Can I really get fit without the Gym?

Can I really get the same benefits from training at home or outdoors as I can in a gym?

The long answer is it depends. It depends entirely on what your goals are and is influenced by any specific event or purpose you may be training for.

The short answer is yes.

Why so sure?

Well, I’d hazard a guess that most people reading this aren’t professional (or enthusiast) athletes/sportspeople. I’d also venture that if you’re asking these questions you are thinking of fitness in terms of general health and improvements in endurance, strength, joint care, longevity and if we’re really honest, aesthetics.

If on the other hand you’re thinking about absolute maximal strength, and a double bodyweight deadlift you probably already know the answer, mumbled something about Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand, and would have stopped reading a paragraph or so back.

Are you still with me?

Hang on, I’m asking the questions here.

Quite right. Proceed…

OK, so if we… as in the general populace.. can get just as fit training at home or outdoors as we can in the gym then why are there gyms in almost every town in the world?

Off the top of my head I’d say three things. Convenience, culture and marketing.

How on earth is it more convenient to go to a gym than stay at home?

Because the gym is a space dedicated (arguably) to getting fit. Everything is laid out for you there. There are machines that tell you what part of your body to exercise, there are weights and cardio machines and if a friendly gym, there are people to give you training tips and spot you on certain exercises. More important than all this is the psychological aspect. You pay money for it and you go there to train. When you are there, you will be training… Though how focused your training is may vary wildly. How long you keep going and keep paying is also something which may fluctuate. The point is this though, as a space it has a fixed purpose… Your home is multipurpose and full of distractions (as are many gyms but that’s another story). You will also more likely make a specific and regular time for the gym which aids in consistency.

Culture and marketing..?

I think these are fairly self explanatory. Gyms are a ubiquitous part of modern life. The marketing we see on how to get fit entices us to “get in the gym” or to a lesser but still pervasive extent “buy this machine/gadget/program/book” (delete as applicable)

OK you’ve made a pretty strong case for the gym there. So how can we get as fit in home/outdoors as we can in the gym?

Good question. For the beginner (ie anyone starting out) it can be difficult because we simply don’t know where to begin, what we need or just generally how to approach “getting fit” or what that even means. [Quick heads up... getting fit means different things to different people so don’t sweat it too much... pun possibly intended ]

Once we have the tools to get started… mostly a bit of knowledge, we still face the problem of motivation and consistency. Getting fit, like most good intentions, starts off with a bang, fizzles out somewhat after a couple of weeks, gets dipped into later here and there until the cycle repeats itself with the bang, fizzle and so forth.

You’re still not selling this very well. I thought the point was that we can get fit just as well outside the gym… It seems like you’re saying we can but we won’t.

Well observed. So the challenge may seem greater. But herein lies the beauty of it. Let’s say you’re already in accord that strength training is a good “antidote” to a lot of things in the modern world that can affect our bodily health. Lets also assume that if you’re looking to train “non-gym” that you don’t have a fully equipped squat rack, weight bench and assortment or barbells and weight plates in the garage. Therefore in order to get stronger/fitter you would likely be doing a lot of bodyweight training. This poses it’s own set of challenges but in this day and age it is relatively simple to find information (don’t overload on it though) on how best to approach and then progress with this. With bodyweight training, progressions come in the form of adjustments to movement rather than simply adding a few Kgs to the bar. It’s not as straightforward on the surface but it is part of the appeal and also what makes it work. There is a tremendous amount of satisfaction to be gained by mastering new movements and bodyweight training in itself should place a huge emphasis on movement mastery, even of the basics. That means a lot of fully body tension, so to use the oft overused expression “more bang for your buck”

Overused is right! Shame on you. Isn’t that just a slogan people in the fitness world throw around to try and sound cool or knowledgeable? And how does any of this movement mastery help me anyway? I’m not training for the Moscow Ballet

OK, fair point. So movement mastery… This simply means that when we train we pay attention to each rep and always strive for excellent form (though we accept this may slip a little when as the set nears its end). We achieve this by focusing on our whole body as we work and we put tension into our moving muscles and also the muscles that stabilise our joints and posture throughout our body. The benefit of this is that the body recruits more muscle and expends more energy than compared to when we half-arse it, going through the motions without attention to form. This extra recruitment and and energy expenditure in a given time period is what we mean by “bang for your buck”… If I had a better phrase I’d use it ;)

Can you give me an example of this?

When you do a press up the primary muscles used in the movement will be your pectorals, your the front of your deltoids (shoulders) and your triceps. The more you pay attention to your form the more tension you will put into these muscle and you will also be recruiting muscles in your neck, upper back and shoulder girdle to maintain posture in the torso. You’ll be creating tension in your abs and glutes (your bum) to prevent your lower back from sagging and in your quads (thighs) to keep your legs straight. The principle of muscular irradiation* means that as we tense a particular muscle, the tension will spread to those around it. With so many muscles being recruited in a well performed press up, this means that there will be very few muscles that are not activated in such a movement.

OK that’s technical enough but what about the motivational side of things?

Well, if we’re honest, this is something that affects gym users and non gym uses alike once the initial excitement wears off. Whatever way we chose to get fit we all need a bit of strategy in order to stay the course. This can be a combination of, but not limited to… planning your training sessions in a diary or calendar, enlisting the support of friends or family, meeting new friends to train with, attending a regular fitness class or hiring the services of a trainer. Yes, you may fall off the wagon but it’s your wagon… So it’s not going anywhere without you.

Was that a bit of shameless self promotion I detected in there?

Not at all! Well, perhaps a little bit… subconsciously of course. The point is that anyone, no matter where they are geographically, financially or in life generally can get fit with the right tools – a bit of knowledge, a bit of planning and as much support as you can muster. We’re not in it alone and generally speaking we all want to see each other doing well and being happy.

Cheers. But what have you got against gyms anyway? 

Nothing at all. Just different strokes for different folks. We have many options for getting fit and should always find the ones that suit us best.



* Thanks to Pavel Tsatsouline for popularising this concept. A man well worth reading more of.

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