The Decolonial Parent

a continuous work in progress

why i don’t have a gym membership

Being a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor, blah blah blah, you’d expect me to be a gym rat of sorts. I can’t deny I love the atmosphere in a gym, with the sounds of clanging metal and the whirr of cardio machines, the scent of damp sweat and grown men’s tears, and the endless possibilities of all that equipment to play with. These are my proving grounds, the places I cut my teeth. However, I haven’t had a gym membership for years and today I talk about why.

As I write in my about me page, I don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all approach to health and wellness. (Honestly, I don’t even really believe in “wellness” as it exists today, but let’s talk about that in a separate post.) I believe that every person is their own perfect storm of mind, body, + spirit, forged in the clouds of ancestry, geography, history, + politics. We have different body shapes but also different neurologies, and that should inform the ways we train.

I have been blessed to grow up in the crossroads of cultures, in particular when it comes to health. I was raised in a country with a socialized healthcare system: the British system during my childhood was comprehensive, universal, and free at the point of delivery. It meant I could run, jump, climb, and fall to my heart’s absolute content because my hard-working-tight-budgeting parents could rely on the National Health Service to patch me back together without crippling our household finances. I am forever grateful for this, as my entire life has been shaped by the opportunity to take risks with wild abandon. When I respond to an exercise as “ooh, that doesn’t look safe” it’s informed by a lifetime of limit-testing, not just of what’s considered safe from a clinical perspective as a trained professional but also of my own boundaries. I have learned to know my body by breaking it, but it’s not something I would ever ask others to do.

So, I wrote all that to say, everyone needs to learn the boundaries of their own bodies for themselves and gyms are not appropriate places for that to happen. Firstly, they are often not safe spaces for many people. For those of us who belong to marginalized or othered groups, we seek comfort in a cocoon of belonging; we find our people and spaces to envelope us in a feeling we don’t have elsewhere in the world. Until we own our own gyms, when we walk into a gym we are entering a space that has its roots in testosterone culture, dated concepts of masculinity and body normativity – but not only that. Thanks (not thanks) to 🍑 posts on socials, among other boosters, there is a pervasive social trend to amplify the objectification of our bodies. For so many groups, this makes gyms at best, unwelcoming, and at their worst, downright dangerous.

Secondly, without prior knowledge on how best to use the equipment, there’s a distinct lack of instruction. The machines may have diagrams, but it can often be unclear whether or not we’re using them correctly. If the gym is already not the safest of spaces for us, how many of us feel comfortable approaching a stranger to ask for help? Not only that, but can this person be trusted to help us at all? What if they are in the same position as us? Can we assume that people who are confidently hulking around huge weights or thumping out miles on the treadmill have any expertise besides what they do for their own workouts? The answer to all of these questions, always, is know yourself. Know what your body does, what you need someone to do for you. Don’t surrender power over your own body any more than necessary.

Which brings me neatly to my third reason for not having a gym membership: I don’t want my wellbeing to be dependent on the success of someone else’s business model. Not only are most gyms set up to milk the majority of their members for membership fees that lock us into term agreements with the expectation we won’t redeem the value of services we’re paying for (imagine if all your gym’s members tried to work out at once!), but they often desperately underpay their staff on zero-hours contracts and expect us to pay for our own professional development (which then gets exploited by the gym as an additional service they can sell to their members). The minute the business model is no longer profitable, say because a pandemic has required gyms to limit the number of people who can use them thereby causing us to cancel memberships that we realize we’re not using (and barely have used since we signed up), the gym closes. Employees lose our jobs, regulars lose our community space, and anyone who depends on the gym to be able to work out loses our access to physical activity (sometimes mental + spiritual too – but another post for another day).

It’s no secret that I’m a rampantly autonomous/mutualist anticapitalist, so I’m sure no-one is surprised that I despise the system that prioritizes profit over people. It therefore also figures that I advocate for people learning how to work out in our homes or community spaces using tools we have to hand as part of daily life. And this is the final reason I’ll explain today.

I believe that our wellbeing should be an integral part of our lives. It shouldn’t be an optional add-on in the way the wellness industry loves to sell it to us (uh-oh, here we go again!). Wellbeing isn’t a product that can be bought or sold, it’s literally how well we can live our lives, speak our truths, share our love, and build our world. For as long as we’re depending on products and services outside of our lives, we’re doing wellness like the industry wants us to. I will always advocate for equipment-free home workouts above all (NOTE: if home isn’t a safe space for you, then for “home” read “the space you feel safe in”), because when we get into the practice of integrating our physical movement with our home lives, we turn our sanctuaries into places for our self-improvement.

In the safety of these spaces we can explore our own boundaries of body, mind, + spirit without surrendering as much of their power – our power.

IMPORTANT NOTE: if home isn’t a safe space for you, please know that there are people who want to provide safety for you. If you don’t have people in your close circle who you can speak to, please Google “national domestic abuse support” to get more information about protection services in your country/region. You deserve to be safe and free from pain and fear. If you don’t know who else to speak to, please don’t hesitate to contact me with as much information as you feel safe sharing, and I will do my best to put you in touch with someone nearby.