Can You “Get Fit Without Going To The Gym”?

Swipe, Swipe.  I scrolled through my Tweeter feed as the Keurig whirred to life this morning.*  Past news about Newtown, Zen Habits, or world domination.  I saw something I had to read.  This is what caught my eye:

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“Getting Fit Without The Gym” is exactly where it’s at!  You’re saying that I don’t need to pay money, I can do things for free and I’ll be fit?  Oh hell yes, sign me up!  I had to learn more.

Was that too sarcastic?  Whoops.

The article, which you can read HERE, goes on to discuss strategies that are low/no cost and effective for exercise.  Regardless of where you train or your personal definition of a workout, this is a quote from the article we should all be able to agree with:

Wherever you exercise, whether at the gym, outdoors, or at home, it doesn’t really matter, says Mickey Harpaz, PhD, a nutritionist and exercise physiologist and author of Menopause Reset!. What does matter is that you exercise regularly. “The trick is consistency over a long period,” he says.

Everyone should be able to agree that any regular physical activity is going to be better than sitting on the couch complaining that you don’t have a perfect exercise program.  It’s not the program, it’s your mindset. I digress.

When we climb upon our high and mighty horses about cyberkinetic periodization and the most uber-effective diaphragmatic breathing resets from the Postural Restoration Institute, we fail to recognize that this is about moving better, not moving perfectly, and that results are the product of consistency.  Rethink that “perfect” program:

That Being Said…

It’s not illegal to break the Law of Diminishing Returns, and we know that there can be a big difference between Minimal Effective Dose and Maximal Effective Dose.  My assumption is that most people want to feel as good as possible, not just good at the best rate possible.  We need less exercise physiology and more psychology.

The concept of getting “fit” is wrong.  There is no such thing as “fit”.  We have no definition of “fitness”, and if you’re searching for one, you’re missing the bigger picture.  Defining fitness with a range of motion, strength, or endurance tests seeks to quantify too many factors at once.  Instead, we should be asking, “Can you participate in all of the activities that you’d like to?”  The mindset of fitness, or of further developing physical abilities, is more important than defining “fit”.


The article cites the  U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation that adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise and two-three strength-training sessions per week.  These are great if you’d like to just move enough to not be labeled by epidemiologists as a health risk.  I’m sure that’s on your bucket list.

My big issue with the “Get Fit Without Going To The Gym” sentiment is that it contributes to a this-or-that dichotomy, and reinforces effort economics.  “If I don’t have to go to the gym, I can get fit on my own! Awesome!”

Except that it’s not true.  Accept that it’s not true.

Creating this fitness dichotomy fails to address the continuum of physical activity that we need and want, from laying completely still to moving at maximal intensity.  Throughout the day, we find ourselves at every point on this spectrum, and we need to take a holistic appraisal of if we need more or less at any given point on the continuum.  Only had 4 hours of sleep?  Spend more time doing that.  Every waking hour spent in a chair?  Get up and move more.

According to the CDC, only 48.4% of adults meet the Physical Activity Guidelines (PAG) for aerobic activity, 24.0% meet the PAG for muscle strengthening activity, and only 20.6% met both guidelines.  80% of American adults don’t get the recommended physical activity.

Creating a series of feel-good recommendations to park far away and walk, get off the bus a stop earlier, or walk in the park is great, but if we portray this non-exercise physical activity as an alternative to “Get Fit Without The Gym” then we’re missing a bigger picture.

A 2009 New York Times article referenced a study in the Journal Annals of Behavioral Medicine which reported that of 205 sedentary adults who were encouraged to begin an exercise program, half had began one after 6 months, but that a third had stopped after 12 months.  Those who had home exercise equipment were 73 percent more likely to start exercise but were also 12 percent more likely to quit than those without home equipment.

Pitting gym-based exercise versus at-home exercise or general physical activity slims the continuum of how we consider exercise and intensity, at the risk of holding up your own efforts to become slimmer.  In many ways, this is because of the big-box fitness gym; rows of machines, lonely ellipticals, and meathead culture that can be intimidating to outsiders.  Many think of this:



Find Better Gyms

If your local gym is rows of machines and white and chrome machines, find a better gym.  Search for places with open spaces, with turf, TRX’s, squat racks, and free weights.  You seek room to move your body, not slide into yet another chair.

Then, the question, is what the hell do you do?  Find physical education.  I don’t mean the football and volleyball tournaments from high school.  I mean find a source to learn about how to appropriately exercise.  Discomfort in your own skin is slavery, and you should master your own movement.  Utilizing reputable trainers in your area, online coaching from a trusted source, or information from the superabundance of fitness products; go train.

Invest in Success

What you accomplish is not just physical.  The psychological benefits are marvelous.  An enjoyable exercise habit is one of the empowering things to have, and investing in your own physical education and a gym membership is just that:  It is an investment.

Invest in your own success and you will be successful.  If you’re also seeking ways to minimize exercise, you’re behind a failing endeavor to make movement effective or enjoyable.  There are a plethora of strategies to be more physical active, with structured exercise and with general movement.  If we continue to see the task as “move more”, we’ll continue to budget calories and effort.  When we begin to address  exercise as a Journey, or mechanism of happiness and success then we’ll truly get “fit” without the gym.

* They should make a Keurig that sounds like R2-D2.  Just sayin’.

3 Replies to “Can You “Get Fit Without Going To The Gym”?”

  1. “Find better gyms” – that strikes a cord. How do you find gyms that are good for strength? Are there proper reviews somewhere? Maybe you should start a gym review website? It’s a hassle to choose a gym: you need to go there to see the equipment, they are not transparent or forthcoming with the pricing, it’s tough to know whether it will be crowded at the hours you work out…

    1. You’re absolutely correct Mathieu, finding good gyms is a pain in the ass. As far as I’m aware there isn’t a go-to trusted site for finding facilities that meet each of our personal check lists, or where you can track peak/off-peak hours. A website to do that would be awesome!

      My go-to idea is to rely on the guest pass or trial offer. I’ve done it at several gyms, and it’s given me a 3-4 workouts or a week to figure out if a place really works for my schedule/preferences. For example, a gym called “The Rok” in East Rockaway has a fantastic design and beautiful new equipment, but most of their strength training equipment was designed to be pretty rather than ergonomical. That lost them a potential member. Explore new places and try them on!

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