RUNNING versus GYMS for weight loss and conditioning.
Do you know many people that have been members of gyms for months, even years and have gained very few physical benefits at all? Have they lost only a little weight or none at all? Do they still raise a big sweat and puff a lot just climbing one flight of stairs?
For decades, there has been a belief amongst many Australians that exercising solely in gyms is the best way to lose weight. If you are a runner, cyclist or triathlete and looking for ways to cross train, gyms have a lot to offer. If you already run, cycle or do triathlons, gyms can also be a great way to do extra training such as strength, stretching or additional aerobic training.
If you feel that gyms are the only way to go to improve fitness, think again. Think ‘the great outdoors”. Think picturesque parklands. Think magical trails though go for miles. Think fresh air and open spaces. Think freedom.
Gyms have been around for centuries. Throughout the 20th century they started gaining in popularity amongst sports clubs. They mainly consisted of weights sets, including barbells, dumb bells and benches, exercise mats, climbing ladders and ropes, boxes and platforms for steps ups, depth jumps and other exercises, punching bags, speed balls and medicine balls. They were predominantly used by sportsmen and sportswomen for strength and flexibility training to assist them in their chosen sport. They were usually set up in halls, sports clubs and often outdoors or semi-outdoors. The great Australian running coach of the 1950s and 1960s, Percy Cerrutty, was a pioneer of strength training for runners and he used an outdoor gym at his training camp at Portsea. Competitive runners and coaches use strength training to improve performance and prevent injury. The same can be said right across the board in most sports these days.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, strength/weight machines were invented and gradually became popular in gyms. These machines were used by most people in conjunction with free weights and other traditional gym exercises. They were still mainly use by sportsmen and sportswomen for strength and flexibility training to assist them in their chosen sport. The sport of bodybuilding started to become more popular and gradually the non-sporting members of the population started to use gyms for their own health and well-being.
By the 1980s gyms for all people, not only sports specialists, started gaining in popularity. Gym businesses started flourishing, with large chains emerging across Australia and the rest of the world.
These modern businesses maintained traditional features of gyms, such as free weights, exercise mats, punching bags and medicine balls. They certainly began thriving on adding new, state-of –the-art strength/weight machines as they were being invented. They initiated the idea of gym memberships for periods of time, such as monthly, 3 monthly, 6 monthly and 12 monthly memberships. The modern gyms became so popular that an entire “gym industry” evolved. The gym industry then evolved into what is now more commonly know as the “fitness industry”.
With the gym/fitness industry boom came many mini booms or fitness fads. The first big boom was the aerobics boom, which was gym-based. It is no longer just a boom, now being firmly entrenched in the gym culture. Gyms set up separate rooms to cater for aerobic dancing classes. These rooms were adjacent to the strength rooms. It then became popular for gyms to add to their range of fitness options so they would build swimming pools, squash courts, tennis courts and martial arts facilities on to their complexes.
As the gyms became more complex, so did the instructors and managers who operated them. Universities and other recognized institutions started offering degrees and diplomas for gym industry and fitness related positions. Gyms now have many qualified employees with people ranging from aerobics instructors to sports scientists working in the industry.
A huge range of activities, which are basically regarded as fitness options, have emerged in gyms. Here are just some of the classes offered in gyms. If your primary goals are to get a decent cardio workout, lose weight and tone up, some of these classes will be great, otherwise close to useless. I have graded each of the classes listed below out of five based on how useful I believe they are for giving a decent cardio workout and losing weight. 5 is given to the best, 1 is given to the weakest. Let’s presume the average class goes for 45 minutes- 1 hour.
• Aerobics classes (3)
• Fitness circuits (3)
• Stretching and relaxation classes (0)
• Pilates classes (1)
• Fitness ball classes (2)
• Spinning classes (stationery bike riding in groups) (4)
• Kick-boxing (3)
• Boxing classes (3)
• Pump classes (3)
• Walking clubs (3)
• Yoga classes (1)
• Gentle exercise classes (2)
• Jazz-funk classes (3)
• Funkaerobics (3)
• Step classes (3)
• A range of sessions in the pool including Athletic Aqua, Deep, Shallow, Aqua Tone, Aqua Power and Deep Circuit (on average 1-2)
Sure, I understand that some classes’ primary goal is not for improving weight loss/cardio, such as Pilates and Yoga. They serve their own purposes. However, plenty of clients have been fooled into thinking otherwise.
Gyms have also included cardio or aerobic exercise machines such as ergo-rowers, running/walking treadmills, stationery bikes and elliptical trainers. The list goes on. A lot of these activities/classes offer something for beginners, intermediate and advanced participants. Generally speaking advanced classes will be better for cardio/weight loss. It is like a snowball effect when looking at weight loss the harder/faster you go at something- the more calories you will burn.
Running training on treadmills in gyms in Australia may be justifiable for some. One example may include women living in rough/high crime neighbourhoods who may be risking an attack if trainig after dark, thus have the security of running on a treadmill in a gym. Another example may include running on a Alter G machine (a treadmill designed by NASA which enables the user to run at lower percentages of their body weight). Alter Gs can be ideal for injured runners, or runners who want to add in extra mileage without risking injury. They normally cost $50 or more for an hour run, or $80 000 or more to buy.
Many people wanting a workout claim that they use gyms because of the child minding facilities. Numerous running clubs, however, now offer child minding care. At the MELBOURNE PACK mid morning running group in Edithvale on Tuesday and Thursday mornings we often have as many children as runners at sessions!
