Don’t Go to the Gym

Last fall I joked that I was working on a theme of four word post titles and someone tweeted me a helpful topic suggestion about not driving to the gym (apologies to whomever made the suggestion, I can’t seem to find it anymore).

At the time, I thought it was a good idea but that I’m not really the one to write it, as I don’t really go to the gym.* Sure, there is something silly about getting in your car to go somewhere to exercise, but I think it’s more my style to fight the hypo. Rather than recommend that you get an extra mile or whatever of cardio by propelling your own body to the gym, I’m just going to say: don’t go to the gym.

Okay, having made the simple, declarative statement, let me start with the caveats. Gyms are great if you enjoy them, and my amateur understanding is that there is some evidence that resistance training is good both for maintaining your metabolism and bone density. So, yeah, go to the gym if you want.

But for the rest of you who go to the gym only because you believe you have to, or probably more likely, pay for a gym but don’t go, just don’t. You don’t need it. If you’re like me, you hate it.

Part of what’s great about living in at least somewhat urban place is that movement and activity can be built into your daily goings on. If you live closer to stuff, you don’t need a car to get to it, especially if you also shop closer to home. You might even find don’t you don’t need to go to the gym.

A (snowy) outdoor treadmill

A (snowy) outdoor treadmill

Don’t get me wrong, I know it can seem like a real pain not to drive everywhere. But try this to maybe scare yourself into driving less. Start tracking how much you move. Get a pedometer or an app for your phone and see how many steps per day you take when you live in your car.

Everyone’s health insurance provider would like us to walk at 10,000 steps a day. If you use your car for all of your transportation needs, how close do you get? Not anywhere in the vicinity, right?

The good news is that you don’t need to go all the way to being car-free (I’m not!). Just start thinking about whether you can accomplish the errand you’re planning without driving. Maybe you can walk to a store that has some of what you need (you can get the rest tomorrow). Maybe you can ride a bike. You can probably get there (eventually) on transit, and at least you’ll move a bit to get to and from the bus or train.

Heated, indoor treadmill

Heated, indoor treadmill

I know, you’re so busy and your errands will take a bit longer. But just think about all the time you’ll save by not going to the gym!

*Actually, at the time I lived in a building that had a gym, which I would use from time to time and not drive to, but still. These days, I do some push-ups and core exercises at home.

Adam Miller

About Adam Miller

Adam Miller works downtown and lives in South Minneapolis. He's an avid user of the city's bike paths, sidewalks and skyways. He's not entirely certain he knows what the word "urbanist" means.

16 thoughts on “Don’t Go to the Gym

  1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    I appreciate the call to functional, everyday activity. But gyms needn’t be urban enemies. (Although to look at some LA Fitness or Lifetime parking lots, they sometimes seem to have adopted that role.) Walking is a great replacement for low-intensity exercise, but I still think gyms are really useful for resistance exercise and high-intensity cardio. They’re really complementary, or could be.

    As a Fitbit user who’s switched around several modes of several years, I agree it’s definitely hard to log a decent amount of steps driving. When I worked downtown, a good distance from my bus stop, I could easily hit 10,000 steps without thinking about it. When I worked in Savage, in a small office with the parking spot near the door, I could literally be sub-1000 steps if I made no effort to move. That was also the year of the polar vortex, so additional steps came almost exclusively from the gym or mall-walking.

    1. Julia

      I wish! The Y in Uptown is pretty much an urban enemy–they removed the street-oriented entrance in favor of a really unpleasant parking ramp on.

  2. Janelle NivensJanelle

    I much prefer fresh air exercise to the treadmill at a gym. I happen to belong to two gyms (one by work and one by my home) and neither of them require driving so I get my cake and eat it too (or steps and strength training – same thing, right).

    My new favorite way to get non-gym activity is to walk to different bus stops on both ends of my commute.

    I agree with Sean – getting 10,000 steps in is considerably more difficult when driving or working from home.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      “My new favorite way to get non-gym activity is to walk to different bus stops on both ends of my commute.”

      That’s a great tip. I used the 28th Ave P&R the other day, and got off at American Blvd Blue Line station to walk the last couple short stops. Nice way to add another 1/2 or 3/4 mile with little added effort

      1. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten

        I would use NexTrip and my eyes, if I could make it to the next stop easily I would start hoofing it. No delay, easy way to use otherwise wasted time to get some walking in.

