Why the Gym is a Waste of Money

Push Ups

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in Frugality

This is a guest post from Darren Norman, a new blogger at Enter The Norman. Darren writes about his experiences and struggles with exercise for the lazy and weight loss in an ever fattening world. He was featured for his extraordinary weight loss on NBC’s Today show be sure to watch his story below. Norm’s also on Twitter.

March is here and the spring is coming. By now, many of you have realized that the gym membership you purchased, with good intentions of course, is quickly becoming a pain in the ‘you know what’ bill that you have to pay every month. Every time it comes, you tell yourself, “I need to start getting my money’s worth.” A fleeting thought that is gone ten seconds after it occurred. Believe me, I know the feeling. I’ve been working out fairly consistently now for the past four years, and as a self-professed cheapskate, I’ve come to learn what a waste the neighborhood gym is.

All that Glitters Costs about as Much as Gold

Don’t get me wrong. All that fancy equipment: the nicely balanced pulley system, the treadmill with the TV on the wall silently blasting to your FM tuner, it sure looks nice and I’m sure it cost the gym a lot of money. The first time you walk through, you picture yourself getting bigger by the minute as you power through day one of bi’s and tri’s, day two of chest and back, day three of abs and legs and day four of cardio. The reality of the situation is you probably got suckered; at least I did the first time. I went to my local gym and signed up, probably like you, shortly after New Year’s back in 2005.

They draw you in with what seems like a reasonable monthly fee, anywhere from $25 to $50 per month or more, depending on the facility. What they don’t tell you right away is that you have to sign a one or two year commitment to get that price, along with paying a sign-up fee of $100 or more. Now you start to question things. You know you need to get more exercise and this place also has a pool and hot tub. Who wouldn’t use that? Plus, if you pay the sign-up fee, then you get that low monthly price instead of paying $75 a month without the fee. What a deal! The thing that killed me when I went through all this was the fact that the application form called for my social security number. Yep, they also check your credit score. The final nail is the fact that after you’ve signed up, it hits you that you’re locked into this thing for the length of the contract and now you are helplessly handing money over whether you take advantage of the services or not.

Frugal Exercise Options

The fact is that you can get nearly all the benefits of working out at a gym, and more, for much less money and on your own terms. Along my path to losing weight, I’ve learned that the easiest way to stay motivated to get fit is to make it as hassle free as possible. This can be done for as cheap as the annual cost of a pair of running shoes. Running is free and one of the most effective cardio exercises out there. By working your way up to running a half hour, just 3 times a week, you’ll be amazed at how you feel. The best part is that you don’t even have to buy the nice shoes. I’ve got feet as flat as they come and I’ve found that buying a pair of cheap shoes, around $40-$50, then replacing the insoles with a $20 insert from your local sporting goods store is just as effective as spending $100 on “˜nice’ shoes with all the support built in. This along with the fact that you’re not shelling out your monthly gym membership fee and that you can start your workout from the front door of your house at any time you like makes it much more convenient.

In addition to running, there is any number of exercises you can do at home with no equipment and work all the same muscles as you would in the gym. The first that comes to mind is push-ups, working your arms and chest. This is a very versatile exercise, I’ve come to learn. By putting your hands together, you can focus more on your triceps than biceps. By using your knees as the fulcrum of your push-up, you can start off easy and work your way to a full push-up. Once you master that, try putting your feet on a step or higher to increase the difficulty. Crunches are another great exercise that is easy to do, working your abs, and with some modification, you can get your lower back and hamstrings in there too.

There are tons of resources out there to base your workout off of as well. You could do the hundred push ups challenge, the two hundred situps challenge or the two hundred squats training program. They even provide you a training plan to reach those goals. If you want something quick and dirty, try the Deck of Cards workout. You’ll find variations of this all over the place but the result is all the same. This gives you an intense 20 to 30 minute workout that you can do in your own home. Most variations have you doing push-ups and squats but you can always change it up by adding in things like crunches, tricep dips or burpees, all of which you will hate at first but will grow to love as you are able to do them more easily. Another one of my favorites, and I use that term with all the disdain I can muster, is the plank. The simple act of keeping your body totally straight while being propped up on your toes and elbows sounds easy. Try doing this twice for a minute each time.

With a little creativity and a pair of shoes, or not if you prefer barefoot (I personally have gone to a hybrid with the Vibram shoe: worth every penny), you can find any number of exercises that will give you a workout every bit intense as the gym will. Just to be clear, I am in no way a fitness professional. I’m just a poor schlubb that managed to lose a few pounds over the last several years. I tried all sorts of activities from the gym, soccer, rugby, running and cycling. Just remember, the hardest part of all this, gym or no, is the motivation to do it. My brother, and probably one of the fittest people I know, told me that even if all you do is walk for 5 minutes each day, you’re doing something. Maybe tomorrow you’ll walk for ten minutes, maybe not, may you’ll jog. Who cares, just do something. We’d love to hear some of your free or frugal fitness tips.

