As a Member, I'm Paying It Forward

One last thought about role reversal. You know that saying, “Always the bridesmaid, never the bride?” Well, I have my own fitness-related version: Always the instructor, never the member.

For the last seven years, I have been a connoisseur of fitness. I've taken courses on human anatomy and exercise physiology. I've kept up on the latest exercise science research. I've been certified by two major education bodies. I've taught group exercise at a number of fitness facilities, and I've dabbled in personal training and weight management. I even, somehow, landed a job where I get to practice my two passions every day — fitness and writing. And what do all of these pursuits have in common? They've all allowed me to work out for free at a fitness facility.

In college and graduate school, I went to the rec center for free. (Thanks, Mom and Dad!) In the summers, I was a personal trainer. For the last three years while I've been working for the magazine, I've taught at least one class a week, providing me the perk of a free club membership.

Sadly, that has changed.

Because I moved to a different part of town, I quit my group exercise job (and, therefore, my free membership). With a number of life changes under way (namely buying a house and planning a wedding), I've been reluctant to take on any new group ex gig just yet.

For the first few weeks, I was OK without a club. I ran outside, did exercise DVDs and lifted with dumbbells at home. It got pretty old, pretty fast, though. I really missed a club's eccentricities. From the guy who wears black socks and white shoes (there's one in every club) to the thump of the beat in the group ex room to the treadmill that always starts clanking at mile two, I was club-sick.

So, I started touring clubs near the office and my new home. While some were good, others were just “eh.” Eventually, I found a club that worked for me. This facility was friendly, inviting and clean. All the equipment worked. The trainers were qualified and friendly. The sales guys weren't trying to “get me.” The toilets were sparkling. The group exercise room had updated equipment. I was in fitness-filled heaven.

But, still, is heaven worth $40 a month, plus an initiation fee? Would I be counting the cost of every sit-up? Would I really cross that line between fitness professional and ordinary citizen to (gasp!) become a member?

After a 10-day trial membership and some thought, I said yes. I could not live without a membership and access to a health club. Sure, there wouldn't be that same level of ownership that you have when you work somewhere and work out there, and I did feel a little jealous of the group ex instructors with their shiny new barbells and happy, sweaty participants. But as I continue paying my membership dues, I'm learning to enjoy fitness on my terms and out of my own pocket. I come and go as I please, I don't freak out when I can't remember someone's name, and if my shirt doesn't match my shorts, I really don't care because unlike when I'm teaching, I'm not on public display.

I know that by next year I'll be back in the group exercise studio teaching. You can only keep the aerobics diva subdued for so long. But I'm confident that for the time being, I'm getting in one heck of a workout — and one that's worth paying for.

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