Escaping the Jungle of the Gym

How you can use your brain to get your brawn.

By Tim Philbin, College of the Holy Cross


Among my group of friends, I have always been that guy who doesn’t go to the gym.

It’s a conversation I’ve had often: a friend tells me to come along with him to workout, and then I have to explain that I don’t exactly do that. Soon after, I feel the waves of judgment. After all, what kind of lazy slob doesn’t work out?

Let’s get a big misconception out of the way: I actually do care about my health.

I’m not just a lazy couch potato who plays video games all day.

So, since people can never understand why someone who cares about their health refuses to buy a membership, here are 5 reasons to ditch the gym.

1. You’re Not a People Person

I suppose now is the time to confess to being a serial introvert.

I like people in small familiar groups, not vast unfamiliar ones. So if you’re like me, the thought of exercising around people you don’t know is simply unappealing, especially if you’re worried everyone is constantly judging you for your unathleticism.

Plus, there must be a whole social etiquette to the gym that I have no inclination to learn: Do you make small talk with the people around you, or is that annoying? If you don’t know how to use a machine, do you ask someone for help, or just have to figure it out?

It is questions like these that perennially bother me and my fellow introverts, and frankly I don’t feel motivated enough to go to the gym to push past my social hang-ups.

2. You Don’t Need a Gym

Calisthenics are a group of exercises that improve one’s physical condition without the need for elliptical machines, treadmills, weights or other forms of equipment. For this reason, it is also sometimes referred to as body-weight training. Common examples include pushups, sit-ups, and squats, although the list is almost endless.

Dumping Iron: A Case for Ditching Your Gym

They can be done almost anywhere, including your backyard (my personal favorite), basement, or any other space large enough to accommodate the movements. The great advantage to calisthenics is that they allow you to stay in shape without a costly gym membership that you probably won’t use anyway (67 percent of people with a gym membership never use it).

The truth is, the fitness industry operates on the myth that the equipment found at the gym is essential to living a healthy lifestyle, but that myth is just that, a myth. Throughout human history, people have been as fit or fitter than they are today without the benefits of modern equipment. A gym membership might be helpful, but is certainly not necessary to stay in shape.

3. You Don’t Care about Having a “Beach Body”

Many people hit the gym for aesthetic reasons. They want to get ripped for the summer, or look like Superman, or achieve some other body image goal.

I, on the other hand, feel no need to pursue such a physique. As far as I am concerned, any strength training that I do should be directed toward developing functional strength—that is strength I can actually use, not just big muscles for show.

The trend in male body image over the past few decades has been toward an over muscular body. Look at this picture of Superman from the 1940’s, when the character was first conceived. He’s a definitely big, but his physique is fairly typical of an athletic man. Now look at this one from the 1970’s. We’re starting to see some more muscular definition (Superman has abs now, and take a look at the shoulders and biceps).

Now check out today’s Superman. The big guy is impossibly muscle-bound, with every little muscle popping out. In the 1940s, audiences found it believable that a guy without abs could leap tall buildings in a single bound, but today we need Superman to be so ripped that his level of body fat is literally unsustainable for life. That is simply preposterous. The fact is you don’t have to be shredded to be fit, so being shredded doesn’t particularly matter.

4. Everything in Moderation

This one goes along with my last reason for not going to the gym. It seems that there is constantly some new trend in fitness, whether it be interval training, circuit training, ketogenic diets or whatever.

Inevitably, within a year or two of this new and radical breakthrough, research emerges which debunks the previous trend. The experts then tell us that common sense was right all along; fitness is the product of a moderate, healthy lifestyle consisting of a clean diet and regular exercise. But of course, another fad comes along, and the whole cycle starts over again.

Dumping Iron: A Case for Ditching Your Gym

The truth is that the correct answer to the problem of fitness is and always will be the one that we have known all along: moderation. Living healthily doesn’t mean that you can’t have a slice of cake every now and then.

Similarly, a healthy lifestyle does not necessitate that you go to the gym obsessively, but rather that you do something that makes you sweat and breathe heavily a few times a week, and you don’t need to go to the gym to do that.

5. You’re Too Busy Living Life

Perhaps the most common reason for going to the gym is to prolong your life. After all, it is uncontroversial that regular exercise reduces the chance of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and various obesity related ailments. This is not inherently problematic, but there is a danger to it. It is possible to get so caught up in living to see tomorrow that we forget that we are alive today. In striving for quantity, it is possible to overlook quality.

Remember, more important than the monetary investment of a gym membership is the time investment. After all, you can make more money, but once a moment has passed, it never comes back. As a result, you should be careful about how you invest your time, especially if you don’t feel that you’re getting enough return on your investment from the gym.

No more articles