November 2, 2011

No gym membership? No problem.

A few months ago, I posted asking for advice on whether to cancel my gym membership. Since I travel four days/week (and have access to a hotel gym then), it seemed wasteful to pay $80/month for the 12 days/month that I’m in town – especially when I don’t always hit the gym when I’m home. I took the plunge and quit, and I have never been happier. Turns out there are tons of free fitness options in the city!

My first source for finding the free stuff was Allie over at Fitness Class Fanatic. In addition to posting great reviews of various fitness classes, she ends every post with a roundup of the latest fitness deals – which includes some free classes. She’s posted some great offers from Equinox and Reebok Sports Club, which are some pretty classy places to get a free workout! She also pulls together the various Groupon-like deals, saving me from reading through my spam folder to see the good stuff. Woo hoo!

My next source was also blog-related. I had heard about “Urban Girl Squad” on a few different blogs, including reading Susan’s take on an awesome cupcake making class at Butter Lane. Googling around, I discovered that Urban Girl Squad is basically a networking group that puts on cool events for New York women in their 20s and 30s. When I signed up for their mailing list, I immediately saw an event that appealed – Urban Girl Squad Running Group with Athleta. I went on my first UGS run in early October, and had a blast.

While at the Athleta store, I noticed that they also had a whole calendar of free classes in store – which led me to a Zumba class the next weekend. So fun! Working out in the Athleta store was awesome – surrounded by cute clothes and pictures of healthy-looking models wearing them in active and inspiring settings (hiking in a canyon, yoga on a mountaintop, cool!), and with a friendly staff who not only welcomed me to the class, but remembered my name and said hello when I came in. That’s way better than a stupid gym membership with surly attendants who give me dirty looks when I interrupt their Facebooking by requiring them to scan me in at the entrance, and then practically roll their eyes out of their sockets when I meekly ask for a towel. (On the contrary, the staff at Athleta keeps offering me Luna bars and Hint water to fuel my workout).

So last weekend, after hiking all day Saturday, what better way to rest on Sunday… than by running 4.5 miles roundtrip to/from Athleta to do a zumba class there with Susan? (It may sound sarcastic but this was actually shaping up to be my ideal weekend). I ran over at a pretty brisk pace, stopping across the street to deposit a check in my bank’s ATMs (running to do errands always makes me feel doubly productive). When I arrived, I said hello to the staff and then set up shop (aka dumped my running jacket and cell phone) in the back corner by the sports bras.

Susan arrived and I gave her a nice sweaty-hugged greeting, and shortly after that, our instructor bounced in to lead us in a fun class. The bonus of doing a class in the underwear department of Athleta instead of in a fitness studio is there are no mirrors. Susan and I joked beforehand about how neither of us wanted the other to see our bad dancing, but I am actually usually pretty good at Zumba – except that day. For some reason, I was the most uncoordinated dancer ever. I was glad I was in the back and Susan couldn’t see me – though on her blog, she posted that she felt bad for ME! I chuckled when I read that.

Later in the week, I headed back to Athleta – but this time on the Upper West Side. They had partnered with Zeel to offer a whole week of free fitness classes, and I was able to sneak in a pilates-style bootcamp kind of class before I headed to work on Friday. The class was incredibly small – only six of us – so we got plenty of personal attention and my muscles were burning by the end. Can’t beat that for a free class!

There are two kind of ironic things about all these free classes (and free races, like the one coming up in the Bronx this Saturday – anyone coming?). The first is that I think I’m getting better workouts than when I had access to a gym – something about a “one time” free class just makes me more motivated to go than for a class where I already paid the monthly membership fee and now have nothing to lose by not showing up (after all, I can just go to the same class offered the next day).

The other thing is, I’ve bought plenty of Groupons for things like dance classes and kettlebell classes… and have yet to use any of them. In addition to those free classes, I’ve been hiking twice, jogging to do errands a bunch of times, and now Bryant Park has opened with free skating, so I’ll probably start heading there a lot too. There are so many fun ways to be active without going to a traditional gym, and I’m starting to like those options a lot better. I don’t want to be stuck going to a gym for the rest of my life; I’d rather find ways to incorporate high activity into the things I love to do. (Besides, there’s always Athleta when I need that traditional gym class.)

Has anyone else tried the gym-free route to health? What are your favorite suggestions for non-workout ways to be active?


10 thoughts on “No gym membership? No problem.”

  1. When I work late or am too tired to get motivated to go to the gym (or go for a run after work), I just walk home from work (about an hour) instead of taking the subway. I also try to go for a daily walk during my lunch break (45 minutes). I also walk all over the city on the weekends, and fit in a bike ride along the west side path whenever I feel like it.

  2. Yay! Obviously you know my feelings…. though I do get a little sad/stressed when I can’t go to every class I want when I just have a month at a place; I think it definitely makes me try more things, since I know I have a limited amount of time to check it out. My new Fitness Passbook is also great- access to gyms all over NYC so whatever neighborhood I’m in for whatever reason, likely to have a gym nearby. See you at an Athleta class at some point I’m sure! Happy hiking!

  3. I went a couple of years without a gym membership and didn’t miss it at all! Now I have a free gym available to me, and I use it occasionally when the weather is just awful for working out outdoors (thunderstorms, 100 degree days), but I still don’t go very often.

    I’d rather be outside!

  4. Anonymous – I too love walking when I don’t feel like doing much else. I try to avoid just sitting and watching TV, so I usually work out while I watch something. But if I’m wiped out, it’s not bad to just plod along at a walking pace but high incline on the treadmill while I watch! Any activity is good activity, in my book.

    Allie – really hoping we’ll get to meet up sometime soon!

    Beth – do you primarily run outside, or strength train too?

  5. there is always a lot out there if you know where to look (and you definitely seem to!) i prefer to run outside or walk places (and I love literally running errands!) than go to a gym. i also think it adds a social element when you work out with others.

  6. I love my Chelsea Piers membership – boot camp, spin classes, yoga and swimming (the pool access is crucial) are the things I most often am doing there. NB they have a weekend-only membership that’s seriously discounted – might be worth w look, as I think you’d enjoy the classes there a good deal.

  7. Honestly, try the kettlebell classes the next time you see a deal. I loved em! The first few days my hamstrings ached but afterwards it felt like great cross-training as you work your core, hips and glutes.

  8. I am a huge fan of the whole Groupon thing. I won a $150 Groupon gift certificate from my chiropractor and got so many fitness packages for lots of different things. Between that and the free (or close to free) classes I’m now finding all over the place, it’s a lot more manageable than feeling guilty for paying a gym membership you aren’t using.

    On a side note, how do you stay on course for marathon training with such a busy schedule?

  9. Athletes: I train FAR less than most people do / is recommended for a marathon. Even in preparing for my first marathon, I only did one long run a week. Once I was comfortable with marathon distance, I pretty much only ran when I was doing a marathon (no running in between) – made sense when I was doing them every weekend, but I took as much as a two month break in between and still did fine (actually, I PRed that way!). I think the hardest part of a marathon is not the physical training/prep, but pushing yourself mentally during the race – and THAT’S where I excel.

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