Let's face it: The gym can be a complete time-suck.
With plush chairs and couches conveniently located near big screen TVs, smoothie bars well-stocked with snacks, piles of brand new fitness, nutrition or news magazines, friends, workout buddies, vibration platforms, scales, saunas, spas, flyers and fancy new workout contraptions, you can literally spend precious hours at the gym preparing to exercise, eating for exercise, learning about exercise and talking about exercise -- without actually doing much exercise.
For example, I recently went to the gym to take a "metabolism-boosting class."
The class was scheduled to begin at 6:30. So I left my home at 6:00 to drive to the gym and get there by 6:15 so I could have plenty of time to get into the class in case it had a wait list.
I then waited around for 15 minutes for class to start, and then a few extra minutes more to allow for latecomers. Next, I spent another 10 minutes in the class warm-up, although I'd already warmed up while waiting for class to start. During the workout, each section of the class included multiple exercise demos and instructions from the teacher, so to keep track of how much I was actually exercising, I simply hit "stop" on my watch during each of these breaks.
By the time the class was over and we spent 10 minutes doing an easy cool-down and stretches, I had devoted 90 minutes to exercise, but only actually engaged in significant fitness boosting activity for a total of 22 minutes (although I guarantee that multiple class participants would proudly check off the class as being 60 minutes of pure exercise).
Had I stayed at home and simply used the inexpensive exercise equipment I describe in "How to Make a Home Gym" (such as a mat, suspension strap, stability ball and dumbbells), I could have achieved three times as much exercise and still had time left over for more important things -- not to mention the savings on gas and car mileage.
For instance, I could have performed 4-5 rounds of the exercises I outline in the "5 Best Full Body Exercises" without ever stepping foot into the gym. You'd be surprised at what you can accomplish with a few inexpensive exercise tools (or your own body weight), your music player, and a little space in your home.
So what is the take-away message here?
As you choose your workout or start an exercise program this year, enable yourself to exercise in convenient places other than a gym, such as your own house, backyard, or nearby park. Having that option can allow you to work out much more consistently, and keep you from getting waylaid by all the time-wasting temptations at a fancy health club.
In summary, I have nothing against gyms. You just need to ensure that your daily physical activity is not reliant upon whether or not you can make it to the gym.
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Ben Greenfield is a fitness and triathlon expert and host of the Get-Fit Guy podcast on the Quick and Dirty Tips network. His latest book is Get-Fit Guy's Guide to Achieving Your Ideal Body: A Workout Plan for Your Unique Shape.