No amount of walking, running on the treadmill or riding the family's recumbent bicycle could reverse Crystal Sitki's steady weight gain. By about age 40, the stay-at-home mother of two and community volunteer had put on 70 unwanted pounds. "What I was doing wasn't working," Sitki says. Then she joined a fitness club and started to see some positive changes. One year later, she is within a few pounds of her goal weight and feels great. Why?
"You have to know yourself," says Jim Hayes, a certified personal trainer and group exercise instructor. "If you're an individual who prefers to work out alone and doesn't like crowds, then a home setting can be beneficial."
On the other hand, Hayes says, "there are individuals who thrive and have their intensity increase by being around other members or just being in the gym setting." Such is the case with Sitki, who began a training program of fitness training, a diet and group classes Hayes designed and modified as necessary to meet her specific goals.
It is possible to achieve a good workout at home, however, according to Hayes. And there are some distinct benefits. "Time, for one thing," he says. "When you work out at home, the gym is open 24/7, and there's no travel time to get to it. And DVD workouts offer a variety of training options on your schedule versus a live class offered only at certain times at a facility. You have more flexibility."
But, Hayes continues, "there can be a lot of distractions at home," such as stopping to check your e-mail, fix supper and so on. "In the gym setting, your mind is entirely on the workout."
The main drawbacks to exercising only at home are the quality of the workout and not having personal supervision from a trainer, says Hayes. "Home equipment is typically not at the same level you'll find at the gym. It is very important to challenge the body with resistance training, and it would be very difficult to match the selection and amount of weight you would have at a gym with a handful of light weights at home. A facility or gym with a wide range of dumbbells, kettlebells and machines would win hands down in producing results with resistance training."
A club with a swimming pool also offers the benefits of lap swimming, water aerobics and flexibility and balance training. This is especially beneficial for older members and people with joint problems and injuries, Hayes says. And many facilities offer popular group classes, such as high-intensity, high-impact boot camp, Zumba, yoga, Pilates, spinning and kickboxing. "Classes offer guidance with live instructors, who can point out and correct any form problems that could lead to injury."
Having a trained staff to get you started and monitor your progress is important, says Hayes. "The problem with fitness training in general is that a lot of new people don't know what to do. At least DVDs give them a starting point. They'll come into the gym and watch other people to figure out where to begin, but you need a structured workout that's consistent with your goals. Get a thorough fitness assessment before you begin," he says, whether it's at a facility or gym or from a personal trainer who comes to your home.
An accurate profile of your current health, flexibility, background and injuries will help establish your optimal starting regimen. "Fitness should be considered like a game of golf," Hayes says. "You can read books and watch DVDs, but it also (benefits you) to hire a golf pro."
The trainer also can keep your program advancing at the right pace. "You want to push yourself because the trainer is there working out with you," says Sitki, whose goals are to maintain her weight loss, increase her muscle mass, and stay fit and healthy.
For anyone starting or restarting a fitness program, Sitki says, "Keep up with it. Even if you feel tired and worn-out and don't want to get up that extra hour early in the morning, just do it. You can set yourself up for failure if you sign up for a program and finish it but you don't follow through with it. ... If the club you join offers free follow-ups every month or so (to keep you on track), use that to your benefit to maintain your motivation. See what the gym offers, and use those services."
Once you work with a personal trainer, Sitki continues, you'll know when a workout benefits you. "It's worked for me," she says. "I feel like a totally different person. I look better and feel better."
Wherever you work out, Hayes concludes, "something is better than nothing -- just as long as you do exercise."