Let’s be contrarian about this. It’s January. Everywhere you look, people have taken up running. The pavements are crowded with panting penitents working off their seasonal over-indulgence. The parks teem with skinnily wizened men and zippy young women bounding humiliatingly past you like Gareth Bale working the left flank at White Hart Lane. So here’s a thought. Why not go to the gym instead?
The gym, with its aura of testosterone-tinged sweat and crunch of steroid pills underfoot, is not trending at the moment. But sometimes what a man wants is his own urban bolthole where he can do his own thing, at his own pace. The gym can be your men-only space. Like a shed, but with free weights.
If you’re looking for a men-only space, avoid any gym which offers yoga, Pilates or aromatherapy. That sort of gym is for ladies
When choosing a gym, there are several things to factor in. Location is key (see the FIA’s gym finder). Running is popular because it’s simple: you just close the front door behind you and away you go. If you want to stick to a gym programme, you need that same get-up-and-go convenience so that you can use it in your lunch break or straight after work. If getting there entails a long car journey or public transport schlepp, it’s easy to lose motivation.
If you’re City-based, try Upfitness: Men’s Health magazine called it “the number one personal training gym in London for functional fitness and real results”. For anyone who lives or works near Archway in north London, Dowe Dynamics is excellent. It has a nice owner, friendly staff, is big enough to offer a great range of equipment, and small enough to give personal attention
By the way, if you’re looking for a men-only space, here is a tip: avoid any gym which offers yoga, Pilates or aromatherapy. That sort of gym is for ladies.
Cost is another issue, and what you get for your money. How likely are you to stick at this attempt to create the New You? If you’re a gym virgin, you’re better off with one that doesn’t tie you in to a year-long membership. For cheap deals that don’t ask you to commit long-term, The Gym Group was 2011 Budget Gym of the Year and has a range of locations countrywide.
One caveat: avoid the ones near universities if you’re the kind of self-conscious mid-lifer who is daunted by the presence of youthfully elastic and skinny bods. And listen out: what’s the music like? Is it too loud or too soft? Are the regulars too noisy for you, or too quiet? Seriously, this kind of thing can have a real effect on whether or not you keep coming back.
The same goes for the gym staff. You want a place where there are people around to help if you want it but who know when to leave you alone. Being singled out for attention can be as discouraging as being ignored.
But as a beginner you will need to learn how to use the equipment effectively and safely; how to start up and select programmes on the cardio equipment; how and when and when to stretch and when not to; what dumbell shoulder presses, flat bench presses, seated rows and tricep pushdowns are; and how to do them correctly.
These things can take time to get right and staff should be prepared to explain them several times over, it necessary, without rolling their eyes.
What to take? Apart from your kit, the crucial items are a water bottle and a towel. As for what to do when you get there, try Livestrong’s gym workout for beginners or Gym Professor’s toning routines for men. For what not to do, see these Men’s Fitness exercise tips.
One last point. Don’t wear tight shorts. Not if you want to avoid silhouette embarrassment on the ab crunch machine.