fitness · fitness classes · training · weight lifting

Fitness on the cheap: Sam joins a discount gym

Our group of regular bloggers is pretty privileged. Between us we pay for spin classes, CrossFit style studio memberships, rock climbing, coaches of all sorts, yoga classes, monthly access to indoor bike trainer facilities, Zwift memberships, personal training, and more. We try new things, like Orange Theory. I tell people I don’t have other hobbies and it’s my my form of recreation. But still, it’s costly.

(We’re not even going to talk about gear or clothing or bikes or boats, just the places we work out.)

Does fitness have to be expensive?

Recently I joined a discount gym. It’s not a chain fitness studio and it’s not $10 a month. But it’s close. It’s $20 a month and it’s open all the time, 24/7. I joined because I like to work out with my son sometimes and he’s got an all hours kind of schedule. It’s my personal trainer’s home gym and also the gym my physiotherapist goes to so I figured it must be okay.

What’s the price contrast? Let’s see, an hour of personal training costs twice as much as one month at the discount gym. A month at the gym costs the same as one session at the bike studio. Zwift is $15/month and that’s just a virtual world. You still need a bike and a trainer.

What I love so far:

  • When it’s staffed (regular hours) I can bring a friend anytime. It can be the same friend every time. And there is no pressure on them to join. After hours, there’s no staff and you use your card to get in. If you’re nervous, there are emergency call buttons on lanyards you can keep with you. 
  • It’s got every piece of workout equipment possible. It’s enormous. There are three big rooms and one is set up CrossFit style with room for ropes, tires, etc. There’s a sled to push and pull. There’s also a fitness studio with an app and workout videos to choose from to display on a big screen.
  • The other customers are an incredibly diverse bunch. I love the range of clothes people wear to workout. There are Italian grandmothers in cardigans, elastic waist pants, and flat dress shoes. There are serious powerlifters in all the gear. And everything in between. I love the high school students who come in after school in pretty much what they are wearing. Ditto the guys in construction boots and nurses still partly in uniform. There’s zero pressure to look all matchy-matchy in nice workout outfits. People are doing lots of different kinds of work outs and it’s all good.

What’s not so great?

  • Unlike classes and personal training and coached cycling/rowing workouts and boutique fitness studios like Cate’s feminist CrossFit or Tracy’s body-positive boot camp, or Orange Theory, you need to have a plan. It’s on you. You need to have a plan for what you are going to do when you get there. I cheat. I follow my son’s workout at about half the weight. But on my own I’m sometimes stuck and go back to old favourites. Lat pull down and bench press and deadlift, anyone? You also need to get there. When there isn’t a group and things start whenever you get there, I sometimes have a harder time getting myself out the door. Without a person whose expectations I want to live up to, sometimes it’s challenging to push yourself. 
  • Also because you can go anytime–24/7!–I can tend to put off going to the gym until later. I sometimes think what I need is a series of workouts on my phone that I can follow along with at the gym but my bad knee means I have to pick and choose. I manage. But I could be more thoughtful and deliberate about it.

Okay, now about you? Are your fitness activities all planned by you or by a trainer or by the agenda of group fitness? Do you go to pricey boutique studios or the generic discount gym? How much do finances and cost play a role in your choices?

people in gym exercising
A photo of a gym, lots of free weights, by Mark Bertulfo, Unsplash.


15 thoughts on “Fitness on the cheap: Sam joins a discount gym

  1. I haven’t used any gym fitness facilities in the past 15 years. I live in Canada… Never say never.

    1. Why is that, Jean? Do you dislike gyms specifically (vs, say, yoga classes), or is it that you are more of a “movement in everyday life” person?

      1. Movement in everyday life person. I don’t like the regimentation of fitness classes after I learn what I need. So a gym would be doing my own thing which I haven’t got to.

        I have been car-free for over 35+ years. I gave up my car license when I was around 22 yrs. old. I’ve taken a total of 4 different classes –yoga, Pilates and tai chi. So if I used a gym it would be ideally to do my own thing. I just haven’t got to it. I love my bike too much and I live in a walkable/cycleable neighbourhood.

  2. I belong to my local Y, which costs more than the discount fitness but is still affordable. I like it because it’s filled with my neighbours–young and old and in between–and those who are super fit and those who aren’t but who are there moving their bodies (that’s me!). They offer group classes for when I need a little inspiration but also have weight facilities and a pool for when I’m content to work on my own. There is also personal training available. If I had all the money, I’d likely join a smaller gym where there’d be more personal attention or a Pilates studio but that is unlikely to ever happen and I’m content with what I have.

