Why gym memberships are often unused

[This post first appeared on my myspace blog (now obsolete) in August 2006, but I thought it worthwhile keeping it and dumping it here]

After a summer of trying NOT to go to the gym, I finally succumbed and went to my local home town sweat bucket. It is a former Methodist Chapel and by my view, is worth a lot of more as a gym than it ever would as a church. But, hey that’s my atheistic sarcasm coming through. The reason I mention it is that it is the best gym that I’ve ever been to, and I’ve probably been to about 20 or so over the last 15 years. Take this morning for example: I only go when I’m down visiting my parents and I haven’t been there since Christmas, and yet nearly everyone in there remembered me and bothered to talk to me. Needless to say that an hour’s session took near-on twice as long. The thing I really like about this gym is that it has a real mix of people there from the 65 year old lady who tells everyone how she went into her bank’s local branch the other day to find that they no longer had any customer service representatives and she would have to travel an extra 5 miles to the nearest industrial estate, to the serious power lifter who is training for a national competition. This morning for instance, there was middle-aged (and overweight) woman who spent most of her time burning off calories on the rowing machine, a slim-built man in his 50s who remembered he lives in the next village to me and talked to me about how my village has a far better bus service than his, two skinny teenage brothers who were lifting lighter weights than me in an attempt to have the physique that would impress the girls, a national junior power lifting champion who told me that his band had been asked to supply one of the tracks for a video of the recent national surf championships, and a selection of other men in their 20s to 40s who helped me move my weights around and talked to me about my rugby playing days. As I said, I haven’t even set foot in this place for eight months and probably only go a few times a year. This, to me, is what a gym should really be about. There’s no flash machinery (one each of the cardio machines which are aging rapidly), no 6 screen television set-up (there is an old terristrial tv but it hasn’t been used for years), just a small environment with lots of free-weights and a few old machine weights, and a lot of very pleasant people that are always willing to chat. No wonder there are millions of people out there with little used memberships of the big impersonal clubs and fitness centres, when everyone is cocooned in their own mp3’d world and feeling like a hamster on a wheel, or worse still, a pre-programmed robot. Humans are social creatures, they need genuine social interaction to keep them motivated. Ultimately, if there were more gyms like the one that I went to this morning, the fitness of the nation would be a lot better for it.