Why Joining a Gym Shouldn't Be Your New Year's Resolution

I own a gym, which means I shouldn't say what I'm about to say. In mid-December, business is booming for me as the gym fills up with new members looking to make a change in their lives. This article should be about why you need to make a resolution, find a gym (mine, please!) and stick to it for the rest of the year. That would be a logical business move.

Except I'm not going to do that. In fact, I'm going to do the opposite. In an odd turn of events, this gym owner is going to tell you that your best strategy might be to hold off on joining a gym on January 1st—at least for now.

Now, if you're ready to join a gym or take your fitness seriously, my facility and millions of others will welcome you with open arms. But know this: Joining a gym is not the end-all-be-all for fixing your fitness woes. And if you're not quite ready for that investment of time, money and discipline, there are ways you can work up to making fitness an essential part of your routine.

Is the Gym for You?

First, I want to make it abundantly clear that I am not against gyms, nor am I saying that joining a gym is the wrong thing to do. Like many gym owners, I did not get into this business to get rich. Rather, my sole purpose is impact and the gym is my platform for doing so. The right gym can be like a second home for some, allowing them to improve confidence and achieve goals they never thought possible. That idea is likely why exercise or "get fit" regularly tops the list of most common New Year's Resolutions. But that doesn't mean that right now is the time for everyone to grab that gym membership.

Your job today is to determine if joining a gym is right for you right now. First, there's the financial cost. A monthly $50 membership fee adds up to $600 annually. If you aren't ready to put in the time and commitment investment to support that $600 pay stub, it's okay—there are ways to work up to that and better ways to invest those funds toward whatever goals you have in mind. Many gym owners are not going to tell you this. They'll put your credit card on an auto-draft plan and forget your name by the end of January. You are member ID 102789. Nothing more, nothing less. In the world of most commercial gyms, revenue trumps individual impact.

Which brings us to membership surge, another difficulty that could prove to be a goal-crusher. With everyone's motivation high, January is the time of year where gym population is at an all-time high. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing, if you're not a self-starter with true commitment to your goals, this is hands-down the easiest time to get off track. Waiting in line for machines or weights, not having available cardio equipment or even facing some anxiety or embarrassment due to the pressure that comes with exercising in front of a crowd are all very real issues for new gym members. For people who struggle with comparing themselves to others, seeing athletic bodies or people who run five miles without breaking a sweat can be discouraging, leading to feelings of defeat before you even get started. It gets old fast and by February you start to see people fade away and often never come back.

Furthermore, while exercise at a fully outfitted facility can be more effective, but many people forget that it's not your only option. Thanks to the power of the internet, some great at-home workouts are available with a few clicks of a button, and they can be a great starting point as you work up to your first visit to a gym. Working on your fitness at home can help you build confidence and a baseline of strength before you fully commit to a gym routine.

If you've tried home workouts in the past, found that your motivation was lacking and know you need a gym to keep on task, remember that a big box gym flooded with new members is not your only option. There are many specialty fitness studios or independent boot camps designed for larger groups that allow you to have that accountability of showing up to a designated fitness space without the downsides that can go along with an overcrowded gym. Waiting out the New Year's rush with a more personalized studio or group class will allow you to build upon your skills, improve your willpower and learn to fall in love with the feeling of sweat without the added pressure from other exercisers.

It all comes down to this: Simply joining a gym does nothing for you, though. It's what you do at the gym and, more importantly, what you do with the other 23 hours of the day that make the biggest impact on your life and goals.<pagebreak>
Before you decide to take advantage of that new member deal, ask yourself these important questions:
  • Can I commit to exercising 30 to 60 minutes a day, two to four days a week?
  • Am I willing to change my lifestyle and schedule to make time for these workouts?
  • Do I have the discipline to make these workouts non-negotiable, just like a meeting at work?
  • If I commit to the physical aspect of the gym, can I also handle the mental challenges?
  • Will I adjust my dietary and sleep habits to support my efforts in the gym?
  • Do I know enough about exercise to improvise if people are using the equipment I set out to work with?
  • Can I handle a crowded gym?
The answer to each question should be a resounding "yes" if you don't want to risk being another member ID number with no results at the gym. A "yes" to all of these is worth $600 a year. Anything less than a "yes" should be looked into with some true thought.

Again, I'm not telling you skip the gym, but if you're not willing to adjust your current lifestyle to support those efforts, what can you expect to get out of the gym? It might seem harsh by changes to your diet, sleep schedule, social schedule and more really are essential prerequisites. To do anything less would be diving into something you're not fully ready to commit to, which results in you going through the motions, failing and ultimately losing confidence in yourself. Taking small steps toward your goal and working up momentum, even if it feels unconventional, is the true key to crushing your long-term goals.

I am Not Ready

If you answered "yes" to the questions above, you can stop reading here and get out there and start crushing your fitness goals. If you're still here, it's time to address some of your doubts and start coming to terms with the fact that you're not quite ready for the gym.

It's easy to get swept up in the "New Year, New You," dialogue, but setting a goal is about more than the hype and a perfect Facebook status setting your intention. The truth is, you can set goals any time of the year, so there's no need to feel pressure now. A big reason why resolutions often fail is that people jump in without having the proper tools or plan they need to accomplish their endgame. Instead of feeling rushed or pressured, start small with lifestyle changes outside the gym that will set you up for success when you find the right workout facility.
1. Discipline: Many people erroneously seek out motivation when joining a gym, assuming that the energy of the other patrons or the comradery of a group class will be enough to keep them coming back. However, discipline is the key to sticking to a routine.

If you're someone who needs to constantly be motivated by others, you likely lack discipline and commitment to that task. Put some pressure on yourself and stop relying on external factors. Self-discipline means you'll perform the necessary tasks because you've committed to it and you're not willing to let yourself down. At the end of the day, your health is in your hands and your hands alone, so it's up to you to take care of your body and push yourself to be your best.

2. Dietary Habits: You can go to the gym for two hours a day and kill yourself with high-intensity training only to go negate that hard work with sloppy nutrition and poor hydration. Before you commit to fitness, take a look at your nutrition and hydration habits and see if there is any room for improvement. If weight loss is the goal, your diet impacts your weight more than any dumbbell you lift or mile you run. Then, when you hit the gym later, not only have you succeeded in fueling your body properly but you'll also have the nutrients you need to train effectively.

3. Hire a Coach: While it sounds slightly contradictory, hiring a coach could be the bridge that gets you to feeling comfortable in the gym. In the crowded post-New Year gym, it's easy to feel lost, claustrophobic and probably slightly intimidated. Hiring or having a consultation with a training, nutrition or lifestyle coach can offer insight into how you can strategically go after your goals. A great coach can teach you keys to autonomy and help you master the art of coaching yourself so your need for a coach turns into wanting a coach to continue learning and improving.

The concept of joining a gym is a tempting one, and the shiny, happy people in the resolutions ads beckoning you to "Come In and Change Your Life, Too!" can make it feel like adding exercise into your routine will be a breeze. Exercise is work, though, and making sustainable lifestyle changes comes with its ups and downs. Instead of being tempted by shiny gym equipment and promises of no initiation fee, turn inward and ask yourself what you want out of your journey to health.

Healthy living is about the whole picture, so if you step into that gym on the first of the year and feel intimidated or out of place, it's okay to leave and explore other options or work until you're ready to make the commitment. Leaving is not a failure. There's a place for you here—now you get to discover what path you need to travel to get there.