By: Shaun Pang, SSC
Gyms: Are They Necessary?
There are two sides to every story. We all view the world through different lenses, and the same can be said when it comes to gyms and fitness. With the closing of gyms worldwide due to COVID-19, various click-bait articles have hit the internet questioning whether or not the public actually needs gyms and everything that comes with them. Many of these authors link gym culture, more specifically the ‘fitspo’ lifestyle reflected on social media, to negative mindset feedback loops – “fitspo” or fitspiration is a growing online phenomenon with the goal of motivating individuals to pursue a fit and healthy lifestyle and typically feature images of toned and slender athletic bodies overlaid with motivational quotes. Others claim you don’t need necessarily need a gym to exercise. While fair – there’s more to this than meets the eye.
In this article, we’ll dive into the importance of gyms when it comes to training, not exercising, and how your mindset and outlook inevitably impact your view of gym culture. We’ll break down exactly what these other articles have been missing. So, let’s dive in, where are these perspectives going wrong?
Exercise VS Training
In truth, you don’t need a gym to exercise. You can go for a walk whenever you please, or you can pump out a few burpees or push-ups all within the comfort of your own home. Depending on your goals, burpees and push-ups will only get you so far. For example, say you want to get stronger and be able to squat 140kgs for 3 sets of 5 – you have a set goal in mind. You’re not going to be able to achieve that goal without access to the necessary equipment and a training program specifically designed to get you there.
The most efficient and effective way to get strong and gain muscle is through strength training with barbells. No other exercises or movements come even close to the amount of muscle and strength you gain from performing the basic barbell lifts – the squat, deadlift, bench press and overhead press.
Barbell training also has the ability to progress over the very long term. When you start training, you might start off by squatting 60kgs. Adhere to a carefully thought out program and you might be able to squat double or triple that in a year or two down the road. Decades down the road, you’ll still be able to make progress, albeit at a slower rate.
The body responds to the stress you place on it – if you want to get stronger, you need to increase the load. You can only get so far with bands or your bodyweight. With barbells, you’ll also likely experience body composition changes – specifically more muscle. Meanwhile, an individual doing only bodyweight or cardiovascular based exercises won’t experience the same massive changes when it comes to strength and muscle mass.
Training is physical activity done with a long-term and specific goal in mind and the workouts are programmed in a way to produce that goal. An example would be to be able to squat 140kgs for 3 sets of 5 in nine months.
Exercise, on the other hand, is physical activity for the sake of physical activity. It’s just about getting your body moving, with no set goal. More often than not, individuals you encounter in a gym setting are exercising. They are the ones who come to the gym with no progression plan. They put in their time doing something different or the exact same thing each time, put in their time, work up a sweat, then leave – fast forward a year later and these people are almost always in the exact same state as they were in when you first saw them.
This is one of the major differences between exercise and training. While exercising is perfectly fine and is much better than sitting around doing nothing, individuals who exercise won’t see much progression as compared to individuals who train do.
And to train… you need equipment.
Now, this isn’t to say you need a commercial gym to be able to have access to barbell strength training equipment. If the gym environment isn’t your thing, home gyms are the next best option. All you need is simple equipment – a good quality barbells, a squat rack, some weights plates, a flat bench, and a pair of barbell collars. In fact, home gyms have become increasingly popular in recent years – the quality and availability of such equipment have improved while prices have gone down.
For everyone else, they understand the value that coaching provides to their training and would like to be coached while they train. Some may simply prefer the gym environment for the camaraderie of training with other like-minded individuals. Others may favour the gym for the association it creates. When they enter the gym, it’s time to train. It’s a personal preference, but it may also have to do with your mindset, which leads us straight into our next point.
Your Perception of Gym Culture is Reflects Your Own Mindset
The ‘fitspo’ lifestyle has been glamorised across social media channels. With Instagram, the emphasis has changed from achieving optimal health to obtaining an ideal appearance. Many people buy into the idea that having abs or being ripped equates to good health. However, this isn’t always the case.
In addition to this, I often hear of people heading to the gym as penance to make up for their “sins” of eating bad foods or overeating. This frequently leads to negative feedback loops, where you feel you need to make-up for every piece of food you eat by burning it off in the gym. Words like ‘torture,’ ‘guilt,’ and ‘suffering’ reinforce and support this negative mindset. These words also associate the gym as a place where you go to make up for your “bad” lifestyle choices as opposed to a place to build up your health.
Yet, this never works. You can’t out-train a bad diet. If weight management is your goal, you must fix your eating habits. No real change comes from “working off your overeating calories” because the person’s lifestyle hasn’t changed. They are still eating the same foods. They don’t typically have a set goal with smaller goals guiding them. In other words, trying to maintain your old lifestyle while also trying to out-exercise the unhealthy parts, which never works.
The other side of the gym culture dilemma is the judgment many individuals assume others are making of them. Most people at the gym care about one thing – themselves. Usually, they aren’t focusing on what anyone else is doing nor are they passing judgment on those around them. In fact, this is typically a problem with your own mindset.
Blaming others for how you perceive things to be in the gym needs to stop. Instead, your focus should go toward your actions. What can you do to improve your health? What’s your goal? And sometimes, you should also ask yourself: Are you contributing to this judgmental gym culture?
And yes, at certain gyms this culture can happen. However, you can’t control anyone but yourself. If you don’t like a certain gym’s culture, it may be time to switch facilities. Or you may want to create goals so that you’re focused on you and you only. That way, you won’t be concerned about what other people may or may not think.
At Hygieia Strength & Conditioning, we’re proud to have a community where these negative mindsets and gym cultures don’t exist. We’ve built a community whereby everyone is supportive of one another, celebrating each individual’s successes no matter how big or small. Most of our clients are over 40 years old and are focused on their own goals and health as opposed to using fitness as punishment or to seek validation. They want to get strong because of the benefits it brings to them, such as maintaining their quality of life and independence as they age.
There are no egos or strutting peacocks. Instead, everyone is on the same page. Everyone wants to get stronger, maintain their health, and age with grace, because when it comes down to it – who doesn’t want that? And at home, you don’t get that camaraderie – having fellow lifters who are glad to see you each time, who encourage and support you.
So, are gyms necessary? Yes and no. Some people need them. Some people don’t. It all comes down to your goals, your mindset, and your personal preference. If you aim to get stronger, build muscle, and maintain your quality of life into your later years, the gym is likely the place you want to be.