There are two kinds of people in the world: those who like gyms, and those who would rather do anything else in the world than go into one.
Many runners fall into the latter category. After all, why would you choose sweating on a tiny machine beside 20 other people over being outside, in the fresh air?
The reality is unless you have a pretty slick at-home setup, sometimes a gym is unavoidable. For example, if you live in a place with brutal winters or rains and you’re not a fan of running in the elements (or you say you’ll do it but somehow never make it out the door). Or if you cannot cross-train any other way. Or for that necessary evil of strength training.
Joining a gym is not as easy as just signing up and going. It’s quite simple to avoid a gym, even if it’s right beside your house, on your way home from work, and practically free. We humans are excellent at talking ourselves out of things – it’s a talent, really – and if you don’t actually want to go to a gym, chances are high you won’t – even if logically you’ve convinced yourself you should.
So here are some tips from a reformed gym-avoider. Someone who paid for a gym for over a year without ever stepping foot into it (and now goes three times a week):
Pick a nice gym
This one may seem obvious, but is really easy to overlook. Do not just sign up for any gym that happens to be near your house. Instead, try to make a list in your head of all the things that would make you feel comfortable in a gym. Then, go at the time of day that you plan to use the gym, and ask the person behind the desk to give you a thorough tour, and really take your time to evaluate whether what you’re seeing matches up to that list.
Think about consideration such as the kind and amount of equipment you like, the atmosphere of the workout spaces, the kind of people you see, the kind of classes offered, the quality of the amenities and trainers. Make sure the gym you choose meets most of the criteria you’re looking for. And yes, sometimes that means paying a little bit more than the bare minimum. But remember, if you don’t like your gym, you are not going to go – and that’s just a waste of money altogether. It’s not about being picky, but about cutting out as many potential excuses not to go as possible.
While most gyms offer a significantly cheaper monthly rate if you commit to a year-long membership, if you have struggled with attendance in the past, it may be worth the investment to choose a cancel-anytime policy. This forces you to evaluate every single month whether or not you are making use of your membership – it is difficult to ignore. On the other hand, if you’re locked into a yearly contract, it’s very easy to say “I’ll go next time” and not feel like it matters at all, since you’ll be paying whether you go frequently or not at all.
Make sure it’s (actually) convenient
This one requires some introspection – you have to know your own habits. When are you most inclined to go to the gym? Your gym might be right beside your house, but if you know that on your way home from work you are way too tired to even think about exercising, guess what? You are never going to go there.
Try to figure out when you feel most motivated, and locate the gym most convenient for that particular moment. For example, if you are able to get away from the office during lunch, this is a great option since going to the gym creates a break in the workday that almost feels like a reward in itself. (This is what really did the trick for me.)
Do something interesting
Although we runners tend to be pretty loyal to our sport, it’s no secret sometimes our motivation dips – especially when we have to run on a treadmill. So here’s the secret: Do not do anything that you don’t feel like doing. If you force yourself to do something you hate at the gym, you will be a lot less likely to return.
The awesome thing about gyms, especially nice ones, is they often offer so much variety of things to do. This can be a great chance to discover a new activity you like and that might actually help you look forward to going to the gym. Try out the different options offered by your gym – perhaps TRX, Crossfit, or any other one of the group fitness classes out there.
Pick something nice you can do for yourself once in a while that’s in or near the gym, such as a sports massage or a freshly-made protein smoothies. Don’t think of it as a reward, necessarily, because it shouldn’t be something you shell out for every time – but it can be a nice treat on particularly rough or low motivation day.
Schedule your gym time
This one is crucial, even though it’s a bit of a drag. The day before you plan to go to the gym, take a look at your calendar and decide at what time you are going to go, and what you are going to do while there. Pick a class that you will go to and note it down somewhere, or simply decide what kinds of exercises you will focus on during this session, such as cardio or leg strength. It’s too easy to vaguely say to yourself “I will go to the gym tomorrow” but to keep putting it off throughout the day until you’ve run out of time. If you make it concrete – even if it’s just a mental note – it will be more difficult for you to ignore.
Don’t give up
Most importantly, just like with running, you will have days or weeks when you just don’t feel like going. The important thing to do is to not give up on yourself, but to pick up where you left off as soon as you feel a hint of motivation returning. If you follow the tips above your visits to the gym should not feel tedious, and it will not be that difficult to get back into the groove, even if you don’t show up for a little while.
Fall and winter can be challenging for runners and it’s often tempting to go into hibernation during the cold, dark, rainy months. If you start building a good gym habit now, you will have a guilt-free alternative to braving the elements, and you might even find it fun and rewarding instead of a choice made out of necessity.
Are you a fan of the gym? If so, let us know how you keep yourself motivated.