  3. So interesting that you find the lack of classes demotivating–it is completely the opposite for me! I have zero interest in joining a class at a specific time and love the flexibility of being able to go when it works with my schedule. Meeting goes 20 minutes late? No excuse not to still get to the gym! It’s Sunday at 10am and everyone else is at church? Perfect time to go to the gym and enjoy some quiet time there alone! Although, I should note I suppose that I schedule my visits a week or two out. The kind of lifting I do benefits from a certain amount of rest days interspersed with the lifting schedule, and if I don’t plan ahead, they can get too close together or spread too far apart to be as effective. So, I create my own structure that I can work within.

    1. Where I need help is in structuring my own workouts. I need to be more deliberate about my goals and plan accordingly. I’m not sure I can do that on my own.

      1. Oh yes, that makes perfect sense! It’s a whole world to dig into, and while I love it, I also get it’s not everyone’s kind of nerd fun. 🤓 What I do for programming is buy programs from trusted sources and then modify them for my needs, so I know I’m getting something well-rounded and designed for my particular goals, and then I progress or regress (more often, regress) the exercises to meet my physical abilities and the equipment I have available at the gym. I’ve heard tales of folks hiring trainers for programming and then only checking in with them from time to time when they need to update their training, but I’ve never tried that.

        Most recently, I’ve purchased programming from Nia Shanks, and I think she’s amazing. Her workouts are some of the most well-rounded and practical I’ve encountered. You can find her online.

        You are absolutely welcome to reach out to me any time, if you want someone to puzzle it out with. I love an excuse to talk about this stuff. 😁

      2. I might do that. I’ve looked at Nia Shank’s programs before and found them a bit overwhelming. I’m not good on my own knowing what’s reasonable, challenging, impossible, etc.

  4. I have accepted now that I’m not a gym person. I’ve tried several and never liked circling around the machines. For some strange reason I find it much more boring than swimming (which is theoretically a lot more repetitive!). The only thing I enjoyed at the gym were classes like tae bo or bodypump, but I didn’t enjoy them enough to keep me there either. The only gym I go to these days is the bouldering gym.

  5. I’m a total chat de luxe; I love a fancy gym with all the personal training, a variety of classes and fancy blow driers, shampoo etc. I tried Virgin Fitness in London once and thought I would never leave.
    That said, I’m not ready to spend $100+ a month on a gym so I go to the jock gym on campus (next to my office) and make it work with training programs I have purchased or found for free online. I supplement with class passes to my favourite yoga and spinning studios.

  6. I haven’t worked out in a gym since I worked at one about 15 years ago. I really want to try again, but yes, cost is an issue for me (it always surprises me when people call the Y affordable, it’s one of the more expensive options here) and, I’ve found I’m not a get in the car to drive somewhere to work out person. Unless its hiking, which is fun to me, a workout is just a bonus side affect. The negatives of work out at home are, I don’t have super heavy weights and it’s always been a dream of mine to get genuinely *stronger, the other more recent negative is, now I have some mobility issues in my upper body and I’m so afraid of hurting myself and making it worse, o tend to just use my treadmill and do squats and such. I really really could.use the guidance of a trainer or physical therapist, but again it would be a chunk of budget and I just haven’t really jumped off the ledge yet. I really have wanted to do the Y because my tween daughter can go with me there (most places require kids be at least 16) but again a costly option especially if I never feel like driving there. No gym is super close so anywhere would require driving of at least 15 minutes or more.

  7. Coming back to add, a gym with after hours no staff sounds great to me with the added bonus of probably less traffic in driving there

  8. I pretty much only workout on my own, even at a gym with a ton of classes and trainers. The trainers are helpful for designing workouts for me, but I don’t need them to actually do the workouts, unless I’m unsure of my form, but apparently my form is just fine for the latest set of workouts, per the trainer. I like going at off hours, because there’s usually more space to do my thing in. All that is to say, I have some suggestions that might help you.

    Years ago, I signed up for Fitocracy, which was an attempt to gamify working out. It’s not really why I stick with it now, though, particularly since most of my friends stopped using it years ago. What I like is the app (iOS & Android), which allows me to set up a workout and then just play it through. If I can’t remember how to do a thing, there are usually videos to demonstrated it, which is super helpful. The layout is clear about what weight and how many reps, as well as giving me a heads up on what’s coming next. If it’s a timed thing, there’s even a built in timer. It’s by far the best DIY workout app I’ve found.

    If you’re not sure what things to do, there’s a lot of literature out there on how to build workouts. I like to change things up after a while, mostly because I get bored. If you don’t want to craft your own workout, maybe connect with a trainer on campus (Meg?) to give you one with a few options. My current workout has two super sets with three or four different things that I go through twice each. The trainer who designed it for me gave me two workouts with different exercises, and within those super sets, she even gave me options if I got bored with doing a thing. So far, I’m not bored yet.

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