I Hate the Gym: Here's How I Get in Shape Instead

person running stairs

Guido Mieth / Getty Images

Up until about a year ago, the biggest waste of money I've ever spent has been on gym memberships. I buy into the idea that I'll actually hit the gym hard every week, and then never set foot inside. Basically, I'm paying the gym's rent. It's ridiculous.

The issue with me physically making it to the gym lies in my schedule and sheer exhaustion. When I work late, the last thing I want to do is get on a machine or lift weights, especially if I haven't even eaten dinner yet, and so continues the Netflix-and-chill lifestyle. And morning workouts? Forget it. I practically have to be pried off my mattress with a forklift, so trying to get myself on a treadmill is a lost cause. I know I sound incredibly lazy, and I'll own it. But the thing is, I still want to get in shape—just not with typical gym workouts.

So began my quest to get fit without feeling like working out is a chore. After trial and error and tapping into different areas of my personality, I was able to get into a great groove that toned my muscles and helped me feel a lot more confident.

Read on for nine of the best tips to get in shape even if you hate working out.

Do the Seven-Minute Exercise

I'm such a huge Alexa convert now that I'm an official owner. I ask her everything from the weather to my schedule to calling for a car. What I didn't realize she could do (aside from ordering a Domino's pizza, which is dangerously easy) is curate a seven-minute workout. She walks you through a few different exercises like wall sits, push-ups, and high-knees over the duration of seven minutes, and once you're done, you can either ask for another round or take a breather. I absolutely love it, because it's like taking a workout class at home, and every move is totally doable, even for beginners. She also coaches you through it, telling you how good of a job you're doing (which is quite funny to hear coming from a bot).

I've found doing this to be fun and effective—in fact, it's based on a HICT (high-intensity circuit training) workout, which promises to help you burn fat and improve your cardiovascular health. But even if you don't have an Alexa, you can set up your own short circuits in your living room.

Take It Outdoors

If you’re like me and the thought of going to the gym is about as unappealing as scrubbing the grout in your tub, outdoor workouts can be an attractive alternative. I’ve taken to hitting the local park or playground and doing bodyweight exercises like squats, lunges, burpees, jumping jacks, bench dips, planks, and push-ups. I’ve even started slowly working my way toward being able to do a real pull-up on the monkey bars. I love the fresh air and the feeling of being outside after a long workday, instead of crammed in a stuffy gym. Plus, being on and around the playground equipment makes my workout feel a little more like play than strictly exercise. You can also bring a few resistance bands for even more options.

Find a Buddy

Joja fitness Instagram

There's strength in numbers—literally. The Köhler Effect suggests that a person will work harder as a member of a group than when working individually, which rings especially true from a fitness perspective.

I somehow convinced my boyfriend to come with me to a yoga class at a local studio, and he fell in love with it so much that he set a recurring calendar reminder so we would stick with it. Having him as my yoga buddy means I have someone to push me to go even when I'm not in the mood, and there's also that element of guilt that I'm letting him down if I decide to skip out.

If you tend to be the one avoiding workouts, find someone who's more motivated and reliable than you. This way, you'll actually stick to your workout plans.

Try Self-Led Yoga

For those days when my workload piles up or I have a schedule conflict and can't make it to yoga class, I utilize YouTube yoga. There are so many good channels and teachers that make being an at-home yogi a breeze. One of my favorite channels is Yoga With Adriene, which boasts a slew of different videos like total-body workouts, targeted yoga (like yoga for abs or—get this—feet), and beginner's yoga. Just set up your laptop, lay down a mat, press play, and flow.

And if even the thought of yoga makes your muscles tighten in protest, here's good news: There are all sorts of other streaming options for fitness these days. You can find everything from HIIT workouts to Pilates and Spin classes (if you have a bike) to cardio dance workouts (which are super fun).

Do Something You Love

I swam competitively growing up and in high school, and I think it's the best form of exercise—ever. It improves muscle definition and core strength, burns an insane amount of calories, and gets your heart and lungs working. My gym has a pool, so it only made sense to utilize it considering that swimming not only doesn't make me moan and groan but actually makes me feel pretty invincible afterward. Taking that first dip in my gym's pool was a palm-to-forehead moment—I couldn't believe I hadn't taken the literal plunge earlier! Doing something physical that you genuinely enjoy—whether it’s dancing, skiing, or hiking on the weekend—is the absolute best way to get in shape, in my opinion.

Take the Stairs

Every time there's a choice between taking an escalator or the stairs, I always opt for the staircase. I try to do the same thing in lieu of using an elevator, though, admittedly, my office and my apartment are on the 18th and 24th floors, respectively, so I tend to take the elevator in these cases.

The same applies to walking. It's incredibly tempting to take a car from point A to B in New York City, but I know I'll save money and burn more calories if I walk instead. If you're able to do so in your life and town, I highly recommend making the swap.

If you don't live in an area that's conducive to walking, try parking farther away from your destination than you normally would.

Get a Standing Desk

Standing desks are pretty ubiquitous these days. If you don't want to fork over the money for one, create a DIY standing desk using stacked books or a tray with legs. You can also just move your computer to an elevated surface. (As I'm typing this, I'm standing at my kitchen bar area.) In addition to burning more calories than sitting, standing while working is shown to increase productivity. When I'm feeling particularly lethargic or sedentary, I love moving to a ledge and getting the blood pumping through my body and brain.

Fit in a Workout Anytime

person doing yoga in the kitchen

 Olia Danilevich / Pexels 

I've started to fit in little workouts whenever and wherever I can, like doing squats while I brush my teeth or queuing up a song and dancing while waiting for my coffee to brew. Your morning and nighttime beauty routines are easily conducive to squeezing in exercises. I call it being an "exercise ninja"—I sneak it in without even noticing I’ve changed anything because my routine stays the same.

Set a Goal Outside of Weight Loss

While weight loss may carry some motivation, it shouldn’t be your only motivation for getting active—especially because you likely won’t lose weight through exercise alone. So if you’re looking to “fix” your relationship with exercise and want to start doing more of it, make sure you go into it with a goal that’s not related to weight loss at all.

“Try setting goals of mastery over physical feats, like being able to do a push-up for the first time or running three miles without stopping,” says trainer and nutrition coach Minna Lee. “This really reinforces our sense of accomplishment, confidence, and capabilities—all of which lead to a healthier state of mind.” Her advice is what has me laser-focused on mastering a playground pull-up.

And if you’re all about self-care, great: Lee suggests thinking of exercise as an act of taking care of yourself. “It’s about showing up for yourself and declaring that your health is deserving of care,” she says.

Article Sources
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  1. Schmidt D, Anderson K, Graff M, Strutz V. The effect of high-intensity circuit training on physical fitness. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2016;56(5):534-540.

  2. Feltz DL, Kerr NL, Irwin BC. Buddy up: the Köhler effect applied to health gamesJ Sport Exerc Psychol. 2011;33(4):506-526. doi:10.1123/jsep.33.4.506

  3. Cleveland Clinic. Swimming: joint-friendly and good for your heart. Updated January 5, 2021.

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