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Why you should avoid the gym in January (and do this instead)

Posted January 10, 2017

Losing weight is the number one resolution people make each year. Getting more exercise or becoming “fit” is usually not far behind in popularity.

According to data collected by Facebook, check-ins to facilities with “gym” or “fitness” in the name surge by 50% in January by comparison to December.

If you’re a regular exerciser, you’ll have surely noticed the marked influx of bodies at your local gym every January. As predictable as the daily sunrise, this is traditionally the busiest time of the year, when the highest numbers of new memberships are signed. While this is great for the facility’s bottom line, many regular ‘gym rats’ loathe this time of the year.

However, as early as the third week in January, Facebook check-ins at the gym begin to fall. Around this time, approximately 30% of people who resolved to change their lifestyle have already given up. In fact, only about 8% ever succeed in achieving their resolution.

At least some of this spectacularly high recidivism is the result of people setting goals in such a way as to almost guarantee failure, and end up exactly where they started.

In order to start the year off on the right foot, I’d like to propose something contrarian for 2017: skip the gym in January.

Here’s what to do instead:

If your goal is to increase the level of physical activity in your daily life, start with something you can easily maintain, that does not require special clothing or a membership, and is not intimidating. As we’ve discussed ad nauseum, walking is some of the best exercise you can get. Plus, you already know how to do it (no need for a personal trainer), you already have the outfit for it (no need to buy the newest dry-fit neon sportswear), and you can do it anywhere (no need to drive to a gym, no need for spending money on memberships).

Why not commit to walking for at least 30 minutes each day (or accumulating 10,000 steps if you have a pedometer)?

If you are able to do this consistently for a number of weeks, you could add some basic body-weight exercises at home to work on your strength. There are literally hundreds of exercises you can do at home in your underwear with no equipment: squats, lunges, pushups, crunches, planks, just to name a few obvious ones. (Google “body weight exercises” and you’ll be inundated with options).

Once you’ve been walking consistently and doing your body weight exercises at home for a while, you could up the ante again: possibly buy a couple of dumbbells or some resistance bands. These inexpensive tools will significantly increase the variety of exercises you can do at home: shoulder press, rows, bicep curls, tricep extensions, etc.

Again, you’re continuing your exercise journey, getting fitter and stronger every day, but have not yet set foot in a gym and continue to sweat it out in your own living room or basement.

At this point, you could purchase some running shoes, and go for a light jog during one of your regular walks (best to start alternating walking/jogging as you start). Or you could get a skipping rope and learn to skip at home to get a bit more of a cardiovascular benefit.

If you’ve made it this far, in order to avoid boredom, you could start dabbling in various other activities. For instance, you could try yoga, which is great for strength as well as flexibility, and can be done at home by following one of the various instructional videos on youtube (Yoga with Adriene is my wife’s favourite). Or you could rent a bike and go for a ride to see if you enjoy that. How about dropping in on a group swim class at the local pool to see if that’s more your thing. Or a group fitness class that you can do on a drop-in basis (pay per class)?

Thanks to your efforts earlier in the year, you have increased your baseline fitness and strength and you’ll be better able to perform these various activities, reducing the chance of injury or overwhelm.

Notice how you have yet to shell out lots of cash and commit to a yearly membership; you’re merely dabbling.

Doing all of the above should bring you to spring/early summer at which point you can make an informed decision about whether joining a gym makes sense for you. Maybe you much prefer yoga and swimming to hoisting barbells and running on a treadmill. Or you’re more than content with your walking and home work-out routine. That’s excellent!

But if you happen to decide the gym is a smart move, you’ll at least be joining at a time when the facility is much quieter, emptier, and void of folks who have no idea what they’re doing. This alone will increase the chances you’ll actually use the membership on a regular basis.

Source: PLOS EveryONE

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