          1. David Baur

            I am oddly comforted by the fact that I’m not the only person who walks as many stops as I reasonably can just for the exercise. Apparently it’s not weird at all!

  3. GlowBoy

    As a younger male, I joined gyms a couple of times, only actually going a few dozens of times. The customer that’s not only ideal, but essential, to the gyms’ business model.

    I just never got much out of it, except poorer. Even with video and music to distract me I simply cannot stand to put in more than about 30 minutes on a machine that takes me nowhere, But any day of the year when it’s between 0 and 100 I’ll gladly go on a 3 hour bike ride, or hike, that provides me with changing scenery and the feeling of going somewhere.

    As a bike commuter in Portland I started recognizing the absurdity of driving to the gym, especially since my (not daily, but more than half of all work days) bike commute involved an 18 mile round trip and 1000 feet of climbing.

    And while many urbanists recognize the incongruity, I’m convinced the vast majority of Americans have ever had the thought cross their mind. People frequently asked me how I felt about spending so much time when driving was faster. I would point out that it actually *saved* time versus driving, when you factored in the amount of time I would otherwise have to spend in the gym. I think most people still didn’t understand that even after I explained it. My commute IS my gym.

    Well, except now it’s not. Here in Minneapolis I work from home. So I have to find other ways to get my workout. Biking for errands isn’t quite sufficient, because most of our errands run pretty close to home, I try to get in lots of longer rides on the Twin Cities’ many lovely bike routes. It helps that my employer is on the west coast, so I can occasionally pull off a 3 hour morning ride without being missed.

    Today’s fresh champagne presented more opportunities for outdoor fun than I have time for on a workday, but this morning I still squeezed in an hour on my fatbike, followed by another 45 minutes or so shoveling. This evening may find me taking the kids skating or skiing. Even though my current lifestyle doesn’t force me to get quite as much exercise as I need, I still try to make them happen. My wife does belong to a gym, but I am not signing up!

  4. Keith Morris

    I had a gym membership back in Ohio and used it enough for weights and machines. If I want a six pack now I’ll just buy beer: gets me buzzed too! Even on days where I leave the bike at home (like today: miss you!) I still get in plenty of jogging. Not jogging for jogging’s sake, I never do it for that, but just to get where I’m going faster. Why walk when you can jog? So much faster. Unless you can’t, I don’t know why you wouldn’t.

  5. David MarkleDavid Markle

    As a dedicated pedestrian and snow shoveler, I pretty much agree with this article, except that I’ve found a short upper body workout using a gym exercise machines solves my upper back problems. Had some other problems, though, when I shoveled and did gym on the same day.

  6. Serafina ScheelSerafina

    I currently don’t drive and just joined a gym because living in an apartment is making it harder to get a workout. No shoveling, no yard work, just the daily errands and biking my kid from school. There’s a good bus system here. But biking is faster and more convenient (when I don’t get lost). Especially as one ages, having a safe and comfortable environment for resistance and cardio training can be hugely useful. My knees don’t allow me to run outdoors any more, the current tragedy in my life, so the elliptical it is.

  7. Alex

    I use the Life Time at the Target Center. Not only can I get there with Metro Transit, but the bus stop (the 5th Street Garage) is sheltered from the elements and connected to the Target Center via skyway. No car, no problem! Plus, my intentionally-small dwelling doesn’t have room for a home gym anyway. Just another example of combining the sharing economy with a car-free, urban lifestyle.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      I went to LTF Target Center for 2-3 years. Great for access by foot or transit, but the repeated neglect of bikes is really disgraceful. Their Lakeville location has like 50 bike racks within a stone’s throw of the front door. Yet Target Center’s only bike parking was hidden below the deck, inconvenient and a bike thief’s dream.

      (Yes, Target Center is owned by the City, and so exterior improvements are trickier. But they managed to get through a $20 million interior renovation. I have to believe they could find a way to get a Platinum Bike Friendly City convinced to accept a few bike racks on their property.)

      1. Alex

        The former Lynx office right across from the front desk is now additional bike storage, although I don’t know if they charge extra for that as I haven’t used it.

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