The Deal Behind Bargain Gyms
Gym memberships are at an all-time high — nearly 43 million of us belong to a fitness center, according to one industry research publisher. And that adds up to billions for the gyms themselves. By 2016, their revenue is expected to rise to $28.2 billion.
That sure makes you think twice about plunking down hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a fancy gym membership. After all, there seems to be a much cheaper option, with billboards offering memberships for just $19.95 a month. But do cut-rate fitness facilities really help you cut down your weight, too? Well, yes and no.
"Bargain gyms offer everything one needs for fitness except a plan," says Dave Quevedo, a certified personal trainer in Hoboken, New Jersey. "Without a plan, every time you walk into the gym to raise your fitness level, you are just walking in the dark."
Consider that bargain gyms also usually lack child care — so the cost of hiring a babysitter could outweigh any savings. Forget snack bars, the latest exercise classes and cushy lounges for post-workout relaxation, too.
But if your budget is tight, here's what Quevedo says are the must-haves for a gym:
- Elliptical machines
- Exercise bikes
- Free weights
- Stability balls
- A stretching area
- Basic cable machines (they allow healthy functional movement patterns)
And here's how to formulate a plan:
- Choose your cardio machine. If you're trying to lose weight, add intervals, or high-intensity bursts of effort, to regular aerobic routines of 30 minutes or more.
- Add at least one core exercise, such as planks, stability ball crunches or stability ball knee tucks.
- Add at least one upper-body "pushing" exercise, such as pushups, shoulder presses or triceps dips.
- Add at least one upper-body "pulling" exercise, such as pullups, cable rows or inverted rows.
- Add one lower-body exercise, such as squats, dead lifts, lunges, step-ups or glute/hip bridges.
- Decide exactly how many minutes your workout will be, and how many times a week you will do it. For the best results, you'll need to add variety and increase intensity periodically.
You can also find dozens of workout programs and product reviews at the GetFit section of the American Council on Exercise's website. Its exercise library includes everything from stability ball knee tucks for the abs to such full-body, integrated movements as dumbbell front squats and reverse medicine ball throws.
Not seeing results from the bargain place after a few weeks? It may be worth spending that $20 elsewhere until you can afford a gym with a trainer. (Running outside and doing pushups, pullups, crunches and lunges at home are all free.)
And one more caveat: According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 50,000 people land in the emergency room each year because of mishaps with gym equipment. While an accident may be just as likely to happen in an expensive gym as an inexpensive one, there are usually more personnel monitoring the floor in the pricier facilities.