Photo courtesty crd!

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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

@conqueringPF 2010/03/04 at 9:37 pm

Wow. I hate the gym as well. I go for a month and pay out the rest of my contract. Running is my frugal fitness. All of my buddies cycle. I chose not to buy an expensive bike and bought a nice pair of shoes instead. I ran a half marathon in November. It was the cheapest fitness I could find.
.-= @conqueringPF´s last blog ..Step 1: Define Passion =-.

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Austin 2010/03/05 at 12:05 am

I agree that probably 15% of people who get memberships should get them.

However, when winter comes it’s beneficial to have an outlet for working out. I don’t have a membership so during November – March I do 0 outside physical activity. Maybe it would be worth it to a lot of people to pay for a year, not use it as much during warm months, but make it up during the cold months.

Austin @ Foreigner’s Finances
.-= Austin´s last blog ..The 5 Books That Changed My Money Life =-.

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LeanLifeCoach 2010/03/05 at 4:30 am

For centuries humans did not have weight problems and we had no gyms. Today there is a gym on every corner yet a significant portion of our population is obese.

I’m not saying…… just wondering…..
.-= LeanLifeCoach´s last blog ..Combating the Closing Techniques ““ The Assumptive Close =-.

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Darren Norman 2010/03/05 at 8:26 am

Exactly! The modern diet certainly doesn’t help that either.
.-= Darren Norman´s last blog ..Running: How I Hate You…or Do I? =-.

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Kevin@OutOfYourRut 2010/03/05 at 5:55 am

I’m guessing most people join a gym to get motivated, but that’s kind of backward. Why not first prove your motivation–by getting into a workout habit without a gym–and then spend money on a membership. That’s lower risk since you know you’ll use it at that point. We’re all so ready to spend money when ever we want to make something happen!

Where I live, gyms are advertising $10-15/month memberships, but I’ve always thought there was a catch. The places offering that look empty most of the time even with the low price.
.-= Kevin@OutOfYourRut´s last blog ..How to Save Money At The Movies =-.

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Peter 2010/03/05 at 6:05 am

I’ve found that if my workout and the place I workout aren’t convenient, it won’t happen. Which is why working out at home works a lot better for me. I’ve got a set of weights, a treadmill and a ton of workout regimes that I can do at home. If I pay for the gym I hardly ever go and it’s just wasted money.
.-= Peter´s last blog ..Ways To Make Extra Money Series: 5 More Ideas To Create Extra Income =-.

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Darren Norman 2010/03/05 at 8:24 am

I’m with you there. That is the same problem I have. With a gym being out of the way, it takes that much more effort to even get your workout started. I don’t have the treadmill but I’m a huge fan of doing exercise outdoors. It’s also convenient that I live in an area (Seattle) where I can do that most of the year, as long as I don’t mind getting wet.
.-= Darren Norman´s last blog ..Running: How I Hate You…or Do I? =-.

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craig 2010/03/05 at 7:06 am

I completely disagree with this and I have no problem spending the $31 a month I spend at the gym, even with the one time 75$ sign up fee. I go to the gym 4-5 times a week, enjoy working out, and going to the gym motivates me more to workout and stay active other than just trying to force myself to do push ups in my apartment. I like being able to get out of the apt and go somewhere that has equipment I don’t have. Sure you can do plenty of things at home for free but I know I wouldn’t the same way. I love being active and outdoors as well and again find spending money on playing in competitive leagues worth it as well. If you use it and are committed I don’t have any problems with spending to work out.

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Darren Norman 2010/03/05 at 8:21 am

Craig, you absolutely have a valid point. Working out at home and being just as successfully certainly isn’t for everybody. Gym’s are a worthwhile investment if you use them regularly and prefer that type of environment. You know you’ll get a clean place (I hope) with good machines that are very effective. For me, I have a difficult time keeping to a strict schedule with regards to taking classes and joining sports leagues so I tend towards more individual pursuits, although I have taken advantage of both of those things in the past. It’s all about personal preference. I just prefer to save the money and do my own thing.

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paul 2010/03/05 at 8:29 am

Craig why do I have a picture of you wearing your sleeveless grey sweatshirt with some lifting gloves on? I hope you don’t think you can just show up here and disagree, if you want some controversy head over to Financial Samurai :-). I kid, I’m a kidder. I do think this is an exception to the rule though, I have spent a considerable amount of time in the gym and I’ve also spent an even more considerable amount of time not going to the gym while having a gym membership. Fortunately for me it’s at no cost. That reminds me I need to get to it.

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Neal@Wealth Pilgrim 2010/03/05 at 7:11 am

So true. I pumped the gym years ago, picked up some weights, got some training and now I’m a lean-mean Pilgrim machine.

