The non-gym gym.

Part 1 : costs and non-costs.

Continuing the fitness training series with some thoughts about not going to the gym but doing all the training somewhere else or in a different way.

Those of you that have followed my fitness blog so far will know that when i started out on this push i pondered whether i needed to join a gym to be able to do the kind of training that i wanted to do or if it was possible to do it mostly at home or at least not in a traditional gym setting.     Some 3 months in and i haven’t joined a gym so far , have made some decent progress and even in my current 100 days hard push i still don’t seem to need a gym yet.

What i want to do in this post is 2 things : cover the gym/non-gym argument from a budget perspective and secondly talk about my own approach to training with what i have at home/at work and out in the field.   The budget idea is that starting and continuing a gym membership is expensive and i might be better using that same budget for equipment rather than buying gym time : this is what i have actually done.

A few years back i made a serious attempt to get fit after a muscle tear injury and the only way i could do the rehab in the middle of winter was to join the expensive gym near my then home, use their heated pool for the first stage and then the main gym once i had some degree of function again.  I am going to base the budget idea on what that gym membership would cost today.  I did think about re-joining the same gym when i started the current project because it is literally across the road from where i work and opens early enough that i could do a workout there by leaving home a bit early and getting it done before my working day.   The downside is that because i only work part-time (2 days a week) its a 20 mile drive each way and it would mean an additional journey at least once, preferably twice a week to even start to make the cost worthwhile.

The other consideration is time in that the drive each way on a busy traffic day takes about 40 minutes so that’s nearly one and a half hours just driving .  When i did the fitness project before a serious training session would take 3 or 4 hours out of my day because i would first walk to the gym, change and work-out, swim, change and then eat at the bar in the gym and then walk home.  Today i can’t justify either the expense of that gym (£60 a month) or the time needed to use it to maximum potential.  What i could think about is using some of that budget for equipment or changes here that would allow me do the same or similar training at home.

Lets say that i have been training now for 4 months but that at the beginning of the project i decided to allocate that first 4 months gym budget to equipment instead and given the internet, Ebay shopping and some local secondhand shops decided to pick up some equipment as cheaply as possible.  Lets also say that had i either joined a gym or not i would probably have needed to buy a few new bits of training clothing : mainly a pair of trainers.  As it is with how i do my training i am best using old and beat-up clothing for most of my training, my normal outdoor clothing for some of it and my ‘best’ trainers for work as they are the most comfortable for a long day on my feet.

Taking each element of my current training practice then i will try and put that in terms of what each part might or does cost in the equipment budget.

1.Heavy carry training (rucking) :  I haven’t described this very well so far but basically what i do is take a very old and beaten-up rucksack and go out and scavenge/retrieve deadfall wood for firewood.  As i started the project there was conveniently a site locally that had been clearcut but the trunk and branch rounds left behind.  It was a very difficult place to access and it seemed that the wood had just been left for good…it happens around here…so i decided to use that as my carry project as seen in earlier posts.  Today that wood has all gone so what i do now is to go scavenging deadfall in the local woods : i am currently working on just one fallen beech that has been there for at least 5 years and the wood is still viable.    Cost : one old rucksack that i had lying around unused and would otherwise have gone out in the rubbish.  One cheap coarse-cut hardpoint saw on offer down at the builders merchant : £12.  Clothes are my rough field clothes.  Anyone doing this from scratch might need a cheap rucksack and walking boots for off-road work but trainers are fine for on-road.  There are of course plenty of cheap things to utilise as carry-weight without having to go and cut trees down !.  A bag of builders sand for example is 20kg and about £5.    With all the equipment already in place aside from a rough saw for the job the heavy carry has cost nothing and gained me about 7.000 lbs of firewood !

2.Conventional exercises : bodyweight.       Looking at my training log my 3 main bodyweight exercises this week are press-ups, chin-ups and get-me-ups.  Press-ups i can do and do anywhere, any time and cost absolutely nothing.  I have a bit of a dirty secret at work in that i use an area at work to crank out my 100 before anyone else is there and a few weeks ago i worked out that a particular lintel in the changing room makes for an excellent chin-up bar.  Cost so far : zero.    The get-me-ups is the new exercise and that cost the grand total of a thick yard-broom handle from the country shop and was quite expensive at £18.  To do chin-ups or pull-ups at home did need one modification in fact i bought a commercial pull up bar and found i couldn’t use it so instead i bolted a new beam across the front of my outside utility area and use that instead, cost was again zero as i had the wood and the bolts kicking around.  I also found that my front garden pergola/shelter makes a fine pull-up/chin-up station as its built like a brick s**t-house.

3.Running.  Ok so i hate running.  I only do very short run/sprints on the hill outside the house (short and painful).  With my old trainers already on and in whatever shorts i am wearing on the day (i live in shorts) that’s the kit sorted.  At some time in the next few months i really should replace my old trainers as i kicked the crap out of them doing the first stage rucking.  New trainers in the budget i guess will come in around the £80 mark and its the one area where there isn’t really room to compromise.  I could add though that new trainers would  have been an additional expense on top of a gym membership.

4.Free weights.  I do free weights exercise at home using the back deck as my gym.  I had a look around the internet and the secondhand shops to see what there was going cheap  and similar to what i already have.

Olympic bar (20kg)   (£30)

Plates : Its taken a bit of mixed searching and of course is variable to where you live, around here i found about the same combination of plates as i already have here at close on £80….starting out from scratch you wouldn’t need that much all at once.  I am just about at the point that i need some extra plates : i just checked and the pair of brand-new ones that i want will actually cost me £40.   With the exercises that i do at home i do find it useful to have a variety of plates as i also use them for lifts other than conventional barbell moves for example that i do weighted sitting dips and weighted step-ups to a high bench.

Only having a bar and some plates does limit me a bit in that i can do deadlifts up to the current limit of my back stability but can only do squats up to the amount of weight that i can first press overhead and then lower onto my back….at the end of a set i also then have to dump the bar.  A squat rack of some kind would really help so i am looking through all the scrap timber to see if i can bodge something up.

So far in fact because i already have some trainers, old clothes, an old rucksack etc all i have spent on my training in this 4 months is the cost of a new saw for my ‘rucking’ retrieval of firewood and the broom handle for get-me-ups which leaves me the entire £240 gym membership not used.     That means i can definitely treat myself to some new trainers and those new plates. Now obviously i wouldn’t necasarily have had to spend that amount on gym membership as there is for instance the college gym at much less but not as convenient opening times and the ‘posh’ gym does also have  2 swimming pools of which one is outside…..bliss !

At this stage (early autumn) i don’t know whether i would benefit from a short term gym membership to cover the really dark and cold months, at this stage in the project i don’t think i do but lets see how things go this autumn.




  1. As well as saving money by ditching the gym you’re also improving your mental well being by exercising outdoors — that’s a win-win in my book. As you say Steve, you could retreat into a gym over the colder months but then you’d be missing out on all that character-building exposure to the elements 😉


    1. One friend who is a personal trainer thinks that many modern gyms are over-stimulating. When i used the ‘posh’ gym i had to use a music headset to drown out the appalling pop music being played. Gyms here seem to be either posh and noisy and full of cardio-bunny’s or completely characterless.
      I can’t help but think that what we need here in the village is a mens training club of some kind just using really old fashioned kit. Its something i have always meant to look into here.
      The main consideration over this winter isn’t so much that its cold….all i need is some leather work gloves for when the barbell is that cold but what i urgently need to set up is a squats rack/cage.


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