Working Out At Home vs At the Gym

Image of a home gym next to a public gym suggesting a trade off of working out at home vs gym
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Prior to the pandemic, when you thought about working out there’s a good chance you imagined going to a gym. That’s obviously changed. Lockdowns have forced many people to find alternatives to their commercial fitness centre. This search for alternatives means plenty of folks have only recently discovered the joy of working out at home (garage gym owners have obviously known about it for ages).

Indeed, the pandemic has thrust home workouts into the spotlight and made them more popular than ever. But, the pandemic won’t last forever. Things will almost certainly return to some form of normal. In fact, in many cities across the US and the world, gyms have reopened (some have been open for a while).

This creates a conundrum.

Whether you’re a fitness buff or just starting out on your path to a healthier life, you may be asking yourself, “Should I join a gym or work out at home?” The right answer to this question could be different for each of us—so let’s talk about how you can decide where you’ll go to get your sweat on.

There Are Great Things and Not So Great Things About Both

We all need physical activity to be as healthy and happy as possible. Both home and gym workouts can help us build and maintain an active lifestyle, but each option also comes with its drawbacks. We’ll break down some of the pros and cons of home vs. gym workouts below, but if you’d rather skip the detailed explanations, here’s a table that sums up what you need to know.

Home Workouts Gym Workouts
  • Cheaper and more convenient
  • Flexible schedule
  • Freedom to do what you want
  • Equipment and space provided
  • Classes, personal training, services
  • Fun community experience
  • Need to buy your own equipment
  • More distractions
  • Can be lonely
  • May be expensive
  • More time constraints
  • Can be crowded and unsanitary

Pros and Cons of Home Workouts

Exercising at home is a convenient, affordable option for many people. Some of the major benefits of home workouts include:

  • You save time and money: You don’t have to commute anywhere or pay for a pricey gym membership when you exercise at home.
  • You can work out at any time of day: Your home gym is open 24/7 (literally) and you can get your exercise in whenever it works for you.
  • You can do anything you want: Your home is your space. That means you can jam out to your favorite music, wear whatever you like, and do whatever activities you want. Nobody’s judging.

Of course, working out at home has its challenges, too. A few of the cons you may want to consider are:

  • You have to buy your own equipment: If you want to use weight machines, treadmills, and other equipment you’d find at a gym, it can require a hefty up-front investment—and you’ll also have to pay to maintain it.
  • There are more distractions at home: Rowdy kids, pets, and various household responsibilities can all hamper your efforts to stay active, despite your best intentions.
  • You might get lonely or demotivated: When you’re working out at home, you miss out on the fun community aspect of going to a gym. A lot of people find that being around others helps them stay motivated to exercise.

Pros and Cons of the Gym

Going to a gym can be fun and motivating for some people. Gyms offer amenities, equipment, and services that can make them an appealing option. The biggest pros of working out at a gym include:

  • They provide and maintain equipment for you to use: You don’t have to worry about buying expensive equipment or fixing it when it breaks down—the gym has all the overheads.
  • They may offer classes, personal training, and other services: Going to fitness classes can be a blast. And a personal trainer can be an excellent guide if you want a custom training plan or advice on how to get the most out of your workouts.
  • It’s fun to work out around others: Meeting a friend or family member at the gym can be a great way to socialize while getting some exercise.

But gyms come with their cons, as well. Some of the downsides are:

  • Memberships can be expensive: Monthly dues can vary, but the more amenities your gym offers, the more you can expect to pay.
  • There are time constraints: You can only work out during your gym’s open hours, which may or may not line up well with your schedule. You’ll also have to factor in travel time to and from the gym.
  • You may have to deal with crowds: If you go at a busy time of day, you may have to wait in line to use your favorite equipment (or even to shower off after you’re done). Working out around other people is also less sanitary and poses more health risks than exercising at home.

Some people love the experience of going to a gym, so they don’t mind paying the membership fees or taking the time to travel there. Others find that home exercise is a cheaper, more accessible option that’s easier to fit into a busy schedule. Only you can decide which one is best for you and your lifestyle.

Home Gym vs. Gym Workouts: Which Is More Effective?

It might seem harder to get a good-quality workout at home than at the gym—but that’s not always the case. In one study on adults with chronic health conditions, researchers found no significant difference in reported quality of life for participants who exercised at home vs. those who went to a gym for 12 months.

The truth is that home and gym workouts can both be effective. To determine the best choice for you, consider the following questions:

  1. What are your current fitness goals
  2. How much time and energy are you willing to devote to them? 
  3. Are you good at keeping yourself focused and motivated, or do you need a more structured environment in order to be successful?

