Joining a Gym vs. Working Out at Home - Which is Best?

Woman stretching at home
Woman stretching at home. AJ_Watt/Getty Images

Making the decision to exercise is easy. It gets more complicated when you actually have to do it, the biggest question being: Where are you going to exercise? It's easy to join a gym, of course, but it's also easy to pay for that membership while never using it. Sadly, I've actually done that.

It's also easy to set up a home gym and, of course, even easier to find a hundred other things more important than your workout - Laundry, Candy Crush, cleaning the lint from behind your dryer, etc.

Whichever you decide, you have to actually follow through and part of that is working out in the environment that fits your needs and budget the most.

The Pros and Cons of Joining a Gym

  • Variety and options - Exercise is so much easier when you have lots of options to choose from.  If you're a cardio machine person, your choices abound - The treadmill, elliptical, stairclimber, stair stepper, stationary bike, rowing machine...it goes on and on.  You also have options for lifting weights - You have machines, free weights, cable machines, bands and more. And then there's the Big Attraction - Fitness classes.  Sure, you can do online classes at home, but it's not the same as going to the gym and being around people.  There may be other things, too, like a pool, hot tub, tennis courts, etc. 

  • Motivation - Paying for a gym membership can be motivating, but there's also the energy you get from working out around other people. You can pick up on that friendly competitive vibe that you won't get working out alone.
  • Focus - There's not much to do at the gym but exercise (well, there is the hot tub, I guess), which can help you stay focused on your workouts. There are no chores staring you in the face, no kids interrupting you and nothing to tempt you away from your workouts.
  • Energy - There's something about being in a gym, sweating along with everyone else that gives you kind of a boost.  We often draw energy from others and it can even push you to work harder - You don't want that guy next to you running faster than you, right?

    The Cons

    • The money - No matter where you go, you're going to have to pay something to join a gym. I know, why doesn't our insurance just pay for it, right?  Until that happens (at which time I will be long gone), it costs money.  Now you do have choices - Some high-end clubs can cost more than $100 a month, while smaller clubs may only charge $10.00.  Still, you get what you pay for.
    • The hassle - Another thing you have to do if you're going to workout at the gym is to go there.  Pack a bag, fill up your water, get dressed (you don't have to match, but you do need to wear clothing), drive there, park, go to the locker room, etc.  So, your workout time may end up being longer, just because of the drive time. 
    • The people - Here's another thing about the gym - It's full of people.  Sweaty, earphone-wearing, breathless exercisers who are all there to do their own thing.  Sometimes that leaks over into your world in the form of talking loudly on cell phones, leaving sweat all over the machines, not putting away their weights or choking you with too much cologne or perfume.  It's a gym.  It happens.

      The Pros and Cons of Working Out at Home

      Pros

      • It's Cheaper - There's no membership fee and you can outfit your home gym with a few resistance bands and an exercise ball and be set to go. You could even do body weight workouts that require no equipment at all.
      • Convenience - You don't have to pack a bag or drive anywhere. In fact, you could work out in your pajamas, if you wanted to...something they frown upon at the gym. You can also workout whenever you like, which is perfect if you need to split your workouts or want to workout at odd hours.
      • Variety - Now, there's variety at the gym, but there's a different kind of variety when you workout at home.  You can go outside for a walk or run.  You can do exercise videos, streaming exercise classes, exergames or use your smartphone to download workout apps.  You can mix and match all you want - putting weights and cardio together, throwing in some yoga, whatever floats your boat.  This is is a great thing for more impulsive exercisers who want to mix things up.

      Cons

      • Excuses - When you exercise at home, there are approximately 4,987 excuses to skip your workout. If you're not very self-motivated, you might find yourself avoiding workouts with silly chores like filing your nails, ironing the sheets or alphabetizing your book collection.
      • Boredom - I've spent a lot of time on a treadmill in my basement and I can probably tell you how many cracks are on the wall in front of me (19).  I have a TV and headphones, but my view never changes.  At the gym, you have lots of scenery to distract you and, sometimes, we really do need a distraction.  If you don't have enough variety, you might just get too bored for your workouts.
      • Space - You don't need a ton of space to workout at home, but if you want a machine or something large, space is obviously important.

      What it often comes down to is personal preference and your budget. If you're self-motivated and know you'll exercise no matter what, working out at home may be a good option. However, if you find way too many distractions (e.g., "I know I should workout, but I really need to trim my toenails"), getting out of the house may be a better choice.

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