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Ted @broketofree 2010/03/05 at 10:18 am

Our gym also has free childcare (and it is a sweeeet childcare place). That way I can work out, they can play, and we can get a few things done together. It gives them a chance to hang out with other kids and play in a unique place and a lot of options for me to work out. It is also open 24 hours so I can go late at night now and again when I want to get out of the house after a long day (I work from home).

But! When I get sick (like this month) and have a hard time going- man- that $60 bucks a month just goes down the drain. When I am not sick- I go 3-4 times a week- 3 with the kids. If I only worked out at home, it would be only at night or early morning so it is not convenient. So we pay for some convenience and another option to give the kids some run around time. Plus, they have a great pool- so summertime with the kids is nice.
.-= Ted @broketofree´s last blog ..The Car Buying Experience =-.

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Angela 2010/03/05 at 12:20 pm

Norm, I’m with you 100%! My experience at the gym has not been very successful. The most success I had was when I purchased 8 sessions with a trainer (very expensive) and she taught me about fitness and training. Now I use what I learned from her (and have read) to work out at home. Here are some of my fitness faves: walking/hiking/running with our two 80 pound dogs (they need it and so do I), do my pilates or Jillian Michaels’ videos (perfect for those winter months), pump some iron (5 – 15lb hand weights for me…), use my resistance bands, sit-ups/crunches, planks (up to 1:30), lunges, squats and running on our sweet craigslist elliptical machine. I also enjoy playing softball and skiing. I’d like to get more into biking.

One of the problems with the gym was the childcare. I’m glad it’s worked out for Ted (above) but ours wasn’t free and usually my kids (preschool aged at the time) would come home and develop a cold just about every week. They did have fun, though. It was just as disruptive as it was helpful to my work-out schedule.

If I were going to invest several hundred dollars, I would recommend getting some simple equipment and hiring a trainer to teach you how to use it. There are just sooo many other ways to work out with-out heading to the gym.

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Darren Norman 2010/03/06 at 8:19 am

Angela, you’ve definitely got it right. With a few one time investments, you can set your self up with what you need and not continually pay out to someone. You can evend ecide to revisit the trainer once a year to update what you’re doing if you like. This is something I do every few months as it’s good to change up your routine, not just to keep it interesting, but also to maintain the effectiveness of your workout.
.-= Darren Norman´s last blog ..Running: How I Hate You…or Do I? =-.

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Billy 2010/03/05 at 2:36 pm

I like Darren’s blog. Is there a way to get his posts via email?

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Darren Norman 2010/03/06 at 8:16 am

Billy, I appreciate the support. I’m still pretty new to the whole blog thing. As you can see, I’ve only done two posts, besides this one for FG. I don’t have a mechanism for sending updates via email at the moment but you can follow me on twtter using the link in my bio above if you like. I tweet when I’ve posted a new blog entry.
.-= Darren Norman´s last blog ..Running: How I Hate You…or Do I? =-.

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Mighty 2010/03/06 at 3:58 am

Back in 2008, I signed up for a one-year membership in a gym. But as with most people, I didn’t really get what my money was worth. So, since last year, I decided to just buy some fitness equipments and stored them at home. So far, I’ve managed to exercise regularly and keep my weight at the same level and improve my overall fitness level. 😀

Gym membership is really a waste of money.

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Jimmy Jean 2011/03/15 at 2:33 am

I left the marines a year ago to study and decided to join the university gym, what a horrible mistake even as a marine I hardly pumped iron more so concentrated on body weight exercises and hill sprints. But yes certainly I wanted to get big and weight was what I needed so I did some quick calculation and figured out that it is cheaper to buy weights from my local auction site then to spend on a gym membership. All you really need is dumbbells, a barbell and a bench for strength training. Its great as I can work out whenever I want with plenty of privacy. Let me tell you at the gym I use to get pretty distracted with all the beautiful women, haha.

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The Rat 2010/03/07 at 10:19 am

I tend to consider myself to live a reasonably frugal lifestyle but I gotta have the gym! I pay under 50 bones for a 3-month pass which is great. Other than a weight room, the facility also has a gymnasium for b-ball/running and a swimming pool so I find it offers a great all-in-one place to go. The swimming isn’t free with the gym pass though.

BTW- First time visitor, nice site!
.-= The Rat´s last blog ..BIN Revisited: From Tantrum to Tantalization =-.

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paul 2010/03/07 at 7:55 pm

Welcome “The Rat” I hope you stick around. And the last thing I hope to do is discourage someone from getting exercise so if it’s working for you then go for it!

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The Rat 2010/03/08 at 6:00 am

It’s all good; nice post!
.-= The Rat´s last blog ..BIN Revisited: From Tantrum to Tantalization =-.

