Is The Gym Really Necessary?

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Me in Oct. 2013 when I first started working with a trainer. I’m lighter now but no where near as strong as I want to be. But do you really need a gym to build strength? Heck no!

Lately I’ve debated about rejoining a gym. I’m running every other day, but I need to do some weight lifting. So a part of me thinks, “I need to be at a gym.” It could be just that time of the year. Maybe there is something in our DNA that screams “Join A Gym!” the closer we get to January 1.

Anyway, my husband and I started going to our local rec center for strength training twice a week. At least our plan was twice a week. But it really is a big effort to leave our house, drive a couple of miles, pay $16 bucks and lift weights for 20 minutes.

I’d put our success rate of actually getting to the gym at 50%.

Strength More Important Than Cardio…
We’ve been sold a bill of goods that cardio is this awesome fat burning thing we should all do. To me cardio exercise is just an excuse to eat a lot more food. You sweat a lot and therefore you equate that with fat burning. But study after study shows that exercising doesn’t drop the pounds.

Sure enough my old gym is loaded with cardio equipment and very few free weights (odd considering their logo is an image of a weight lifter). While my rec club has more free weights, it is still dominated by cardio machines and classes.

Yet, that spin class (which I do love) won’t help me as I grow older. You need serious strength to preserve muscle tone, bone health, balance and posture if you want to be active and remain independent in your 80s. Resistance training does that, not cardio.

… But Do You Need The Gym?
Given the importance of building strength, I’ve spent the last couple of days trying to get in the right mindset. I do enjoy lifting weights. But it just seems like a lot of effort (and money) for something that should be more natural.

And when I say natural, I mean that just a couple of generations ago we were stronger, leaner and healthier without going to the gym. What gives?

I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Gym
Thankfully I stumbled across a video by Dr. Ted Naiman on exercise and a light bulb went off. I don’t need a gym or their fancy barbells. The best weight I have is my body.

In the video below, Dr. Naiman talks about working towards maximum muscle failure. That’s the point where the body will begin to build new type 2 muscle fiber and therefore build strength.

It isn’t about how fast or how many lifts you can do. Intensity is far more important.

I think I new this deep down. I mean I finally got rid of the trainer because it was always about doing the exact same number of reps and sets at maximum speed. It was like my trainer was trying to combine cardio with resistance training. She equated working hard with how much I sweated. It didn’t matter if I stopped building strength. I was sweaty.

Dr. Naiman recommends basic calisthenics:

  • Horizontal pushing
  • Horizontal pulling
  • Compound lower body movements
  • Vertical pushing
  • Vertical pulling

That means push-ups, pull-ups, rows, squats and leg presses. All things I can do at home. No need to buy special equipment. I can use my body weight and mix things up by digging out my dang resistance bands. Awesome.

Of course the key is working until failure. According to the doc, it should only take 60-90 seconds to get to failure for each one, provided you bring the intensity.

Game Plan
I’ve designated Tuesdays & Thursdays as my strength training days. The plan is to set aside 15 minutes in the morning. I’ll also try adding 5 minutes of sprinting as well. By year’s end I hope to add a 3rd day into the mix.

That doesn’t mean I won’t continue to train for my 10k. I enjoy that too much to give up.

The key is turning this into a regular habit. I’ve been successful with exercise habits in the past. I just need to tweak my morning routine a bit. So that means reclaiming my workout area (without pets), scheduling reminders on my phone, placing post it notes in strategic spots and coming up with a fun reward.

I can’t let anything get in my way, especially my own dang laziness.

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