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How a New Year’s gym membership turned into a $1,000 swim

Melissa Kirsch is Deputy Editor at SheKnows. She is the author of the post-college bible The Girl's Guide (Workman, 2015), now with over 100,000 copies in print.

She has written for New York, National Geographic Traveler, Good Housekeepi...

Before you sign up for that annual gym membership, ask yourself a few crucial questions

It’s that time of year when people resolve to live more healthfully, to exercise more, to get up early every day and squeeze in a run before work. It’s the time of year when people buy gym memberships. 

In the first blush of the new year, we are optimistic. We are positive this is the year we are going to get in shape. We are going to take advantage of every single perk the gym has to offer, really make that monthly payment pay off. We are going to try every class (Spinning! Yoga Fat Blast! Capoeira!). We are going fall in love with the elliptical trainer if it kills us.

I am not here to yuck-yuck on your yum-yum. I’m not going to tell you that gyms are terrible, germy dungeons and the only real reason people get memberships is so they can watch Game of Thrones on the little treadmill TV. No, I’m going to tell you a tale far more depressing. It’s the tale of The $1,000 Swim.

The best intentions

I was once like you, drunk on the promise of a new year and clad in new Lululemon attire (who would rather die than leave the house without a 5-liter bottle of Poland Spring sticking out of my million-zippered nylon gym bag).

When the postcard arrived in the mail, offering me a three-month membership at a fancy health club for less than the price of the chain gym down the block, I was in. This was no regular "bench press and Zumba" gym — it was too fancy for that. This was a club, a place for members — Socs in, Greasers out. It had two squash courts for the love of God.

I joined on Jan. 1, ready to exploit the bejesus out of that three-month trial, while marking the end of the three months in my calendar so I would be sure to cancel before the monthly fee went up over $100. I may or may not have bought a new pair of running shoes and a functional, but still cute, sweatband, if such a thing exists. I was ready.

More: 6 Strength exercises that don't require weights or a gym

Let me be clear: I like to exercise. I like to jog in the two parks near my house, and I sometimes even like doing it in the cold. I very much like and am not embarrassed to admit that I am something of a booster for Jillian Michaels’ 30 Day Shred. I do not like gyms. I do not like gyms, even if they are light filled and semiclean, call themselves “athletic clubs” or have concierge services for an extra fee if you want someone to pick up your dry cleaning.

Why gyms are really the worst

The problem with gyms is other people. I say this as someone who enjoys the company of others and has been told on more than one occasion I am a pleasure to be around. It’s not that the other people at gyms are mannerless heathens (which they sometimes are) or that they’re sweaty (which they always are) or that they’re always using the machine you want exactly when you want it. The problem with gyms is you have to expend a lot of social energy in addition to the physical energy of your workout.

There’s the person you greet when you sign in and there are the wet naked people you have to squeeze past in the locker room. There’s the lady spritzing down the shower (if you’re lucky) and there are trainers bounding up to you trying to sell you a 10-session training package (if you’re not). By the time you arrive at the balance ball to quietly do your crunches alone in the corner of the stretching area, you are pooped. You want to go home and you haven’t even listened to your meticulously curated Spotify workout playlist yet.

More: Turn your car into a gym with 9 quick exercises

I didn’t, of course, cancel my gym membership after the three-month trial. I totally forgot and ended up locked into a ridiculous membership fee for the entire year. And I did not (as many people do) go to the athletic club with the gusto of an Olympic weight lifter for the month of January, and then guilt myself into going once a month for the remainder of the year. I went to the gym precisely once. I cringed each month when I saw the automatic withdrawal on my credit card, but even that pain didn’t inspire me to go. I didn’t think of the fact that I could afford a nicer apartment for the amount I was donating to the “club" each month, of the hungry children I could feed or the trip to Europe I could take if I weren’t tithing to the gym.

The $1000 Swim

The one time I went to the gym, I went swimming. It was early in the morning, before the kids in their water wings and the old ladies who crawl-stroke without getting their hair wet had arrived. I had the entire pool to myself. It was freeing. It was magical. It was stress relieving and exhausting and all the things that a good workout is supposed to be. It was — and I say this without irony — an incredible swim. Thank God, because after the membership was over and I totaled up the cost per visit of my annual gym membership, I determined that incredible swim cost me $1,000. That's $1,194.80 to be precise.

So, to you, the hopeful, determined newest member of Crunch or Curves or Gold’s or Members Only Athletic Palace, I say good luck. I say think about what you’re paying for for that gym membership and ask yourself if you are a person who actually likes to go to the gym, who likes to be around other people a lot when she’s working out. A fancy gym is still a gym, and no organic juice bar or eucalyptus-scented towel is going to change that. If you’ve taken advantage of an irresistible trial membership, cancel it by April 1 or whenever it expires. And if you do actually fall in love with the elliptical trainer or the Cardio-Sculpt class or the 5 a.m. Yogalates with Cybil, you’re a better New Year’s "resolutionary" than I am. I’ll be outside in the park, jogging along the perimeter and I’ll meet you for post-workout cocktails after.

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