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To Gym or Not to Gym?

The Great Indoors By Therese Iknoian

There isn’t a trail out there that I don’t love. Dirt, rocks, stream crossings, mud, big grunting climbs—you name it, I’m in. Guess what? I also love the treadmill. Gasp! Yup, and I’ll admit it, too. You see, someone can love and appreciate both, and taking advantage of both can help you gain fitness and improve your performance, too.


In years past—in fact, nearly a past life—I was a dedicated gym rat. I spent a couple of hours a day in a workout room and taught aerobics—pretty killer classes, actually. I still have my matching legwarmers, belt and sweatband to prove it. Oh, I’d hike and bike, but it was pretty mild stuff. Running 50 or 100 miles on trails? That was for somebody else.

These days, if I can’t get out on a trail I start twitching. But I still harbor a love and appreciation for the indoor scene. Indoor workouts have huge advantages—for the right people, the right climates, the right reasons and in the right places.

To start, there’s the convenience. An indoor cardio workout can keep you fit (and sane) if you can’t get outdoors for any reason such as injury, weather, terrain, or lack of equipment (the bike can’t fit in a carry-on) or inappropriate geography (like, gee, a river for your kayak or snow for your skis). Or what about those times when it’s just not possible to get to a trail but you really want a hike or a run? Maybe you’re in a city that isn’t conducive to an outdoors workout—like, say, Shanghai. The Great Indoors saves the day. And, when it comes to Shanghai—or on some days, Denver—your lungs as well.

Furthermore, a treadmill workout can be as or more demanding than a trail run. Think the Front Range is hilly? Hop on the moving belt, hit “incline,” and pick your poison from a couple of percent to 15 percent. A treadmill has no mercy. If you pick a particular speed, you must keep up with the belt or risk looking like Wile E. Coyote on the back wall. It pains the ego to admit defeat and bring down the speed a notch or two.

And forget about all that folderal. In the winter, in the rain or in the dark, there’s no need to find your waterproof jacket, extra thick tights, headlamp, hat and reflective gear—and then worry if you put on enough or too much. Just toss on a tee and shorts, hop aboard and off you go. A water bottle sits within arm’s reach, a bathroom is down the hall, you can shed  clothes partway through, and the kids can play nearby or at the gym’s day care. A luxuriously warm shower is steps away when you’re done.

The gym is also not as harsh on beginners as the mean trails of the Front Range. If someone is shy about his or her fitness level, hiding indoors on equipment can provide a fitness jumpstart without perceived judgment by others. And you can always say “enough for today” and—voila—you are home.

Look, given the choice, I’m out the door faster than you can say fartlek. Give me fresh air, a great view, the quiet splendor of a deep forest or the sound of the wind rustling through leaves. But you can also put me on the top of list in support of the Great Indoors.

Therese Iknoian is editor-in-chief at SNEWS, the insider trade news source for the outdoor and fitness industries ( In 2006, she completed the Western States 100 Endurance Run.



Anywhere but Here By John Joseph

Indoor exercise makes sense if you live at the South Pole or in Mexico City, but not in Colorado where in winter, skis, Yaktrax, crampons and studded mountain bike tires can transport you from icy city streets into the wild. Why work out indoors when we live in one of the most visually stunning places on earth and already spend hours indoors each day, fixated on our computer screens? For years I’ve walked past fitness clubs watching acolytes of physical perfection plugged into iPods and heart-rate monitors work out like automatons. If Oprah hadn’t waged a public struggle with her weight and America hadn’t supersized itself, fitness clubs and the South Beach Diet would not exist. Now, everyone with a New Year’s resolution to keep joins a gym or buys a home fitness center that ends up a drying rack.

In fitness-crazed Boulder, where I live, you would think that a sign at the city limits forbids entry to those with more than seven percent body fat. Like da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man (or Woman), we are brains and brawn united in the divinely human form. A low Body Mass Index is the portal to self-worth while a firm ass and ripped torso are the rewards of a fitness regimen. What the gym can’t restore, elective surgery can.

Look, I’m all for physical prowess, but I like my exercise outdoors—even in the midst of winter. Sure, elliptical machines, Stairmasters, stationary bikes, weight machines and Olympic-sized swimming pools are a means to get buff. But with the foothills in my backyard, I’d rather be on my mountain bike, burning my quads on a powder day, feeling the grit of sandstone beneath my palms in Eldorado Canyon or hiking up Bear Peak any time of year.

Recreating outdoors exposes us to unpredictable weather, terrain and elements of risk that are absent in the fluorescent ambiance of the gym and the mind-numbing repetition of machines that work us out. A trail run in winter shocks our lungs with cold, dry air while our hearts pump in unison with each stride. Mountain biking in snow and ice requires a level of skill and focus a spin class doesn’t. Skiing a steep couloir requires the kind of intense concentration that can bring us to moments of Satori. Great literature never extols the wonders of indoor exercise; if Krakauer attempted to pen an epic tale about working out in gyms, what would he name it? Into Stale Air?

Even at the South Pole, bold men and women brave -100 degree temperatures in mid-winter. Here in balmy Colorado, working out in a climate-controlled environment makes no sense. Didn’t we all move here for the sun, the mountains and the joy of playing in them each day?

John Joseph rides his bike and writes in Boulder, Colorado.


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