Giving Up On the Gym

I’m a gym dropout, and that’s one of the best decisions I can make for my health. I’ve tried both Crossfit and a more traditional weightlifting program. What I’ve learn is that it’s important to figure out your goals and make sure you’re actually working towards them.

My goals:

  1. Mind: feel happier, concentrate, see Spark by John Ratey.
  2. Health: feel better physically, not get sick, function better, etc.
  3. Strength: be better at practical tasks requiring strength
  4. Enjoyment: if it ain’t fun, why bother?
  5. Time: this can’t be all-encompassing

These aren’t universal claims; I’ve come to the conclusion that an intense weightlifting focused routine just doesn’t match my goals.

Mind

Pumping iron after work is wonderful for the brain. I stop thinking about office drama while I’m pushing myself hard at the gym. This beats out a slow run or bike ride, which easily can devolve into rumination. Some HIIT and sprint work remedy that.

Health

If you’re really hitting the weights, it is unbelievable how much food you have to chow down to feel even close to satiated. Eating light, healthy meals just isn’t filling enough. My regular practice of intermittent fasting went out the window. The only time I’ve had a cold in the past couple of years was while I was going to the gym. It could have been a coincidence, although I think the whole workout routine is plain hard on the body. Goal number two was a big failure: the gym left me hungry, tired and sick.

Strength

Surprisingly, getting stronger turned out to be a bit of a toss up. I’ve definitely put on muscle and look bigger. On the other hand, I can do fewer pull ups and push ups now. I’m not sure being able to lift more weight has translated into increased functional strength. My lower back and grip strength have noticeably improved since these can be tricky to train outside the gym.

Enjoyment

Going to the gym is actually pretty fun, but it pales in comparison to a day of biking, running or kayaking. Even in the dead of winter, I like being outside.

Time

The gym is a massive time suck. I can get a pretty decent body weight routine done at the pull up bar at work and while listening to podcasts or whatever in the morning. Throw in a few bike rides, which double as social outings, plus a run or two a week — voila, a complete fitness program with very little time investment. Pumping iron requires a ton of time.

Other Goals

It’s hard to get people in the gym crowd to understand my goals. Bulking up and looking good on the beach just aren’t that important to me. If I’m healthy, I’ll look good enough. The ugly side of this is that hypertrophy has become some sort of end in and of itself in the social media era - looking strong and healthy is more important than being so.

This makes me a gym drop out. The scene just isn’t for me. When I look around the gym and see a lot of big guys on steroids hobbling around with constant injuries, I know something’s off. On the other hand, I’ve seen Chinese people doing Tai Chi well into their 80s. It’s not hard to figure who I’d rather be in fifty years.