Your Gym Membership is Making You Fat: How to Ditch Monthly Dues and Actually Get In Shape

It happens around the same time every year in the dreary months of February and March. After weeks (or months) of relative inactivity, I wake up one morning completely disgusted with myself.

On that particular morning, I look in the mirror and I can’t remember the last time I worked out. I put on my clothes, and I suddenly feel like a cow – an unhealthy, out-of-shape cow. I may not look like a cow, but I feel like one. Or a sloth. Or some sort of animal that spends most of its life avoiding strenuous movement.

Whatever animal I may identify with in that moment, I feel barely alive, barely active and barely functioning. And on that particular morning, I will feel fed up – fed up to the point that I decide that I’ll finally do something about it.

Lifecycle of a Serial Gym Member

So I do what millions of other Americans do: when I hit fitness rock bottom, I sign up for a gym membership.

And I instantly feel better. The rush of just the act of signing on the dotted line and paying my first round of membership dues is enough motivation to start revolutionizing my life. I’ve now made a legally binding financial commitment to the gym, which means, by default, I have a binding health commitment to myself. I plan out a regular fitness routine and start going to the gym every other day.

And then without fail, it all unravels.

After a month of regular exercise, I end up finding excuses to only go once a week. Soon enough, my once-a-week visit slowly devolves into every-other-week exercise. By that point, I’ve already satisfied my initial exercise craving and I’ve replaced it with a lengthy list of legitimate excuses. “Work has been crazy and I didn’t sleep well last night,” I tell myself. “I have to catch up on the Bachelor,” I lament. As my excuses become more regular, my gym schedule becomes anything but.

Inevitably, feelings of guilt and shame sink back in, only to be reinforced by my credit card statement. I’m now paying $40 a month for a gym membership that I’m not even using.

I’m still out of shape, but now I’m losing money.

Not the biggest self-esteem boost.

Finding the Secret to Staying in Shape and Saving Money

A few months ago, I found myself revisiting the two questions: how do I get back into shape and where should I open my gym membership (my third in two years).

And I finally realized it just wasn’t working. The financial commitment wasn’t enough to help me commit to a lifetime of fitness.

So in an effort to save money, to break away from the gym membership industrial complex and to consistently exercise once and for all, I decided to end my dependency on a gym for good and take a different approach.

I think I’ve finally found the secret to staying active and in shape. It’s a little extreme, but I can already see the results. And it feels awesome.

You Need a Better Goal, Not a Gym Membership

I realized that what I needed wasn’t the right class schedule, cardio equipment or “atmosphere” at a gym.

What I needed was the right goal. A big, fat ridiculous goal.

A goal so incredibly outlandish that would set the bar so incredibly high that I’d be forced to stay in shape. A massive goal that would keep me personally and publically accountable to exercise.

So I did what any sane person would do: I signed up for a 200 mile bike ride from Seattle to Portland.

My Goal: Biking in the 2013 Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic

Seattle to Portland

Am I exercising regularly for once in my life? Yup. And it rocks.

Am I crazy to be biking 200 miles in one weekend? Yes, yes I am.

Do I need a gym to do it? Not at all.

See, a funny thing happened when I signed up for the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic. I started exercising regularly despite not having a gym membership.

With a monstrous goal of riding 200 miles in two days just four months away, I knew I had to find ways to incorporate regular exercise.

I started riding my bike to work a few times a week, I got a set of free weights to help me strength-train at home in the evenings, and now I schedule at least one long-distance bike ride on the weekend.

My crazy goal of biking from Seattle to Portland keeps me exercising consistently throughout the week, and the excuses I used to avoid exercising just don’t apply anymore.

The script in my head has changed from, “Maybe tonight I’ll just veg in front of the TV for two hours,” to “I have to bike 200 miles in a few months. TV can wait.”

Fitness is a priority – something a gym membership could never do for me.

So I’ve found the right goal, the motivation and the right level of accountability. All I need to do is bike across half the State of Washington.

The plan is to finish the whole race. But whether or not I end up being able to bike the whole thing doesn’t matter.

Because right now, as I keep up with my exercise routine, I feel like a million bucks.

And I’m saving $40-a-month, too.

What do you do to hold yourself accountable to reach your goals?

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11 thoughts on “Your Gym Membership is Making You Fat: How to Ditch Monthly Dues and Actually Get In Shape

  1. Travis @Debtchronicles

    This is actually the second time *today* that I’ve read something along these lines – and it’s 100% true! Going to the gym or exercisingjust for the sake of doing it, or with a broad/generic goal of “getting in shape” is doomed to fail for many people. Many of us (including myself) are goal driven – we need that carrot, that achievement, that notch on our belt. I lift weights 4 days a week. Without a goal, I feel lost. I have goals for each of my exercises. I want to get stronger, and I have numbers stuck in my head. Once I accomplish them, I set new ones. It gets me out of bed in the morning, to the gym and ready to work – will I achieve my goal today? Nope, didn’t happen….well I’m coming back tomorrow, I’ll try again. I’m also a marathon runner. I trained for a year to run in the Twin Cities marathon in October of last year. It gave me a reason for my running. It gave me a training regiment that I had to stick to, or I would likely injure myself running the marathon. Once the marathon was over, I felt completely lost strapping on my running shoes – my goal was gone. I need a new goal……so I’m about to register for this year’s marathon. Last year’s time? Not good enough – this year I’ll do BETTER. And the only way to do that – is to train HARDER. All of a sudden it’s easier to get out of bed in the morning again, strap on those shoes, and hit the asphalt at 5:00am. 🙂 Great post Stephanie – good luck with your goals!

    1. Stephanie Halligan Post author

      Travis – it’s so good to hear about your marathon experience. The same thing happened to me two years ago: I ran a half marathon and afterward, I actually went through fitness goal withdrawal so terribly that I stopped exercising all together and was in the worst shape of my life. Having that goal does make it easier to get out of bed, even on the hard days 🙂

  2. Daisy @ Young Finances

    I always say that there’s no point in paying for a gym membership if you aren’t using it. lots of people have their memberships there as a kind of security blanket.Some people don’t work out without a gym, though, and it’s important to be healthy however you know you’ll stick to it.

    1. Stephanie Halligan Post author

      I always felt like it was a security blanket for me. If I had a gym membership, I was “healthy.” Totally not the case!

  3. Martin

    The world is your gym! Lol I had to come read the article when I saw that infographic. Good job.

    And yup, the gym membership can be a killer. I once had a buddy come to my gym, pay for a full year up front (not sure why), and then proceed to never come. I kept on breaking the owners balls for a discount. I deserved some sort of a commission lol!

    1. Stephanie Halligan Post author

      Yikes! Lesson learned – never pay for a year of service for something that you haven’t already consistently used for a year 🙂

  4. Jenni

    Your ride is a great goal. I did the same thing a few years ago when I signed up for my first Colorado Bike MS (150 miles). I knew I had to train or I would be real sorry. The feeling of accomplishment when you cross the finish line is awesome!

  5. Dr. Sheba

    This makes so much sense! I found that I did way more exercising when I was training for 5Ks and 10Ks. Believe it or not, I had no gym membership for 2 years. I have since taken a hiatus from the running world and now consider myself out of shape. This is also after I spent money on a gym membership AND a trainer for whole year. It’s funny how having an almost impossible goal motivates us. My next one? A half marathon.


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