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Whether or not I am recovering from an injury, I don’t like going to big box gyms to stay healthy, active, and fit. Maybe because my ego is still hurting from when I signed up for a one-year contract at GoodLife Fitness in my last year of high school. I did use my membership quite often in the summer and in the fall, but when crunch time at school came, I barely went there. I was balancing studying to get high marks for university scholarships as well as working part-time to save money. Wasting so much of my hard-earned student money there, I vowed never to sign up for another gym. And it’s not like I’m the first person who had to live through that.
There’s that, and because I can’t stand how they smell! That raw, sweaty odour covered up by sprays of antiseptic deodorizer makes me nauseous. More on why I hate gyms later.
Even without a gym membership, I’ve still managed to exercise regularly. In university, I had access to gym facilities as a paying student (I just had to endure the smell of it all). Now as a geologist who works away from civilization half the year, I carried on with my athletic pursuits by exercising at the gym at work, following an illegally downloaded BeachBody video in the comfort of my own room, hiking, running, and paying for drop-in fitness classes whenever I was in town. Staying active has definitely helped me in more ways that one when I got injured.
When the time came that I needed to add strengthening exercises to my then-unexciting exercise routine, I consulted a kinesiologist to construct an weight training program for me. Although I was a relatively strong girl pre-accident, I solely followed exercise videos and attended group fitness classes! The last time I used actual gym equipment for weight training was in 2009, my first year of university when I was briefly part of our rowing team. Oh, and in 2013 when I was training for a week-long backpacking trip. Since then I’ve never touched those weight training machines at the gym – I have no patience to learn more about them as they honestly intimidate me.
At that point, my exercise goal was relatively simple anyway: to get strong and fit again after my injury. Because I couldn’t lift anything more than five pounds for more than half a year, my arms turned into soft, flailing noodles.
I had a long way to go and didn’t need all the crazy weight training machines for my purposes. As for my cardio component, I’d rather do fun, aerobic dance workouts (though all low-impact for now) than waste away monotonously on an elliptical or treadmill.
I also didn’t need to deal with these things at a real gym:
- The intimidating, judgemental environment. So what if I can’t lift 10 lbs. just yet? I know I’m struggling – I’m recovering from a NECK INJURY! Do I really want to tell people that? I also still can’t get over the fact that 90% of people in the weight training area are guys. I may be thinking too highly of myself here, but I don’t need creepers judging me. I’ve talked to girls who lift weights and apparently you do get over it.
- My tendency to compete with others. As bruising it may be to my ego, I’m pretty much a beginner again. I’m extremely competitive when it comes to sports (it’s good and bad), so I would only end up feeling bad that I can’t do everything that I want to do, like everyone else, just yet (or ever). I want to focus on myself for now and compete not with others, but with myself.
- The inconvenience of it all. Just thinking about walking there, bringing all my clothes, changing, and then doing it all over again after my workout makes me not even want to go! There’s so much more willpower needed to haul yourself to the gym. The process of going there and back takes up time – I’d rather spend my 40 minutes doing something else, thank you.
- And again, the smell.
My little home gym
My kinesiologist, with whom I was studying at my French immersion school (so random, I know), asked me if I wanted a home program or a gym program. Given my aversion to gyms, it was HOME PROGRAM, ALL THE WAY. She advised me to buy a set of dumbbells, from 5 to 30 lbs. (30 lbs. was the maximum I could lift for the first three months, according my neurosurgeon) as I would gradually increase the load week after week (more on my actual weight training program in my next post!). She suggested that I buy the PowerBlock – she and her husband have a pair and couldn’t recommend it enough.
But I couldn’t afford it at $300 a pair. I might as well use the money for a gym membership (yuck).
I searched high and low for affordable dumbbells that didn’t take up a huge amount of space in our modestly-sized Québec City apartment. I read reviews, calculated how many and which weight plates I needed, and finally bought the following for my ~*home gym*~:
1. Cap Barbell dumbbell set from Canadian Tire: comes with 2 x 1″ threaded dumbbell handles, 4 x collars, 4 x 5 lbs. (2 kg) plates, 4 x 2.5 lbs. (1 kg) plates (47.99 CAD + tax)
2. Four Cap Barbell 1.25-lb. weight plates from Amazon (10 CAD + tax)
3. Four Alex 10-lb. cast iron weight plates from Canadian Tire (39.96 CAD + tax)
All my weight plates only needed to fit the standard 1-inch bars I had. This all came to 110 CAD including taxes, which was comparable to a three-month subscription to the gym closest to me (a 15 to 20-minute walk). I wasn’t really saving money but I wanted to workout at home for convenience.
Okay, so I had the dumbbells (I’m in the second month of using them 3x a week and they’re great, no complaints). The other things I needed were a yoga mat (I already had one) and YouTube for exercise videos (I simply cast the videos from my phone to our TV). I was all set in our living room!!! My husband and I also had a recumbent bike from my mother-in-law and it came with smaller weights (2, 3, and 5 lbs.).
