The Case Against Gyms

Jason Hoffman/Thrillist
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

I managed gyms for seven years, followed by a four-year hiatus from gym membership of any kind. I just couldn’t take it anymore -- the grossness, the smell, the weirdos who have seriously misguided views on fitness, everything. Yet gym membership persists as a seemingly necessary precursor to getting in shape.

While gyms are certainly an option for people looking to start a fitness regimen, they’re far from the best option. Frankly, all you need to get fit is a body (hopefully you’ve got one), and a little internal motivation. So, before you sign away part of your paycheck each month, consider the case against gyms.

Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

The dirt and germs

People are pretty gross, and gyms are one of the few places it’s socially acceptable to let all the grossness flow. You’ve got sweaty people wearing dirty shoes as spittle flies from their mouths in every direction... and they’re touching things. Lots of things. Everything. It’s like one big germ-swapping orgy without any actual sex taking place (although... no promises there, either).

And if you think you’re doing a good job of wiping equipment down and keeping yourself safe from Muscle Joe’s flu or Cardio Candice’s staph infection, think again. Unless wannabe Rambo wiped off the plate weights after unracking the bench press (he didn’t), the next time you grab those plates, you’re touching all of his lovely bacteria.

It’s enough to turn anyone into a germaphobe, even at a well-maintained gym. Working out at home won’t necessarily be any less gross, but at least it’s your own grossness.  

The smell

Gyms stink. Like, for real. You’ve got the stench of “sweaty bro” mixed with the overwhelming smell of slowly rusting iron, degrading rubber, and that guy who has officially entered ketosis. Ugh.

And that’s all before you hit the locker rooms. (Don’t get me started on the perils of too much Axe body spray.) Look, I’m not claiming I smell like a daisy all the time, but who wants to go hang out in other people’s stink? Unless your gym has a serious cleaning program, your nose is gonna be a lot happier if you get your pump on at home.

Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

The creepers, meatheads, and socializers

Just like the stereotypical cliques at every high school, there are certain kinds of people you can expect at every gym. You’ve got the creepers there to gawk at the opposite sex while pretending to work out; the meatheads grunting it out at the squat rack while they talk about protein powder; the cardio queens monopolizing the ellipticals while talking on their cellphones; and the socializers who sit on the equipment to laugh about the weekend’s escapades without ever touching a weight.

These are all terrible human beings, and you’re voluntarily paying to spend your time with them. Why? Just why? Don’t you have enough annoyances in your everyday life?

The crowds

Sure, most gyms are relatively quiet and calm at 3pm on Saturday -- you know, when you did your tour -- but come Monday at 6pm? Not a chance. Trying to get a turn on the treadmill is like battling your way through Walmart on Black Friday: everyone’s fighting for access to something that’s actually not that great.

And January. January at the gym is a veritable horror show of crowds. Sweaty, sweaty crowds, most of whom don’t know what they’re doing and will abandon ship within a month.

The price

OK, so not every gym is crazy expensive. You can find a membership at a decent club for less than $30 a month... which still adds up to more than $350 per year (Ed Note: rates definitely do not apply in NYC). But if you’re paying per-class rates, or if you signed up for a high-end gym, you can easily pay more than $120 per month. That’s almost $1,500 a year! Do you know how much high-quality home fitness equipment you can get for that price? Or protein powder? Or activewear?

A lot. The answer is: a lot.


The misinformation

I have to wear headphones whenever I go to the gym, and not because I prefer my own music to the crappy noise management thinks is “motivational.” No, I wear headphones so I won’t be forced to listen to the absolute insanity I hear “fitness buffs” spout from their mouths about exercise and nutrition. Frankly, one of the worst possible places you can go to learn about fitness is the gym.

Don’t get me wrong -- most trainers know a thing or two about working out, and they might know a bit about nutrition, too, but nine times out of 10, the people giving advice aren’t actual trainers. No, they’re hopped-up college kids who’ve read an article about protein and strength training (or gluten and weight loss), and now they’re “experts” just itching to share their knowledge with anyone who has ears. Loudly. With the misguided confidence that makes their “knowledge” believable, and thereby dangerous.

Please, please hear me. If you insist on exercising at a gym, don’t turn to the guy with big biceps dishing out free advice on training; I’ve heard way too many of them spew wildly inaccurate information.

The verdict

We’re winding down another year, which is when people start seriously considering biting the bullet and becoming gym members. Maybe your head will get turned by the too-good-to-pass-up holiday deals every gym inevitably offers. Before you succumb, though, think about yourself at 6pm, the Monday after New Year’s, standing in someone else’s stench, wondering if you’ll ever have the chance to get that rock-hard bod you imagined when you swiped your credit card.

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Laura Williams is an exercise physiologist and former gym manager who obsessively cleans gym equipment before and after using it because, truly, people are gross. Discover more of her idiosyncrasies on Twitter: @girlsgonesporty.