Should I join a gym instead of running?

Grit Doctor: It's hard to a choose a freezing cold run in the woods over a 30-minute spinning session in a warm room


Question: Is it a good idea to join the gym?

Answer: I have a confession. My husband, recently joined the gym without – would you believe – consulting me?! So I only thought it right and proper to give him my considered opinion.

The gym is literally across the road from our house, and at £25 (€28) per month (the first three months at £19), no joining fee or contract, PureGym are definitely on to something. Because if my husband has joined, the whole of north London must have done so too.

I started to feel a tad jealous of his nipping across the road into the warm bosom of this uber gym for a 30-minute spinning session as I psyched myself up for a freezing cold run in the woods.

I noticed he was going most days without a struggle, and that I was skiving my runs – and blaming the weather for it. A few days ago, when he announced he was going to the gym again and I grimaced at the prospect of running through the driving rain – he suggested I join him. “But, but. . ,” I protested. He told me it takes two seconds to join and that I could do it on my phone on the way over. Sure enough, by the time we’d crossed the road, it was all sorted and I had my pin code. This eight-digit code gets you access into a space-age pod so slimline I was worried my hubbie might get crushed. I needn’t have, because he navigated his entrance with all the elegance of a seasoned professional – while I caught my hoodie in the door and set off an alarm.

Well, not quite – huge relief – because there are no human beings on reception to rescue trapped newcomers. Because there is no reception. I had to type in my code to get both in and out; no doubt they are recording all my data to check that I am sticking to my declared “fitness goals”. That’s no bad thing I suppose as it allows the gym to keep on top of what members are doing, and what works for them. Plus, it enables PureGym to keep abreast of how many more people they can afford to sign up without allowing the building to burst at the seams. This was my positive take on the whole data collection thing. I’m not one to let conspiracy theories get in the way of a good work out.

I’d been a member of LA Fitness before (the previous gym at this location) which I used occasionally for Pilates and strength training and for runs/walks especially when recovering from injury and in truly awful weather. And to take the twins swimming.

The place was barely recognisable in its new sleek format, the pool had disappeared and in its place numerous classrooms all jam packed with equipment. There was the odd buff trainer wandering about but that’s it, just buff trainers and buff gym bunnies glued to machines. My hubbie led me down the stairs and into the bowels – to where the cross trainers live. It was so bright down there, but with no windows there was no natural light; an airless basement with machines packed so tightly together they were touching each other. I felt much like I suspect those mice did from my last piece – that I was part of some gigantic science experiment.

I gamely completed a 30-minute interval session on the cross trainer to keep my husband company – all the while wishing I was anywhere but here. I became acutely aware of everyone else in the room straining to climb hills and mountains – all simulated of course. And I thought how bizarre that we were all in a basement pushing ourselves to the max, bodies in constant motion – yet all the time going absolutely nowhere.

All of us together and yet entirely disconnected from one another.

There really are few things more dispiriting than being on the back row in a classroom full of machines, with every body in front of you slimmer, leaner, fitter, and surely going faster.

Music and music videos assaulted my senses from all angles. I started to feel a bit sick from the sensory overload, but smiled weakly at my husband who was persevering with great determination just a millimetre away from me, plugged into headphones. I tried to busy myself reading an article on my iPhone but it was extremely difficult to concentrate with the noise of the machines, the constant flashing of lights and numbers telling me how many calories I’d burnt, or that my heart rate had gone out of range, or how far I’d travelled – irony alert – and how far I still had to go.

The whole point of exercise surely IS TO GET AWAY FROM ALL THIS. To run away, to escape and to feel free. To be on one of those underground machines for me is to be trapped. Afterwards I was so inspired by how much I’d missed being outdoors that I ran from the exiting pod straight to the woods oblivious to the rain. It felt as though I was running for my life.

I want to go somewhere when I’m moving and enjoy all the random things that happen along the way. I longed for the great outdoors and to lose myself in my body’s rhythms rather than being bombarded with every digital distraction possible. Being digitally distracted like that didn’t make time go faster for me – it crawled past at a snail’s pace.

I was so pleased to keep my hubbie company though, and will encourage him and everybody who can’t face anything else to keep on going to the gym. I applaud the gym too for its fairer pricing – getting rid of the flab and streamlining its service, but it’s not for me.

Despite the unfriendly weather, a run in the woods wins every time, so thanks PureGym, but no thanks.

As for you, whatever exercise works for you, works for me.