Cheap fun: Free fitness

It was the day after Thanksgiving and the 12-year-old asked the question I’d been dreading. “So,” she inquired, “what are we doing today?”

Dreading for two reasons. One, I’d tweaked a nagging leg injury at the Inside Out Turkey Trot the day before and my mobility was limited. (“Limited” meaning I could barely walk. Oddly, I could ride a bike pain free. Trouble was, the weather wasn’t supportive of a body-friendly bike ride.) That left going somewhere inside and likely spending money, a commodity in short supply going into the holidays. After explaining this limitation, Kate resorted to her fallback on such occasions.

“We could go to the gym!”

Nearly three years ago we bought a house in Cary about a mile from a Lifestyle Family Fitness Center; ever since, Kate has been bugging us to join. And every time she’s brought it up, I’ve replied, “It’s too expensive.” This even though I didn’t have the slightest idea how much a membership was. Before I could resort to my fallback, though, she added, “They have a two-week free membership deal.”

It didn’t take long for the good timing of her offer to sink in. I could barely walk, the place was full of standard and recumbent exercise bikes: I was looking at two weeks of free rehab. I also thought about how I’d fallen into a rut with my own exercise regimen: same light strength training of pushups and dumbbells, same ab workout — over, and over and over. How many times have I written about the importance of mixing up your routine?

Good timing, too, considering the deal comes at the time of year when most people have the hardest time maintaining weight and staying in shape. Left to your own devices, it’s easy to eat at your desk and deal with the holiday work crunch rather than take your 30-minute noon walk, or go shopping after work instead of going for a run. But if you had a warehouse full of high-tech machines and a variety of group fitness classes waiting — for free! — well, that’s a hard deal to pass on.

I also thought about the year ahead. I’ve just started on a book about adventure sports, a book that will require me to do everything from rock climbing, to trail running, to whitewater kayaking to adventure racing. This year, my focus was on cycling (doing my first mountain century) and running (my first a half marathon); My training was strictly aerobic. The year ahead would demand a full-body effort, certainly more than I could cobble together in the family room with a couple barbells and an 8-pound medicine ball.  Within the hour we were at the gym getting our two week passes.

Within an hour and five minutes I was pedaling away on a stationary bike, watching college football on my bike’s personal TV screen. Twenty minutes here, another 20 on the recumbent stationary, followed by a half hour of noodling around on the weight machines. We returned Saturday, doing more cycling, trying more machines, sampling a Zumba class.

I’ve never been much of a gym rat; cycling, running, hiking and other outdoor pursuits are more my thing. But I was intrigued by our initial visits, intrigued to the point that I asked about the cost. The membership we were interested in would be about $90 a month for our family of five.

“Contract?” I asked.

“Month-to-month,” I was told.

“Joining fee?”

“You pay a prorated amount for the month you join, plus the last month.” Like renting an apartment.

My interest was piqued. It would be even more so after a visit Monday to the doctor about that nagging leg injury.

Tomorrow: A visit to the doctor about that nagging leg injury.

* * *

Where to find free fitness fun

Most fitness clubs offer a free introductory membership for the curious. Here’s what some of the more prominent gyms in the state offer — or don’t. Note: All offers are current through November and may or may not apply in December.

Lifestyle Family Fitness
Free pass: Yes, 2 weeks (includes group classes)
North Carolina locations: Apex, Cary, Raleigh (2), Charlotte.
More info here.

Planet Fitness
Free pass: Yes, 1 day.
North Carolina locations: Raleigh (3), Greensboro,  Garner, Knightdale, Rocky Mount,, Kernersville, Charlotte (3), Belmont, Gastonia, Hickory, Shelby, Wilmington (2).
More info here.

Gold’s Gym
Free pass: Yes, 7 days
North Carolina locations: Albemarle, Burlington, Cary, Charlotte, Cornelius, Durham, Fayetteville, Greensboro, Goldsboro,  Greenville, High Point, Hope Mills, Jacksonville, Kinston, Lake Norman, Mooresville, Morehead City, New Bern, Pinehurst, Raleigh (3), Shallotte, Wilmington (3), Winston-Salem.
More info here.

O2 Fitness
Free pass: Yes, 7 days.
North Carolina locations: Cary, Chapel Hill (2), Fuquay Varina, Raleigh (2), Wilmington.
More info here.

Rapid Fitness
Free pass: Yes, 3 days.
North Carolina locations: Raleigh (3)
More info here

Bally Total Fitness
Free pass: Yes, 7 days
North Carolina locations: Charlotte
More info here.

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