How do gyms get customers to sign up for a year and keep signing up year after year? They try to make their customers feel as good as possible. How do customers feel good when at a gym? The majority of people will feel good if they are exercising lightly or sometimes moderately. Yes there are the ‘hard core” exercise types who do work extremely hard at the gym and gyms play are big role in their training program. However if gyms are the only fitness activity in a person’s life and that person likes to be well within their “comfort zone” for their workout, then in many cases the person is being mislead into a false sense of fitness.
An example of light or moderate exercise that a massive number of people participate in gyms is Pilates. Pilates is essentially a very easy activity, designed to improve posture and muscle function by using strengthening and stretching exercises. Will it help you lose any weight? No. Do a lot of people do Pilates instead of spending their time on a weight-losing exercises? Yes. Yoga is in a very similar position to Pilates- it won’t help you to lose weight.
Many people use weight machines in gyms and these machines have an extremely small impact on weight loss, yet so many people sit or lie on them (as that is essentially what you’re doing on these machines) and pump light weights for 5-30 seconds. They then sit or lie on them for a huge recovery period (anything from 30 seconds to 5 minutes) before going through the same process. In fact these people will probably burn more calories walking from their car to get into the gym, or in walking 3 metres from one machine to the next, than what they’ll burn at the actual machines.
Many of the fitness options that are provided in gyms will help you to lose weight, such as aerobics, circuits, aqua fitness, jogging, walking, boxing, cycling, rowing and ball work. The sad fact is that most people who participate in these aerobic based activities only do them once or twice a week and they don’t do it consistently, year-round.
It’s actually quite an effort for most people just to travel to a gym, do a class or session then travel home again. Most people could have gone for a 40 minute walk, run or bike ride, or even participated in their own “gym-style” session such as aerobics at home with family, friends or even on their own, in the time that they have driven to the gym, parked the car, walked into the gym and checked in and waited for a class to even commence. Going to gyms for most people is very time-consuming.
In comparison to these gym activities, I give a hard running workout lasting 45 minutes a 5/5 grading. Just using one example, I recently moved from Sydney to Melbourne and started up a running group at Edithvale. One lady named Gayle joined in late May. Between June 1 and December 1 she lost 20 kg. The only exercise she does are the 3 MELBOURNE PACK running group sessions/runs per week plus a couple of other light runs or walks. She has stuck by her running program with great determination and commitment and super results are now showing. I have coached hundreds of recreational runners over the last two decades and Gayle’s success story is just one of many when it comes to weight loss.
If you are new to running I strongly recommend joining a running club with experienced, accredited coaches.
Several years ago, I laughed at a running friend of mine who was a member of a local gym at the time. It was late November in Sydney and we were supposed to meet in Centennial Park for a 16km run at 5.00pm. It was raining lightly with the temperature being around 22 degrees Celsius. To me, it seemed like the conditions for running were perfect. My friend didn’t show for the run that afternoon. Later that evening, my friend called on the phone. He said, “Sean, sorry I couldn’t make the run this afternoon. With the weather being so bad and all, I decided to head for the gym and run on the treadmill instead.” I had arrived home, showered, eaten dinner and read a couple of chapters of a book. He told me that he had just arrived home. We had both run 16km- me through one of the most beautiful parks in the world, running around pristine ponds, along sandy trails beneath massive Moreton Bay Fig trees and across vast fields. He had run on the spot on a machine. I had run out the door, straight to the park and back home. My friend had to:
• drive for 10 minutes to the gym,
• take 5 minutes to find a park,
• walk 5 minutes to the gym,
• waited in a queue for a further 5 minutes to check in,
• waited for 10 minutes to use the machine,
• ran for 40 minutes on the machine before being asked to vacate the machine as it only had a 20 minute limit (which he had doubled!),
• lift some weights for 20 minutes (which he hadn’t planned on doing but he figured he may as well do something before he could get back on a treadmill again)
• hop back on a machine once it became available and run for another 30 minutes to log up his planned 16km
• walk 5 minutes back to his car
• drive for 10 minutes back home
What can we do?
Most people could have gone for a 40 minute walk, run or bike ride, or even participated in their own “gym-style” session such as aerobics at home with family, friends or even on their own, in the time that they have driven to the gym, parked the car, walked into the gym and checked in and waited for a class to even commence. Straight out your front door (and in many cases you don’t even have to leave the front door) and right into your exercises. Or they could have teed up with their local running club, had some training buddies to help push the pace and be done and dusted faster than if they had to go to a gym.
A lot of people use “bad weather” as an excuse to have to go to the gym to exercise indoors instead of outdoors. We don’t get bad weather in most parts of Australia- believe me. We live in a very lucky country when it comes to weather. I lived in Canada and I was almost always able to get outside and go for a run, walk or ride, even if it was minus 15 degrees Celsius. Very rarely does the temperature drop below -5 in most parts of Australia. It’s very pleasant exercising in sub zero temperatures, as long as you’re dressed appropriately. As for calling 10 degrees C cold- please….. If it is stinking hot, as it has been in Melbourne the past few days, embrace it. Expect your running pace to be a little slower, drink more fluids and appreciate you are building plasma at a faster rate than if conditions were cooler.
We live in a beautiful country. It is an absolute joy being able to train outdoors in the elements and gorgeous surroundings. Embrace the outdoors whilst exercising. You will be forever thankful for it.
My main piece of advice is to be wary of signing up to a gym if you are only exercising sparingly and lightly. To gain decent cardio benefits you should be elevating your heart rate to reasonably high rates, sweating a lot, and doing this style of exercise every day if possible.
My next piece will look at how people who either do no exercise or do very light exercise in a gym can move into a running program and even join a running group.