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Who Needs the Gym?

Despite numerous efforts towards making fitness centers, workout clubs and gyms less intimidating, the fact remains that some people will still be apprehensive about embracing that space...for any number of reasons.

And that’s totally okay! Maybe you aren’t ready to sign the contract and plunk down the dough. Maybe there’s no day care or kids center in any gyms near you. Maybe the fear of being made fun of for your size – might it be reminiscent of school days? – is overwhelming. While those are issues that definitely demand their own special attention, it does not have to interfere with your efforts to build a better you.

Though the fitness industry and its representatives – ahem – have done a good job of making the public feel like it needs us to be active, healthy and, in fact, fit… that’s not entirely the case. You already have many of the tools you need to help develop a strong body, a healthy heart, and a flexible physique.

If you’ve got stairs, or even simply a pair of shoes and a sidewalk, then you’ve got cardio. A strong heart is a healthy heart. The ability to pump more oxygen through the body with less effort is strengthened through aerobic exercise, and while that fancy treadmill or that awesome trainer – again, ahem – might help, you certainly don’t need them to get it.

Got stairs? Run up and down them a few times for a half-hour, going as fast as you can. It might not burn at first, but rest assured it’ll get pretty sweaty before you know it. Got a good pair of shoes? Don’t underestimate the power of a long walk. Walking stabilizes and preserves your hip joints, strengthens the muscles that support your hips and knees, and helps your back muscles learn to better support you, aiding in better posture. Not only that, but – even with the best headphones and the best music – walking gets so boring sometimes that you’ll eventually pick up the pace and feel compelled to run

…and I don’t have to tell you the glories and benefits of running, do I?

I do? I mean, you don’t know a Black Girls RUN! Member? Lucky you, I can talk about running all day, y’all.

Running strengthens your heart, slims your figure, and – when done well – can be a full body strength activity. Swinging your arms forward and rotating your trunk correctly can tone your upper body, and the sheer motion of jumping from one foot to the next can strengthen your entire leg. A carefully planted foot combined with an upright posture – something you learn by researching how to plant your feet properly when you run – can literally rebuild an entire body.

"But Erika, what about strength? What about weightlifting?"

Many a beautiful body has been built using the art of calisthenics: using the body’s own weight to challenge it and compel it to build muscle in response. Push ups – and, by extension, burpees – are a classic example of using the body’s own weight against itself. Push-ups might not feel like a full body exercise, but they certainly are – it takes work to hold your body in that plank position, flexing the thigh and calf, core and back muscles to hold you in that stiff-as-a-board position – and you can develop a spectacular body just with those, alone.

And for those worried about developing a clinical case of we lovingly refer to as "N’assatall," squats are the absolute gold standard in lower body development. Squats are an investment. Whereas being born with a “fatty” is considered a gift, that gift may eventually stop giving once you hit your thirties, and it goes from a “fatty” to a “frumpy.” A “squat booty” will stay with you as long as you put in that regular and consistent work. You can even take a few phone books in each hand – or, my personal favorite, a pair of gallon jugs – and, if you work to keep your knees in line with your ankles (spreading your feet if you struggle with this), in a few months, you’ll watch magic happen with that booty and those thighs.

All in all, while the gym can be helpful, don’t let your lack of a membership prevent you from getting it in and getting it done. Like I always say, your body will thank you for it!

Erika Nicole Kendall is the writer behind the award winning blog, A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss, where she blogs her journey of losing over 150lbs. A personal trainer certified in women’s fitness, fitness nutrition and weight loss coaching, she can be found on Facebook and Twitter.