The friend I was showing around turned and whispered to me, “My God, how can you expect me to train here? It’s terrifying! It’s like the exercise yard of a high security US state correctional facility.”
It did not matter to her that all the big blokes are total pussycats or, as my friend and PT [personal trainer] always tells her female clients, “These macho types are way too busy looking at themselves to ever bother you.” The place just looked intimidating.
Most gyms are like this, even when their membership isn’t made up of extras from the casts of Pain and Gain and Pumping Iron. Once you join they become less intimidating by the day until one day
you are the person unwittingly intimidating new and prospective members. But what if you don’t want to put yourself through a sensation often compared to joining a new school?
The fact is that everything you can do in a gym you can do outside a gym. All gyms do is give you the equipment and space to exercise safely and expeditiously. But anything that can be done in a gym can be done at home or in a park. By this I do not mean that you should invest hundreds of pounds in a pull-up bar and 200 kg worth of barbells, or sell your BMW and turn your garage into a home gym. What I mean is you can exercise by using your garden, your local park and your own body weight.
The obvious way to do this is to play a sport you enjoy, or think you might enjoy. Boxing, wrestling and other martial arts are excellent ways to build strength and burn fat. They are, however, highly skilled and won’t suit everyone, not least because in order to get the most out of them you need to be fit to begin with.
Jogging slowly around your town will help condition your heart. But for most people jogging is a waste of time. It simply won’t give you the benefits of a high impact workout. Try doing sprints to keep your calorie burn going long after you’ve stopped. A good way to do this is to sprint from one lamppost to the next, then walk to the following one and then sprint to the next and so on. This will build muscle and exercise the heart. If you don’t fancy sprinting around pavements then invest in a watch with an alarm or use your phone and an interval trainer app. The idea is to sprint for one minute and walk for 30 seconds. Do this for 30 minutes. And remember you will only be running for a part of the time.
Cycling is a great way to burn some calories. Depending on your speed, you can burn anywhere from 200-500 calories in just 30 minutes of exercise. Make sure you add the proper resistance to ramp up the intensity and get the maximum calorie burn. For an extra intense workout, try a spinning class. These classes attempt to stimulate the difficulty of an outdoor bicycle course and are a great way to burn a lot of calories fast!
Squash or Tennis
Squash is in many ways as brutal and effective as boxing. The sport requires constant motion. Sprinting around the court can help you burn over 400 calories in 30 minutes. Cardio tennis is another extremely effective, high-impact activity.
If you want to get a great cardio workout that also improves strength, join a crew team. Rowing is a fantastic cardio exercise that burns about 400 calories per 30 minutes. Rowing works all major muscle groups and helps strengthen your core. Other benefits include improved coordination and increased body awareness. If you’re not close to water, you can still get a great workout by using a rowing machine. These can be acquired very cheaply on the second-hand market and do not take up as much room as a multi-gym, bench and full set of dumb-bells.
Football, particularly five-a-side or three-a-side, requires constant motion. Players must travel down the field quickly in order to keep control of the ball. There are repeated shifts between sprinting and jogging, and these quick shifts help to increase aerobic capacity and improve cardiovascular health. Other benefits include improved coordination, increased stamina and greater flexibility.
All of these are at their most effective when you put the most in. So you don’t have to join a gym. But you do have to work very hard outside the gym. My own view is that just as it helps to be in a gym with someone who can lift heavier, push harder and run faster than you, you should play sports against people you know to be better than you. Friendly competition is a great motivator. Unfriendly competition is even better. Just ask those big tattooed blokes down the gym.