Why I love working out at home
It’s so convenient! One minute I’m cooking or writing, the next I’m already warming up for my workout. It’s easy to fit a workout in my day. There are really NO EXCUSES.
I get to eat and shower immediately. I love eating immediately after a workout. If I went to a regular gym, I’d still have to walk 20 minutes home to eat. And showering? Man, have I come a long way. After not being able to shower for three and a half months with my horrendous halo brace, I never take showers for granted now.
My husband is there to support me. My husband doesn’t believe in gyms either, but in good old-fashioned hard work outdoors and sports like hockey. He’s there to motivate (more like force) me when I don’t feel like working out. He’s there to count my reps when I don’t want to do them anymore! I basically have my own personal spotter too.
I can focus on myself. Like I said earlier, I’m not distracted by people around me. I don’t have to worry about cringing when I see someone with wrong form on the rowing machine (yes, I myself add to the judgemental atmosphere of a real gym).
I can do whatever and wear whatever without being embarrassed. One day I tried to see if I could do a push-up… not even a real one on your toes but on your knees. The result (okay, you have to play this with the sound on):
And no one was there to see that!
By the way, yesterday I did 6 without stopping! 🙂
I have YouTube, Spotify, and the internet at my disposal. Not sure if you have proper form? You can simply search YouTube or Google and check yourself out in a mirror. I’m free to listen to music on my iPad through Spotify or YouTube (which is nice, because I hate wearing earphones/headphones). I also prefer following guided stretching videos on YouTube after my workout. Although I know a lot of stretches, at the gym I would just waste time trying to remember and go through them efficiently.
I take advantage of activities that keep me moving without having to spend money. Aside from the dumbbells I bought, the only other fitness-related thing I pay for is going to a yoga studio a few times a week (I’m sorry, I’m not a fan of the yogis on YouTube). There’s of course, the age-old exercise of walking, even in this weather…
Sometimes I would shop at the farther grocery store on purpose, so I could train myself to carry heavy things over some distance (10 to 15-lb. grocery bags are basically like rock samples, right?)! As well, the city swimming pool near me is free to use.
The only disadvantages
For me, there are only two. One is that I have to change the weight plates depending on the exercise I’m doing. For example, I used to do:
- 1-arm row: 12.5 lbs.
- Goblet squat: 15 lbs.
- Bicep curls: 10 lbs.
- Dumbbell chest press: 10 lbs.
I would go through my circuit in a way that I minimize the time I spend changing the plates. It’s bothersome and it interrupts the flow of my workout, but oh well (at least I get to rest more!). Sometimes I ask my husband to change them for me while I do a bodyweight exercise which doesn’t require the dumbbells.
While you can argue that a home gym is cheaper than going to a big box gym, the real price you pay is your motivation. That’s the second disadvantage of working out at home – you need a lot of motivation.
Given All That I’ve Been Through, I’d say I’m more motivated to exercise than ever before. But I’m not perfect. I used to love working out in the morning – the rush, the pride, and the satisfaction of having exercised set me up for a great day ahead. Now that I prioritize doing my neck exercises in the morning (and let’s be honest, I’m too lazy), I tend to push my workout towards the evening, just before dinner. I’m not sure if I like it better this way. On one hand, I have more energy as I’ve eaten throughout the day. I also have more time to get my workout done, unlike in the mornings when I would have to rush to finish because I have to go to my physiotherapist or French lessons.
Even though I tend to push my workout to the evening, I still get it done. You’re home gym is exactly where it is – AT HOME. It’s just THERE. I feel so much more guilty missing a workout because there really isn’t any room for excuses. It’s way too easy to put off going to a regular gym. Despite the fact that most gyms nowadays run 24/7, I’d rather exercise in my apartment at 10 p.m. (which I have done) than walk or drive all the way there at the same hour.
In the end, the way you exercise is up to you and depends on your personal fitness goals. Slowly recovering from an injury is surely different from losing a ton of weight, or wanting to bulk up (which I really don’t understand, but anyway…). I, for one, am completely happy to do without the frills of going to a gym. I don’t need those machines and I can probably do only one out of several the group fitness classes offered (no high-impact activities for me right now) regardless.
Besides, why would I support a business whose entire business model relies on people not showing up? It disgusts me.
In fact, I did go to a real gym two weeks ago when I was in Mississauga visiting my parents. I couldn’t bring my weights with me on the plane so I signed up for a free three-day trial at a big box gym near me (I’m
cheap frugal, I know). I performed my weight program there and it took so much faster because I didn’t have to fumble around changing my weight plates. The gym also had a pool with the same depth throughout which allowed me to practice swimming without being scared of the deep end (laugh all you want, but I’m getting better!). And the advantages of going to that gym pretty much ended there.
When I decided to go to my first group fitness class since I got injured, I felt a little inferior. It was a muscle toning/ab class full of girls (of course). I wasn’t strong enough to really keep up (it was okay, a lot of other people weren’t either). I didn’t feel bad, but I know I would have hurt my self-esteem if I went two months ago when I only started getting back into shape.
The gym crowd also had such an annoying, douchey vibe to it. Plus, the smell… I just couldn’t deal with it.