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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