Membership Not Required

Good evening, friends and neighbors.
I don’t go to the gym.

I was never really a “gym rat” or part of gym culture. For the couple early years I DID have a membership, I didn’t really go there to socialize. The hours I went tended to forbid that. The gym was open 24 hours, and my preferred times were either in the early morning hours (before work) or in the middle of the night (after my shifts at the hospital.

Here’s the story of how I learned to keep $50 a month in my pocket and still stay fit.

 Shortly after returning from a family trip to Orlando in 2012, I made the decision to get in shape and lose weight- inspired partially by my older sister talking about the advice she got from her boyfriend and future husband Kevin, and partially spite over a recent break-up.
     In Somers Point, NJ, I was living near a gym called “Snap Fitness.” With my weird schedule from nursing and culinary school, putting down $50 a month for access to gym equipment whenever I wanted it would inspire me to make time.
     I’m nothing if not predictable. It worked like a charm- between learning to manage my diet and regular visits to the gym, I started on my way to losing weight. Results were noticeable after about 3 months, with people commenting on my suddenly baggier clothes and skinnier face. After about a year or so, I had dropped from 265 pounds to 220. 
     Emboldened by success and a new routine, I was a faithful gym acolyte. I would often show up at 10 o’clock at night, and hit the weights and elliptical machines till 1 am, dragging myself home for a late shower and a few hours sleep before getting up for work. The gym gave me alone time, and the exercise helped me burn stress and anger from the preceding day. At a hospital, stress is the coin of the realm. Some nurses dealt with it with tobacco or booze. Mine was burned off on the elliptical, or quelled through audiobooks. These two in particular, if you are interested.
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“King Solomon’s Mines” by H. Rider Haggard

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Monkey, a.k.a. Journey To The West by Wu Cheng’en, trans. and edited by Arthur Waley

After about a year, my roommate came into ownership of a house in Egg Harbor City, and invited me to be a tenant. It was a great place, with everything we needed in walking distance (including several friendly bars.) Alas, there was no gym.
    Sure, I could DRIVE to the nearest gym, but then… what would be the point? I didn’t want to get back into my car all sweaty and gross after a workout. Besides, the walk/run to and from the gym had become a warm-up for me. When I started going, I had simply walked the mile or so there and back. Over the time, the Walk had become a half jog, and finally a full run to prime me for my workout. I wasn’t about to give it up.

PictureSteph and Kevin

That was when I made a fateful trip to North Jersey to see my older sister and finally meet Kevin. Kevin is a martial arts and bass guitar instructor. He was/is rather built, taking physical fitness very seriously- not just as part of his work, but as part of his daily life. Over dinner, he commented and congratulated me on my weight loss, and we discussed our respective methodologies.

    Later that night, after my sister went home to be up for work and Kevin had offered me his couch for the night, we sat up late to drink and chat. As the bourbon dwindled, we discussed life, love, and everything in between. I recounted to him my worries about not being able to find a gym near the new house.

Pausing for a moment, he looked at me incredulously. 
Why do you need a gym?”
“Well, it’s what I’ve always done. You need equipment to work out with, right?”

Kevin gestured around his spartan apartment- practically barren but for a few pieces of furniture, bookshelves, a TV, game system, his guitars, and a few decorative items of MASSIVE personal import.

“I don’t go to a gym. Do you see any equipment around here? Hold on- I’ve got a book for you.”

Kevin stood and strode over to his bookshelf, pulling down a faded blue book and handing it to me. “Dinosaur Training,” by Brooks Kubik.
It’s all in there,” he said.

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It was. Why buy weights when you can LIFT HEAVY OBJECTS AROUND YOU. Why get a treadmill for 20 easy payments of $29.95 when you can GET A PAIR OF RUNNING SHOES AND GO OUTSIDE.
A workout program on tape, for $60? Go down to the dollar store, get a pack of cards, and do this.

“Look, once you get fit and everything, what do you want to do?”  Kevin asked as I flipped through the book.
“Well, I’ve got a lot of teachers in school who’s backs and knees are bothering them. I’d like to be able to work in a bakery as long as possible without that happening, I guess.”
Then train for that. What’s the heaviest common thing you are likely to lift as a baker?”
“Um… I guess bags of flour and sugar. They’re pretty big, and 50 pounds each.”
Kevin sipped his bourbon and tipped the glass at the book. “Get a 50 pound sandbag, and start doing THAT. Grab a bag, and do EVERYTHING with it you’d do with a bag of flour. Lift it, toss it, drop it, carry it around a track- whatever.”

 So I did.


Four years later, this is my gym.

SANDBAG- $5 for 50 lbs. of play sand at Home Depot. Wrapped in a couple garbage bags and a $4 roll of duct tape to prevent leaks. The rope was from the move West. Currently looking for 60 pound tubes of sand to make a heavier bag.
DECK OF CARDS- About $3 for the fancy Beatles cards. 
RUNNING SHOES- The biggest expense here, about $60 from DSW. Lasted me 3 years so far.
YOGA MAT- Borrowed from Emily. Looking into getting my own eventually, but absolutely not needed. Good for exercising barefoot, though.
BRICKS- Swiped from outside and cleaned off. Solid handweights, and good risers for doing certain exercises.

Grand theoretical total: $97. That’s less than two months membership at my formerly-beloved 24-hour gym. Most of these things will last me YEARS.

Nope- no gym needed.

As of now, I work out almost daily, and cycle between various routines-
Running around Mt. Tabor, whether permitting. My route is paved and a little over 5k.

Calisthenics, rain or shine. 25 minutes going through as much of Gotch’s Bible as possible. I have multiple variations on the random card model, with different exercises depending on what I feel up to.

Sandbag weight training. 25 minutes doing basic lifts and exercises with the sandbag: Squats, Sumo Squats, Floor Press, Overhead Press, etc. This used to be connected to the card de k as well, but recently I’ve just been doing the lifts in a cycle, and focusing on tension and effort rather than reps.

Throughout the day, every day, finding excuses/opportunities to move. Walking/biking to work, lifting bags of flour at work, etc.

If you like the community the gym offers you and enjoy gym culture, great. If you like socializing, or it gives you a reason TO socialize as some friends have admitted, splendid! Enjoy yourself, no judgements here.
If you are going to the gym and paying a membership fee because you think it’s the ONLY way you can exercise efficiently and lose weight, however…. rest assured- there’s another way.

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EVERY job has an employee gym if you look at it right.

Keep your money. The only cost of admission to a healthy lifestyle should be desire, effort, sweat, and time.
You always have time. How about the rest?

Stay Classy,


P.S.
If you want a little help getting started on your own gym-free fitness quest, you should get in touch with my sister, Stephanie. Steph is now a Beachbody Coach, and besides operating a program that both she and Kevin are part of, she also runs regular fitness/goal achievement support groups on Facebook! Go check her out if you need a hand!