Your aversion to the gym is normal. In fact, it’s more normal than the minority of Australians who join gyms. Gyms are a convention of a developed world, where labour is not a mandate.
We workout because we live automated lives. Laundry, dishes, and ovens clean without a much caloric investment from us. Even the cars are starting to drive themselves.
This doesn’t mean you need to grow a desire for dumbbells in your life. (There's a joke in there, but I refuse to make it.)
Understand that the gym isn’t the final word on health. That distinction goes to your doctor. There are more than 100 ways you can maintain your strength and cardio-respiratory health without setting foot in a fitness facility. Here are five ideas to stoke your imagination.
15-Minute Movement Intervals
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For some of us, going to the gym is a matter of time. We don’t have enough of it. People always say, “you only need to spend 30 minutes on the workout,” but after getting the kids to school, it’s hard.
It’s not the workout either. It’s parking the car, getting on the gym gear, then showering up for work, then another commute. For a 30-minute workout, gyms require a lot of effort.
Forget the gym. Unless you’re training for a competition of some sort, you don’t need it.
Instead, work into your day, 10-15 minute intervals of movement. Try to total 45-60 minutes of work. The more intense, the better, but if you’re doing some of them in your work clothes, you may choose to keep the intensity light so you don’t become the sweat monster.
Go for simple moves, like isometric or bodyweight exercises. Planks are a good place to start, but you can work in push-ups any style, squats, walking lunges, even pull-ups if you have access to a pull-up bar.
Schedule it. Set reminders. Keep your appointments.
You can track your output for the day by using an activity monitor, like this one by Omron
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There was a time when exercise was a little thing you called playtime. As an adult, you can’t stroll up to the local playground and start swinging around on the monkey bars, not unless you’re with an actual child. Even then the other adults might frown on it.
Instead, look for child-like outlets for fun. The Australian Dodgeball Federation
is the governing body for formalized dodgeball, but rogue dodgeball league pops up on social media. Try Reddit.
Don’t like dodgeball, try looking for a kick the can group or kickball. There are a dozen schoolyard leagues for adults where you can redeem your inner child’s fears over getting picked last.
The best part about playing these types of activities is it’s all good fun. Try being a goof on the football field or during a game of rugby. They'll send you packing in a heartbeat.
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Filling your life with projects, especially laborious ones, serves many masters. If you plan to spend your weekends working in the garden, you’ll not only have a lovely garden to enjoy, you’ll burn hundreds of calories.
Don't have money for projects? Volunteer your time to build housing for less fortune people or some other such work.
The more rigorous your work, the more you’ll run your muscles through a healthy range of motion. Movement is how your body uses your lymphatic system to clear out the crud.
A quick review of anatomy: there is no heart organ for the lymphatic system. It’s your skeletal muscles that do that work.
The more you move, the more crud you clear out. The more intense that movement, the better job you do.
Yes, you should build a new deck by hand, but weeding will suffice. Do this: pull out your calendar and your project wish list. If you don’t have a project list, write one down.
Before you fill in your weekends with brunch dates, drop in some projects. You can apply this same logic to your evenings or weekday equivalent.
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You want to know the biggest secret about hiking? It’s walking with better scenery. You wanna know some more secrets about hiking? You don’t need a rucksack, hiking boots, snake-bite kit, fancy water bottle or any of that gear they sell at the outdoor shop.
You need the means to ambulate, a hill (or hills), some sunscreen and a bottle of water. You would be wise to have a phone with GPS in case you get lost.
The great thing about hiking is you can often set out from your front door, then hike away and hike back. From the section of skipping the gym, you don’t have to commute or worry about locker rooms. If you have a headlamp and stick to safe areas, you can do it whenever you have time.
The downside of hiking is that it is only a cardiovascular workout. There is no strength portion to hiking, but you will burn calories.
That said, don’t think you are “training your legs,” not the way squats or lunges train them. If you can work in some upper body moves and squats on your hike, then you are officially cross training. Yoga works fine too.
Minor Life Tweaks
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At the risk of repeating myself, the more you move, the less you have to worry about going to the gym. Folks who work in labour don’t often need the gym. That’s because their very livelihoods and lives are active. You can try to emulate aspects of this by changing the ease of your day.
Start by turning your desk into a standing desk. You can purchase a simple system on Amazon, one that you can adjust up and down as you prefer.
The jury is out the treadmill desk, but standing at your computer can have uncountable benefits. It’s no panacea, though.
If you slouch you may create as many problems as you solve. To combat this, ahem, don’t slouch. Set reminders to straighten up. Also, mix your standing with sitting. These changes are natural and good for your body.
Take other action to increase your activity. Skip escalators. Park your car… at home. Ride a bike, walk or even commute to work. If you must drive, park far from whatever when you drive.
All these ideas are annoying, but if you remind yourself it’s all in the name of skipping the gym, then you may find it easier. By the way, you’ll notice that nobody else takes the stairs. While they plod up the escalator, there is great joy in bounding past on the staircase.
Here’s the rub: none of this, gym nor the aforementioned will give you the body of Adonis. Great physiques, which are not necessarily a measure of health, you carve in the kitchen.
Remember, your movement patterns are about using your lymphatic system, training your nervous system, and keeping your body strong enough to live well on Earth. You can accomplish all of that without stepping foot in a gym.
Damon Mitchell is a recovering fitness industry fancy-pants, with twenty plus years of experience. He’s been certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine and the American Council on Exercise. These days he works as a content creator.