New year, new you season is nearly here.
Personally, I like the freshness of a new year; the sense of possibility and reinvention. I fall for it hook, line and sinker every time, writing long lists of goals that rarely get looked at past January 3, let alone achieved.
Even then, one resolution you’ll never catch me making is to join a gym.
I’ve become a paying gym member twice before in my life, and it’s no exaggeration to say I could probably count on two hands the total number of times I actually went. (In my defence, I was already forking out big handfuls of cash every month, and then I was expected to put physical effort in as well? Unfair.)
My honest feelings are that gyms are sweaty and airless places, often too busy – especially in early January, funnily enough – and purposefully dreary. And I reckon they’ve only got worse since the last time I set foot inside one.
Too often these days, I hear horror stories about meatheads aggressively hogging weight racks, and see short-form horror films (TikToks) about treadmills devouring people’s workout leggings while they are wearing them. To that, I say no. No, thank you.
But let’s talk about you – specifically new-year you. If you’re sort of tentatively starting to think about committing to joining a gym in 2024 (or returning to the gym you’re already a member of), I’m here to tell you not to bother. Don’t.
Don’t “just get Christmas party season out of the way first”. Don’t wait for Santa to bring you the right kit. Don’t faff around researching the best workout plan.
If you want to join a gym and you’ve got the financial means to sign up, just do it now. Today. And, if you don’t really want to join a gym (which is why you keep kicking the kettlebell down the road), that’s absolutely fine.
If, like me, you hate the gym with a fiery passion, confront that fact. Today. It’s OK – you don’t have to pretend anymore. Live your truth and be free. Feels good, doesn’t it?
Couch to 5k changed my outlook on exercise
For a few years, I thought there must be something really wrong with me – something seriously not wired right – since everybody else seemed to adore spin classes and leg day. Then, for some inexplicable reason, one day I laced up a pair of old trainers and decided I was going to try running, using the Couch to 5k programme.
It was awful. It felt relentless and futile. I kept at it.
I completed the programme; I got shin splints. (You win some, you lose some.)
But, here’s the weird bit: after I had finished Couch to 5k, I found that I wanted to keep running. To run regularly; to run longer distances.
Some might say I never really gave the gym a proper chance, but not once did I head back into the changing room after a workout there already looking forward to the next one, not even after proper classes led by a personal trainer. (Actually, doing those only increased my dread.)
It’s been eight years since I started running, with fluctuating levels of commitment. I’m still hesitant to call myself “a runner”. But what running – and, crucially, continuing to run over a long period of time – has taught me is that exercise shouldn’t be a punishment (not entirely, anyway). And, if you feel that way, maybe the form of exercise you’re doing just isn’t quite the right one for you.
Find a form of fitness you actually like
Exercise is vital – mainly, in my view, because it’s good for your brain. The most common initial guidance for people struggling with their mental health is to get outside and move their body, get their hearts pumping. Not everybody is physically able to hit the gym or go for a jog or even take a walk, which is another reason why figuring out what works best for you is so important.
Some forms of exercise require more equipment or training than others, and there’s often a hefty price tag attached to that, which is unfair. It’s another reason why walking and running are my go-tos.
Maybe your ideal form of exercise is swimming or rock climbing or fencing or five-a-side football
That being said, if you’re feeling inspired to try Couch to 5k for yourself after reading this, I have one key bit of advice. Please, please, please invest as much as you can in good, supportive footwear. Running, and especially road running, is hard on your knees and, take it from me, you don’t want shin splints.
But, hey, maybe you dislike running as much as I dislike the gym. Maybe your ideal form of exercise is swimming or rock climbing or fencing or five-a-side football.
Ultimately, if you must make a fitness-related resolution this year, I challenge you not to default to: “join the gym”. Instead, try out some new ways of moving your body, and see if you can find the one that makes you want to keep coming back for more.
Alex Watson is Head of Comment for The Press and Journal and hopes her PE teachers are reading this