. Why not just exercise outside? Well I do, part of the time. I jog the road. But I live on the side of a mountain. Everything is either uphill or downhill, so it’s hard. And unless I go outside very early or very late, it’s hot. And there’s traffic. Also there are no weight machines outdoors, and resistance training is a huge boon to fitness, especially as we age and lose muscle mass.

One great thing about a gym is that it has the power of place. When I walk into the gym, I’m there for one reason and one reason only, so it’s much easier to focus on a workout than it would be if I were using a weight machine at home.

The worst thing about the gym for me is that it’s a half-hour drive to get there, and with the price of gas these days, the round trip costs around $10. So I only go once or twice a week, when we’re going to town for other reasons, but I continue to pay my monthly membership fee, because the results are worth it to me.

Physical fitness should be encouraged. If the gym doesn’t work for you, that’s okay, find another way. But for many of us, gyms remain a great place to get, and stay, in shape.

Hepen the Watcher by Linda NagataLinda Nagata is the Locus and Nebula award winning author of The Bohr Maker, Vast, and Memory, all available at Book View Cafe. Her latest book Hepen the Watcher, is the second in a fast-paced mythic fantasy series featuring the antihero demon, Smoke.




In Defense of the Gym — 16 Comments

  1. I don’t like gyms for the same reason I can’t tolerate exercise bicycles, rowing machines, or the rubber bands that my physical therapist insists that I use anyway. There’s something repellent about =unproductive= labor. I need to be able to delude myself that I am going somewhere or getting something accomplished. (Somehow working the muffin top down does not count.) I have solved this problem with bicycle commuting. Every time I bike to work I save 20% of my weekly commuting costs; when I contemplate the cost of gasoline it makes me smug.

    • I’m the opposite. My productive labor, like mowing the lawn, is so physically undemanding that I feel guilty substituting that for “real” exercise. I would love to bike though, but it just isn’t practical given where I live.

  2. I go to the “workout room” at work every weekday. Because its convenient for me to set a routine and schedule to do it.

    And I am on the wellness committee at work–I have a reputation to uphold!

  3. For me it’s dance. I can walk miles and miles and miles and I don’t get the full body workout I do with a dance class. I also have a community there, doing the same thing as me, and I have a commitment to the class. That sense of commitment is what gets my behind out of the chair and over to the studio.

    PS I’m allergic to weight training. Every time I start I come down with some horrible disease, usually bronchitis.

    • Dance sounds terrific. I think about classes now and then, but they all have that troubling factor that you have to show up at a given time. I’m getting worse at commitment, the older I get!

  4. No, weight training sounds futile. What I need is some way to hook the weights or the exercycle up to the heat pump in my house. If 1 hr exercise = a drop in heating/cooling costs, that would be great.

    • I spend most of my life in futile activity. Can’t let that get me down! I am surprised though that there doesn’t exist some convenient way to harvest the energy off a bike or treadmill. Would be nice if running faster on the treadmill made the gym’s airconditioning system run colder!

  5. Or, another practicality, you could be like Nancy, and have your exercise double as training in self-defense or combat. I have often considered taking up Chinese sword exercise — it would be good for the rotator cuff, and I could pretend to be a Jedi.

  6. Oh and somewhere some clever person has invented a treadmill with an attached laptop. You can only surf the net while it’s in motion; stop and Facebook stops with you. Now that would induce fitness!

  7. I think we’ve uncovered some gym hostility here. Chinese sword exercise? Sounds fun, but this is not the big city. No, moving big stacks of weights works for me. And there’s no way I can read when running on the treadmill, but I can blast music, which I like a lot. Really, there is nothing impractical about staying in good shape.

  8. I have, on and off, gone to various gyms. I was known, at the last one, as the woman who brought a book with her on the weight circuit. And on the treadmill.

    My problem with a lot of this stuff is that I have horrid bad knees. Dance, and certain other kinds of exercise, is rotten for them. On the other hand, fencing, when I was fencing, didn’t bother my knees at all. THere may be some mind-body collusion here that no one is telling me about.

    But I love to walk. Particularly I love to walk and read. And scare people passing by. The number of people who yell “Ma’am, you’re, um, you’re reading!” is startling.

  9. Mad, as long as you’re walking on a flat surface with no threatening lampposts, I admire the reading while you do anything gambit. I used to NordicTrack and read. Worked very well for me. But I live in too small a place to do that.

    Dance class works best for me — I exercise and have become a good ballroom dancer. But I have a gym membership, because my apartment did not have a hot tub or dry sauna, and I needed it for healing.

    My Costco membership pays for itself with gasoline and my 24 Hour Fitness membership. I buy a two year membership, and it’s anywhere from $12.50 to $13.29 a month — unbeatable with an Olympic saltwater pool at my favorite location. I’ve never been hassled (except for the guy who thought being polite about writing meant other interest. But he went away after a while.) There’s an indoor track, which is nice when the heat is triple digit and it’s 90+ until midnight. Weights, machines, floor routines – I recommend it to anyone who needs more organization. They have trainers you can hire, too.

    I agree that gyms may not be for everyone, but they can be very useful to so many of us.

  10. Once had some clever neighbors who hooked their ice cream maker up to a bicycle. Kids took turns churning the ice cream. Now that’s productive exercise! (Also counter-productive for my weight loss, but … homemade ice cream!)

  11. I don’t know what Ms. Friedman’s issue is, but she doesn’t give any substantial support for her claim that Gyms Are Bad. Disease? Seriously? [eyeroll] And if someone’s being a jerk, you ignore them if you can or complain to management if they’re not ignorable. Or change gyms.

    I’m a fat, middle-aged woman with arthritic knees. I lift weights. It’s great exercise, I make measurable improvements every time I lift, and doing it at home would be ridiculously expensive in equipment costs, to say nothing of finding a place to set everything up. Except for a few sets on the lat pulldown machine, I spend all my time in the free weight room where I’m the only woman more often than not; I’ve never had anyone harass me. My doctor is delighted that I’m lifting, and I’ve been losing weight slowly, which is the right way to do it — and I haven’t been losing muscle, which is what happens if you do all cardio and no resistance.

    If Ms. Friedman prefers outdoor activities, that’s perfectly fine. But declaring that gyms are bad just because her personal experience was unpleasant is ridiculously egocentric. “I don’t like this, therefore nobody should do it.” Wow. :/

    It really looks to me like someone had a blog post due and phoned one in as an alternative to dead air.


  12. I would like to affirm Linda’s observation about the power of place. It was much easier for me to get into a routine of using the elliptical machine at the gym than to ride an exercise bike at home. Also, the gym has much better machines than I could afford at home.