When exercising at home, staying motivated can be tricky. But as long as you have clear goals and the discipline to keep yourself on track, you can get just as much out of home workouts as you’d get at a gym. If you’re willing to put in the effort and make your health a priority, you can achieve incredible results on your own.

Man doing ring push-ups in home gym
Choosing exercises and workouts that are engaging and effective is crucial to success

On the other hand, if you know you need structure and accountability, going to a gym could be more effective for you. Be honest with yourself about what you need and what you’re willing to invest in achieving your goals.

Home Gym vs. Gym Membership: Which Is More Expensive?

Research has shown that most of the time, home gyms are more affordable than traditional gyms—but there are some exceptions.

Gym memberships can be expensive, but the gym provides and maintains the facilities and equipment that you use. Your membership fee goes towards covering those costs, and you usually make payments in manageable monthly installments.

In contrast, buying equipment for a home gym is a significant expense that may not be within everyone’s budget. Cheap or poorly-made equipment can also cost you when it breaks down or doesn’t work right (which, of course, can also kill your workout momentum and motivation).

Actual home gym in a backyard shed
This modest home gym has already cost me $2500+

So, is it worth it to take the plunge and buy your own workout equipment? As long as you choose good-quality home gym equipment and don’t mind keeping it maintained, it can be a worthwhile investment. But if you’d rather not mess with it, stick to a gym membership.

Considerations When Working Out at Home

If you’re going to start working out at home, planning is key. You can set yourself up for success by deciding where and how you’ll exercise, as well as what equipment you’ll need. The following questions can help guide you as you create your home fitness plan:

Where will you work out?

Even if you don’t have a dedicated workout area, find a space where you’ll have enough room to move around and stretch. Keep in mind that you’ll need a bigger space if you plan to invest in equipment such as a treadmill, rowing machine, or weight bench.

What type of exercise do you plan to do?

According to the American Heart Association, we should aim for 75-150 minutes of cardio exercise and two muscle-strengthening workouts per week. What types of exercise could you do to meet these guidelines?

What equipment (if any) do you need?

Do your chosen activities require equipment? If so, what do you need to buy? If you’re just starting out with home exercise, you may want to begin with bodyweight exercises that don’t require any equipment at all.

What is your budget?

Any home or garage owner knows how tempting it is to fill your available space with all the cool shit that’s on the market these days. So, make a plan in advance for what equipment you want, how much you’re willing to pay in total, and then add in a bit of padding for maintenance.

How will you keep yourself on track?

Motivation can be a challenge with home exercise, but there are things you can do to build the habits necessary to keep you exercising long-term. Be strategic and create a plan for how you will stay motivated to do your home workouts.

Considerations When Joining a Gym

On the other hand, if you’d rather work out at a gym, the biggest issue will be deciding which gym you should join. Here are some questions to consider when choosing a gym:

Where is the gym located?

Can you easily get there from where you live or work? Even relatively short trips can feel ‘too difficult’ when you’re not really in the mood for exercise (and you’ll feel like this more often than you might imagine).

What are the gym’s hours of operation?

Do they fit with your schedule? Some gyms are 24 hours, however these tend to have a smaller range of equipment and less staff than gyms that operate only during scheduled hours.

How busy does it get during peak hours?

Waiting to use equipment is frustrating at the best times, and you may not be able to make it during non-peak hours (very early or later in the evening). You’ll only know the kinds of crowds you can expect if you do a bit of recon before signing up.

What amenities and equipment do you want and need?

While you want your gym to have a good variety of equipment and services, make sure you’re not paying extra for features that you won’t use. Similarly, make sure the gym has all of the stuff you want to use.

Does the gym look and feel clean and sanitary?

The pandemic has reinforced the value of safe and hygienic public spaces. Will you feel comfortable working out there? Do they have good sanitation practices and policies? Do they actually enforce them?

Is equipment well-maintained?

There’s nothing more annoying than equipment being out of order when you want to use it. When things break down, are they fixed quickly?

Is there an option to do a trial membership?

If you can, try the gym out and see how you like it before committing to a full membership. Alternatively, look for gyms that offer no lock-in contracts and/or short-term contracts. These often cost a bit more, but offer greater flexibility if the gym turns out to be a dud.

Home Gym vs. Gym: Final Thoughts

When we compare gym vs. home workouts side-by-side, both options have unique advantages and disadvantages. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide which one will best support you in your fitness journey—but know that you can enjoy a healthy, active lifestyle no matter which way you choose.


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