"You Don't Have to" Series, Finance, Health

You Don’t Have to: Buy Expensive Gear to Be Fit

I remember a glorious time when ‘getting in to running’ simply meant you had to go buy a pair of sneakers and shorts.

But running companies clearly wanted to sell more than that. So at some point they must’ve told us that getting sweaty was an atrocity, to be avoided at any cost. Suddenly we needed ultra-wicking, super-dry, silver-nano-thread fitness apparel. As for energy, cheap sugary candy suddenly became costly electrolyte gel packets.

And it’s no longer enough to have simply running shoes: you need training shoes, racing shoes, trail shoes, sunny hot shoes and cold rainy shoes (Gore-tex running shoes? C’mon!)

The modern athlete is apparently terrified of getting wet, hot, cold or sweaty. A bag of dates and jellybeans no longer suffices for workout fuel. And lord forbid you wear a cotton t-shirt or an old Blue Jays cap!

The simple human act of running suddenly became a potent commercial industry.


And the stuff they sell these days is borderline hilarity. It’ll always follow the same pattern: ‘intense adjective’ + ‘space-age sounding technology’ + ‘item’.

A quick Google search should prove this. Let’s see… oh here’s a pair of shoes: New Balance just came out with ‘FuelCell – nitrogen infused performance foam’ running shoes (isn’t air like 80% nitrogen anyway?).

The next at-random selection was this Asics shoe. This one actually listed over 10 jargon-y technologies in the single shoe! Here’s a few of the best; half of them sound like they are from a NASA list of space station patents:

– I.g.s® (impact guidance system) technology
– Flytefoam® midsole technology
– Heel clutching system™ technology
– Rearfoot and forefoot gel® technology cushioning systems
– Guidance trusstic system™ technology
– Ortholite® x-40 sockliner

‘But wait!’ you say, ‘With all this fancy stuff we can run faster, harder, longer and be more comfortable.’ To that I say, set a line of common sense. Figure out what is truly useful and what is over the top. Realize that if you want to get in to running it doesn’t mean decking yourself out from head to toe in wallet-draining petroleum products.

And finally no shoe technology, no matter what they tell you, is replacement for practice, learning some posture and running technique, stretching and eating healthy.

You don’t need a treadmill

Out of the 200,000 odd years that modern humans have existed on earth, it’s only within the last 80 or so that we’ve paid to go for a walk.

By that I’m referring to the most sterile, mind-numbing forms of walking – that rotating pad of textured rubber – the modern treadmill. These can be found in two places: either under a layer of dust in a suburbia basement, or alongside their comrades in a row of freshly lavender-scent sprayed machinery at the local gym.

Now full disclosure, I was a dedicated gym go-er for many years as a college student (you wouldn’t have known it, I could never seem to overcome my genes’ desire for perpetual scrawniness).

But once I left University, two things happened. First I suddenly had to pay for the gym (it wasn’t conveniently hidden in my tuition fees anymore), and second I discovered that doing exercise outdoors was free, refreshing and way more exciting. I remember my first hike a short time after moving to Calgary. Growing up our family went on ski trips, but I had never experienced the mountains in the summer.

It blew me away – I get to walk around on a mountain, get a beautiful view, breathe fresh air, and it didn’t cost me anything!?

I now cringe looking in on the Fitness World as I run by on a sunny Saturday morning, and look in to see a line of folks cruising at 5.0 MPH at incline 3.5. And on that note…

You don’t need a gym membership

Before I go on, don’t get me wrong. I’m not against gyms, and anyone who can make the effort to make use of a gym is fantastic. But just like all my ‘You Don’t Have to’ posts, there’s certainly a cheaper (and often free), more fun approach.

For running and biking, many running stores has free meetup nights for all skill levels. I personally go to Mountain Equipment Co-op’s Wednesday group trail runs.

But what about upper body work? Hiking, biking and running outdoors really only help your legs and your cardio. For this I do a few things.

I use a TRX band. It was $200 and I use it to do a near unlimited number of different full body workouts available on Youtube. But for those looking for that group motivation and set class time check out the November Project.

November Project is a fascinating story. Two guys in Boston started a free outdoor workout group at 6:30am on weekdays to stay fit over the winter. It spread like wildfire and as of May 2017 it exists at an almost religious level by nearly 10,000 people in over 40 cities around the world. It has always been completely free and open to all.

Crisp Wednesday morning warm-up in Boston

“A class at the gym is to November Project what riding in the back of taxi is to space travel. There is nothing in the world of fitness, motivation, and sheer energy that compares to showing up at 6:27 a.m. with hundreds of screaming people ready to train in the cold, rain, snow, ice, sun, heat, and beauty of a city that is still asleep.” 
Casey Neistat

Lots of people are certainly catching on to the joys of cheap, outdoor fitness. Campsite bookings are selling out within minutes, trail running communities are popping up across North America, and what used to be grass-roots hippie stores like Patagonia and The North Face are now billion dollar enterprises.

Just be careful to not get sucked in to the hype and drain your bank account. Instead, simply throw on some shoes and go out the door.


For more reading on this, check out MMM’s take on Staying Fit With No Gym in Sight.

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