At the start of 2017, I was stressed, out of shape, and looking for a way to combat my growing anxiety. Despite knowing that exercise was what my body and mind needed, I had a hard time finding the motivation to work out. Going to the gym felt like a chore, and even worse, the money I was throwing away on my underused membership became another source of anxiety.
My aversion to the gym wasn't sudden: The year before, I'd bought a set of hand weights and started doing at-home strength training videos in conjunction with cardio at the gym. I needed an exercise routine that fit my personality, and this was much more my style—something low-key and flexible. Once I realized that I was able to stick to my routine at home, I wanted to drop the gym experience altogether, but found myself reluctant to leave the cardio machines behind.
I wasn't into running outside, so I relied on treadmills and elliptical machines to give me the exhilarating feeling of exhaustion that comes from a good cardio session. These were workouts that left me feeling relaxed, focused, and calmer in a way that strength training just couldn't seem to replicate.
At first, the idea of purchasing my own cardio machine seemed far-fetched.
Most of the machines found in gyms cost thousands of dollars and require regular maintenance, after all, and my bank account and I weren't up for either those challenges. Still, I loved the idea of owning my own equipment and fantasized about how great it would be to work out any time of day—without adding my name to a list and waiting for someone to finish their routine.
So I pulled the plug on my gym membership. After months of research, I found a well-reviewed elliptical for $500 on Amazon, which was roughly what I was spending to use the elliptical at the gym for a year. Previously, I would have balked at the idea of trading in all the machines available at the gym for just one—but what's better? The one machine you actually use or the dozen machines you avoid?
It's been more than a year, and I'm still using my elliptical about four times a week.
In fact, I've fallen so in love with this thing that I even moved it from my house in New Mexico to my new, cozy one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. I'll admit that it's a bit of an eyesore in my bedroom, and my husband has kindly pointed out that more helpful things could fit in the space, but this piece of equipment has become basically non-negotiable for me.
While I was proud of myself for keeping up with my routine, I knew I was in danger of allowing my workouts to become too repetitive, so I spoke with Rachel Cohen, a personal trainer and Pilates/boot camp instructor at the Brooklyn-based Body Elite gym. While she uses an elliptical herself, Cohen confirmed my concern that it's not enough without strength training. "You have to challenge your muscles," she said, suggesting that adding strength or interval training would be more effective than only using the elliptical.
So if you've limited yourself to one machine, how do you combat plateauing and boredom?
Cohen recommends integrating a bodyweight circuit of push-ups and squats with the elliptical, doing each exercise at maximum intensity for intervals of 30 seconds. But she reassured me that my purchase was worth it and wholeheartedly endorsed exercise's role in managing stress.
"Any exercise is great. If it gets you moving, do it. If you enjoy it, do it," she says. "A lot of people are sitting at desks all day, and at the end of the day, you're exhausted. So if you have an elliptical in-home and you don't have time to get to the gym, you can just get on the elliptical and do your 20 minutes."
By investing in the one machine that I truly love, I've kept up with a routine that's resulted in weight loss and the most consistent exercise I've had in years. I was finally able to break out of my rut and implement a routine that would eventually become a lifestyle. It turns out that the gym just isn't for me—and that's OK.
Ashlie Hughes is a Brooklyn-based writer and photographer whose elliptical machine is currently occupying 30 percent of her apartment. To see more of her work, follow her on Instagram @ashliehughes13.