This may seem like a newbie question, but it spans experience from “just starting” to “planning to compete.” Whether to join a gym is about psychology and interests more than exercise ability.
In favor of joining a gym:
- The gym is a great choice for people who need a “third place” — a place to go where there is only one focus, and everyone else is exercising, too.
- A gym membership can give you access to a variety of classes and to casual instruction in exercises new to you.
- If you want to work with a personal trainer, this will generally (although not always) happen in a gym. (Gyms often have policies restricting outside trainers, so don’t expect to bring a trainer with you to whatever you gym you join.)
- If you have a specific athletic goal, a gym membership is a good setting for focused training. Even if it’s an outdoor goal, a formal plan for strength training is a good idea, and gym equipment can keep you on track in bad weather.
- A gym membership gives you access to large, expensive, and varied equipment.
Gyms are expensive, and if you aren’t looking for instruction, specialized equipment, or a place to pursue an athletic goal, they aren’t essential.
Here are some ways to stay active outside the gym:
- Start walking! Especially if your exercise need is mainly for basic health, walking is a great activity.
- Try a home exercise routine, like the 7-Minute Workout, as a way to start or end your day.
- Connect home exercise to something you already enjoy, with an activity like the Romance Novel Reader Workout.
- Add some spice to a mostly walking-oriented routine by adding in different outside activities during the year — like hiking and biking in the summer and some snowshoe trips in the winter, or dancing all year round. Get friends or family involved in different activities with you.
- Outdoor athletes like runners, cyclists, and rowers can exercise outside and also have a small amount of equipment at home (like a training stand for a bike, an erg, or a few kettlebells) for consistent training.
- Think about all the different ways to use your body, and how you might sprinkle them in your schedule to get more active.
- Look for outdoor or community-based activities in parks and other facilities. Is there a skating rink near you?
Making a new commitment to exercise without a plan or place to go requires self-reliance. If you’re going it alone, consider joining a community of some kind to help you stay on track.
- Join a website, like Fitocracy or MapMyFitness, to record workouts and connect with others.
- Find a local sports league or activity group to meet with. Specialty outdoor activities often attract groups, and the Sierra Club has hiking events in many locations.
And remember: you can always shift your focus to another kind of activity if you wish!
See “Getting Comfortable with Gym Going” for a roundup of Starter Steps articles about the gym.
See “What’s Better — Indoor or Outdoor Exercise?” for a discussion of the advantages of both.
Image: I don’t belong to a regular gym, but occasionally my partner and I visit the Colosseum in Columbia, MD, where I took this photo. It has a lively community of devoted members, one of whom shared their love a few months ago.