I have always shied away from the traditional gym environment. Working in a huge, sterile environment filled with machines, trainers in uniforms, and membership consultants, one which is replicated by hundreds of other links in a homogenous fitness chain, has never been my idea of fulfilment. Plus, I have never worked out effectively in places like that. The hardest sessions I’ve ever experienced have been Spartan in both their brutality and the dearth of equipment used. I’ve had coaches who have used a fit ball and a kettle bell as if they were instruments of torture. According to one of my clients today, I’m one of them.
A lot of large gyms seem to want to impress you with their equipment. Unless you’re doing some really complicated rehab or are a body-builder looking to put massive loads on isolated muscle groups, weights machines a pretty over-rated. As far as cardio machines go – tread-mills, spin-bikes, cross-trainers – they achieve little more than giving you the “convenience” of running or cycling without leaving the great indoors.
If you want to exercise at home, it can be much more affordable and less space-consuming than you think. A fit ball, some resistance bands, adjustable dumbbells, a skipping rope, some running shoes, and you have everything you need for cardio and strength sessions in the convenience of your own home. It’s a cheap, versatile set-up that won’t take up a whole room.
As a personal trainer, I only ever use the most basic equipment with my clients. Why? Because my clientele are people who want to be fitter, stronger, leaner and more confident. They don’t want massive muscle growth; they need functional strength.
Functional strength is the kind of strength that helps you in your day-to-day life. Massive glutes or biceps with a weak core and poor balance isn’t helpful. A strong core combined with strong limbs and good balance and stability, on the other hand, will make everything you do easier, from playing sports on the weekend to pushing your mate’s car, carrying a toddler around or walking up the stairs in six-inch stilettos with your arms full of shopping.
Simple equipment and body-weight exercises like push-ups and chin-ups improve functional strength because they force large muscle groups – including the core – to work together, while mimicking practical, everyday movements. Devices like fit balls and dumbbells can also be used to challenge stability, which further activates and strengthens the core and improves proprioception, or balance.
If you do work out in a traditional gym, rethink your workouts and try some body-weight and free-weight exercises. You may need to book a couple of sessions with a trainer to learn some effective exercises and safe technique, but it’s a great way to mix up your routine and challenge your body in new ways. If you don’t like the gym environment and want to work out at home, or perhaps can’t make it to the gym due to children or scheduling issues, it doesn’t cost a lot to set yourself up for some great home workouts. The fact that you don’t have a gym membership doesn’t have to be a barrier to you achieving great results.
What’s your favourite exercise environment? Gym? Home? Outdoors? Private personal training studio? What equipment do you prefer to use and why?