Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Getting the Most out of a Gym Membership: Review

The best activities for your health are pumping and humping.
-Arnold Schwarzenegger

Well. I managed to do plenty of one of those recently. I came up with an idea a month ago- spend June trying as many classes as possible at my local gym.

A month of classes and sessions, and no normal sessions of just going to the gym and smashing weights, should offer a number of things. I could try new ways of working out. I could meet new people. I could be pushed harder by gym instructors. And I could vary my routine and get the most out of the money I pay.

And that is what I did.

Hammering the weight room WILL get you big eventually. (It hasn’t happened to me in my 28 years, but the theory’s sound. I was continually getting stronger.) But it can also get dull. When there’s more on offer than just weights, it’s foolish not to try out the activities that you’re already paying for.

Here's Oldham Sports Centre's timetable of activities.

I managed to get to most of these at least once.

Let’s look through the timetable, starting with Monday.

An hour of exercise bike work. This hits the cardio hard. It works the legs a lot. You’ll feel it the next morning. It’ll get you fit, but I found it a bit repetitive compared to other classes.

An hour of cardio and muscular development. Lots of movements using weights and using your body alone. Hard work. Good class.

30 minutes of abdominal exercises. Depending on who’s taking the class, this can be a tough session. You will learn a number of techniques that you can try in your own time, and they can work, but I felt that because the class was popular with women, we weren’t pushed as hard as we could have been. It didn’t hit the stomach with the necessary pressure needed to develop a proper six-pack.

Not entirely sure what the difference is between these two. I went to the Boxercise class and there was plenty of kicking involved. OCL’s timetable has been updated since I did the class. I'm sure previously there was only “Boxercise” listed on the timetable. Out of the Sports Centre classes I’ve tried, I’d say this was the best. It features a good group warm-up and various stations involving pad work, bag work, punches, kicks and knees, and hard stomach exercises with a medicine ball. If this doesn’t get you in shape, nothing will.

Imagine an aerobics class with a theme of Latin dancing. Imagine a woman with a headset blasting her voice over the PA system as Spanish guitars blast out of the speakers. Imagine 30 women shaking their arses around you, simultaneously.


I checked with reception that this was definitely a unisex class. It is, however I was the only guy in the class. I’ve done some salsa lessons before, so I wasn’t totally left behind, but there was one major difference between salsa and Zumba.

Salsa has two main elements to the dance: The man’s step, and the woman’s step. On the first beat, the man steps backwards and the woman steps forwards. In Zumba, everybody steps forwards. The dance is devised totally around the woman’s step and, because it’s laid out like an aerobics class- people stood in lines- we all perform the same movements. Not only that, the men’s movement in salsa is very upright and firm. The posture is very masculine. In contrast, the woman’s step contains a lot of effeminate arm-waving and gyrations. Most other Latin dance styles are similarly 2-sided. I’m glad no-one I know saw me do it.

There are other classes running at OCL that I would like to try, but I’ve had trouble booking onto them. Bodytone is very popular and is usually booked up. Legs, Bums and Tums I couldn’t make it to, but sounds like a girls’ class. Line dancing would have bored the hell out of me. It was 2 hours long! Jesus. I’d have loved to try Tai Chi but it only ran when I was in work. I’d have given Pilates a shot but didn’t for the same reason.

I’ve now spent a month doing these sessions, eschewing the gym’s weight room. It’s been interesting, more sociable than weights, and in some cases harder work and more fun. I’m definitely going to Kickboxer Circuit again, but there’s one problem- I’ve fallen out of shape. Because I’m not hammering big weights and not sticking to a routine, my muscles have gone slack. If the classes were booked up and I couldn’t get on any, I’d give myself a rest day and not go in at all. I have the feeling my cardio may have improved through the range of classes, but my strength isn’t what it was. I suppose there’s a balance to find between classes and weights, and that balance will be different for everyone. That balance will lie somewhere between the classes that you enjoy the most, and the activities that work the most for you.

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