Like so many things in life, the answer to this question is not the same for everyone, and probably not even the same for one person at different times in their life. Before I break it down for you, here is my situation (feel free to scroll down to the how-to):
I am extremely fortunate to teach group exercise classes for a really nice, small chain of gyms, and thus, enjoy a free membership! Only once in my life have I paid for a membership and it was such an awful, drawn-out, and painful experience when I moved and had to cancel that I have made it a goal to always obtain gym access via sweat (and my charming personality, of course) rather than cash. Also, over the last year I have been slowly building a collection of equipment for my own home gym:
So far my total investment is at about $650, and I hope to get a few more pieces (a snazzier heart-rate monitor and heavier dumbells) in the coming months. If I were paying for a membership to the gym I work at I would spend double that, annually. I am currently doing some “research” and “beta testing” on how to reliably measure exercise efforts and different ways to use ABA to increase exercise quantity and quality, so I have many of my classmates currently working out in my living room each week. My apartment is not very big so my furniture is in a constant state of unrest.
Here is how I think you should decide whether to
- Build a home gym and cancel your gym membership.
- Keep just a gym membership
- Keep the membership and select a few “essential” pieces of equipment to have at home.
- Alternatives to both
1. Cancel your membership and build a home gym
Are you a runner or cyclist and routinely workout, outside, 2 – 4 times per week? Do you also only go to the gym twice a week or less? If your answer to these questions is yes, then you may save between $800 and $1,500 (depending on your gym and what equipment you choose to buy) a year by working out more at home.
Take a month to record your gym-going activities. If you find your sessions at the gym are under an hour you can probably do you strength training and cross training at home.
If you are not an outdoor athlete, how many times have you been to the gym in the last month? If your answer is less than 4, you may be donating money to your gym rather than paying for a service and access to equipment. If your membership costs less than $60 per month, than you are likely “breaking even”, by that I mean that the cost of your membership, and the cost if you were to pay-per-visit is either very close to your membership or less. In this situation I suggest that over the next week you start a list, jot down the things that keep you from going to the gym, and see if those same things would prevent you from working out at home. If you need help with this, send me an email, I can help, I have charts. 🙂
If you find you aren’t using your gym membership AND you do not enjoy running, cycling, rollerblading, or some other outdoor activity that is readily available make a list (yup, I LOVE lists), of activities you enjoy. These can be class formats, basic movements (example: reverse lunges are my favorite leg move), sports, games and so on. No rules to this list. From the list you will begin to shape a picture what who at-home equipment or facility access might be appropriate for you.
CASE STUDY 1: My brother is a cycling stud in southern California, with a 4 yr old son and a demanding work schedule (due to talent and trade). He wasn’t making it to the gym very often so he looked for alternatives, initially he just got a trainer for his bike so he could cycle at home or during poor weather, but alas, cross training calls! Here is how he describes his home set-up “2 bedroom house 1150sq/ft. Plus detached one room “guest shed.” Initially I thought we had limited space for a set of adjustable dumbbells and bench. But for approx $50 more ($500) I was able to get a folding cable system, designed to fold into the corner of the room. When folded in sticks out 38″ along the walls and 31″ from the corner (triangle altitude).”
2. Keep just your gym membership
Is going to the gym part of your daily routine? Do you go to the gym more than 3 times per week? Do you have friends that go to the gym with you or are you friendly with other members and/or staff? Do you regularly attend the same classes? Are there group instructors you really like at your gym? Is there more you like than dislike about your gym? (go ahead, make a list, I dare you) Do you often invite people to your gym? Do you mention your gym, classes, instructors, services, or facility equipment on average at least once per day?
If you can answer yes to most of these questions then, well, you probably are not reading this post. But if you are, then stick with it! You and your gym are a good fit! If you are looking to save money and think you have the dedication to work out regularly at home, I would suggest making it a goal to workout out at home (body weight routines etc.) every other day for 3 weeks. If you do that, then maybe you would like a home gym and occasional visits to the real deal. But I suspect you’ll miss the environment and social culture of your gym. If you are really concerned with the cost of your membership (hard times, I get it) then look at other expenses and parts of your life. A few dollars saved here and there each week (eat at home, not out!) will quickly grow to cover your membership. Investing in the things that keep you active are worth it!
3. Keep the membership and select a few “essential” pieces of equipment to have at home.
Sometimes, the gym isn’t enough, and sometimes you just don’t feel like going there. Someday, when I have the space and the extra money (because I am totally a snob when it comes to this particular point) I will purchase a treadmill for my home. Large equipment like that isn’t really my point here, though.
Here is a sample list of what I mean by essential equipment (each is linked for your window shopping needs):
- foam roller
- resistant bands
- heart rate monitor
- yoga mat
- stability ball (or bosu)
- jump rope
If you were to collect all or just some of these items you could complete a satisfying workout at home. Additionally, if you are like me, and many other people, you often forget, or don’t want, to stretch at the gym. Or also like myself and many others, perhaps you are a bit tightness and injury prone. Several of the items on the list above are fantastic ways to supplement the work you do at the gym, either as therapy, cross-training, or simply as way to sit calmly with yourself and work out some tension.
Additionally, if you are a regular gym-goer (3+ times per week), having some basic equipment at home will help you to stave off frustration during busier weeks when you find yourself too tired to make it to a class or the weight room. Heck, you can even have a glass of wine while using the foam roller (I won’t tell). Similarly, during those times when you get out of sync with your fitness routine, if you have a kettlebell or a jumprope, you can perform a quick interval workout in the time it might normally take you to navigate the locker room or wait for your turn on the cardio equipment during peak gym hours.
CASE STUDY 3: One of my girlfriends is an avid cyclist and a competitor. She does indeed have a gym membership but she also has a cycling coach and belongs to a team/training group. Being totally head over heels in love with cycling , and as a goal-oriented person she has a tucked away set up at home to make sure she can always get her training time in.
4. Alternatives to the gym
In the first section of this discussion I suggested making a list of active things you like to do. Chances are, for many of the things on that list there are clubs or other types of organizations devoted to just that thing.
For example, if you enjoy swimming, chose your gym because it has a pool, and typically only use the pool, then you may want to consider ditching the gym and joining a masters swim team . Nearly every city has more than one, and it is rarely ever required that you posses any great talent for swimming. All you need is to enjoy it. For what is likely the same or less monthly fee than your gym membership you will get coaching, a practice schedule and people to workout with. There are similar teams and training groups for running, cycling, hiking, rock climbing, tennis, walking, and many more activities.
Boutique style facilities are becoming more and more popular. That is, store front personal training gyms, small yoga studios, and an array of new group class formats offered in store front settings. Explore your area, ask people what they are doing. Most of these places will offer a free class or session for new customers. Don’t be afraid to try new things!
Can you get the same results at home as at the gym?
Absolutely, yes. Unless you are hoping to win the next Arnold Classic. And only if you actually do it (workout and eat healthy).
Final things to consider
Go ahead, let out a sigh. Here are some more things to think about as you plan where to invest your time, money, and energy in order to become fitter and healthier:
- What are your fitness goals?
- What health considerations do you have?
- What do you love/hate about the gym?
- Will you work out alone?
- Do you work out hard/controlled enough on your own?
- What is your budget (monthly, yearly, upfront)?
- Is your current set up working?
The minimum you need to successfully be fit and healthy: YOU.
Check back later in the week for some sample workouts where the only thing needed is your body!