This post was originally put up almost four years ago, in November of 2011. I have changed my mind on a few things.
I work out at home, commercial gyms, privately owned hard-core “pits”, and outdoors by hiking and biking, ruck marching, skiing, you name it. It’s all good. What is the most effective? That all depends on your individual circumstances. I wrote this four years ago: “Eventually I think it’s best if you can migrate to a commercial gym to get a solid, well qualified start to developing good, safe technique and form.”
Unfortunately, what’s left of the original fitness center model or commercial gym is awfully expensive. The industry is being dominated more and more by discount outfits where the business model is to sign up as many members as possible and hope that they don’t show up. It’s common to see membership sign-up fees waived and monthly rates of only $10 per month. If you need any more help, they employ a hoard of newly minted and often marginally qualified personal trainers that you can hire per hour at multiples of the “get bodies in the door” monthly fee. If, like me, you already have a good sense of what you want to do and you actually use the place, such fees are a bargain. I have taken advantage of such memberships and I don’t know if the $10 per month even covered the hot water for the showers I took.
A word about muscle-heads: For the most part, the perception of some kind of intimidation by the “big guys” is just that…perception. This is probably as much as anything else discomfort at being in the presence of younger, boisterous guys in general, and I think it is exaggerated. Personally, I don’t find any more real knobs in this population than in guys my age with little sports cars; or in women who still climb all over each other like wannabe middle school mean girls. Although you can certainly find gyms that discourage “big” members by such things as limiting the amount and kinds of free weights, I find those places to be very sterile. They kind of remind me of retirement communities that don’t allow children. Without the big guys when I started out, I would not have had the benefit of their experience (which for the most part was readily shared, and free). Nor would I have had the inspiration of personally witnessing the lifting of what I thought at the time were super human weights. And last, but in no way least, I would not have had goals and a yardstick to measure myself when I eventually far exceeded those goals. Those earliest aspirations, which at the time seemed ambitious to the point of bordering on impossible, turned out in the final analysis to be exceedingly modest.
You might get the idea that I am not a fan of Planet Fitness and their exaggerated straw man “lunks.” You would be right. Of all the commercial options commonly available, if you have a convenient Crossfit gym (they call them boxes) in your area, I would check that out. I will write more later on the functional fitness movement best championed by Crossfit . Each one is only as good as the individual owner and the other coaches. However, in general I think they offer the best overall commercial options to both the beginner and experienced fitness enthusiast.
No one has done more than Crossfit to bring back and popularize basic barbell, gymnastic, and bodyweight workouts. The classes are not inexpensive, but keep in mind that you are in a small group training environment. Most of the experienced people in the group just go on about their business with little input needed from the instructor. That leaves the instructor largely free to help one-on-one the new people. The fact that you can get the equivalent of 8-12 or more essentially personal training sessions per month for plus/minus $100 is a bargain.