Aaron @ Clarifinancial 2010/03/08 at 5:41 am

This is such a great article and the video was awesome too. The funniest part was when Darren mentioned the “snaking skills honed over 20 years.” Believe it or not, I actually have the opposite problem and was never able to put on any bulk (you know, the good kind). Also, after buying a car and using that instead of a bike as my main mode of transportation made my body even sadder.

I got some cheap dumbbells (10 and 15 lb back then) and did what ever for a while with push ups and sit ups. I’d buy a little extra equipment as my skills increase with a slim portion of what I save from not going to the gym. And I make sure at least one work out a week is body weight, so I don’t have an excuse when I travel.

I love your story Darren, because like you, my challenge was always one of convenience. Now I’m faster, stronger, and more ripped than I ever have been (even though I’m older), and I’ve finally gotten to the point where I my routines actually excite me.

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Money Beagle 2010/03/08 at 12:45 pm

I joined a gym back in my 20’s and ran into the same things that you mentioned. I now have some exercise equipment in my basement and use it ten times as much as I ever did my gym membership. No looking back now!
.-= Money Beagle´s last blog ..Net Worth Review: March 2010 =-.

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Victorino 2010/03/15 at 5:19 am

When it comes to frugality, I will agree with the article. But of course there are also some things to consider. For me it’s sociability. Sometimes, a marketer like me, would need to consider a membership to exchange with business cards. However, a home exercise routine is great for people who want’s to save more money and don’t need to socialize.
Sometimes people get into the gym because of the gym instructors. But if you need to really save money – there are a lot of free ebook, articles and videos on the internet which will guide you to your do-it-your-self body workouts.
.-= Victorino´s last blog ..Personal Finance tips #1: Stick to Your Financial Plan =-.

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Joe 2010/03/25 at 8:10 am

I’m a little torn on this. I’m a gym rat though so YMMV…

I did a pre-pay deal with my gym 5 years ago. $1000 up front. No dues for 3 years. Then $24/YEAR for the rest of my life. It’s a very large nationwide chain that I get to use on business travel also. There’s also one right around the corner from my house. I’m in there 5 times a week and I definitely got the better of that deal.

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Jimmy Jean 2011/03/15 at 2:36 am

Definitely that is a great deal and with it being right around the corner, yes you good a sweat deal. My problem was the gym I signed up was an hour by train, the cost of a train pass in itself was expensive.

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Force Factor Nitric 2010/06/25 at 8:08 pm

Hi there friend! Just writing a quick little note in your guest book to say hi from Halifax, which is up in Canada. I’m always astonished at the quality of writing that I can discover on the internet by punching the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button on Google! Well that’s just about all I need to say! Thanks again and very great to ‘meet’ you 🙂

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Mark 2010/07/08 at 11:21 am

I agree with you LeanLifeCoach. We need to stop for a minute and ask ourselves why we need a gym membership. Running, jogging and walking has kept me lean and healthy. If I want to incorporate weights, I find something heavy in my apartment. Our body in itself is actually a fully-stocked gym. You don’t need one piece of profession exercise equipment to maintain an exercise regimen.

Health clubs these days are nothing more than a pickup joint for singles in their mid-20’s to mid-30’s. I say take the gym membership money and spend it on a matchmaker and workout in your home for free.

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Vince 2010/10/05 at 2:34 pm

I use to be a frequent gym goer, but it became costly and I have also caught infections more than once. Dont beleive all the hype about how clean they keep their gyms. One time I even spent 2 days in a hospital due to a run down gym.

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Kelsey 2010/11/16 at 11:23 am

I’ve had the same problem! I’m 19 right now, and at one point had a lot of success at the gym. I lost 20-30 pounds, but I had a friend there with me. Without someone to do everything with – it really gets boring. For a month or so I loved it, but then staring at a TV I couldn’t even hear became very boring. I’m going to start running on a track this week, and hopefully that goes better! I have a gymboss timer which I love and do workouts from http://www.bodyrock.tv. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s amazing and they don’t charge you to view their workouts or recipes. They are just a normal couple that travel a lot and do this for a living – they have amazing bodies! I really urge you to check it out.

Cheers,
Kelsey

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x0tmvb 2012/08/07 at 2:22 pm

It’s not a waste of time if you use it… Working out at home or running is not the same; at the gym you can do a much better, more sophisticated workout in less time and rip the rewards faster.

It’s a waste of money when you don’t go, which is usually the case. People sign up and then they only go the first week.

Years ago I was motivated, and the gym was a real deal for me. I was in great shape, big, muscular, for only $40 per month. I was also able to meet people there.

Today it’s a waste for me. I’m trying to get motivated but I cannot, so I’m just spending the monthly fee to go only two or three times a week, which is the same as nothing. But on the other hand if I didn’t go these two or three times I would do absolutely nothing.

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