Home Or Gym Training: Which Is Right For You?

Steve Shaw
Written By: Steve Shaw
March 18th, 2014
Updated: June 13th, 2020
Categories: Articles Training
22.7K Reads
This article takes a look at the pros and cons of both home and commercial gym training and helps you to determine which workout environment is right for you.

I've traveled to over 40 states and trained in most. From an apartment gym in California to a strongman facility in the Bronx, I've left my sweat in homes and commercial gyms from sea to shining sea.

Gold's gym. Backyard gyms. Hotel gyms. Old school gyms. Basement gyms. I've seen them all. Heck, I've even trained at a Planet Fitness. I've learned to workout with a minimal amount of equipment, and with a crazy amount of options. 

During my early years I spent endless hours building muscle at a college gym and a local YMCA. Later I moved on to a commercial gym and trained with my wife. Finally in 2007 I put in my own home gym. I've seen it all, done it all, and trained in the best and worst possible training facilities.

I decided to write this article to help you answer one simple question:

Should I purchase a gym membership, or should I buy my own equipment and build a home gym?

There is no right or wrong answer to this question. With that said, I will provide you with the pros and cons of home and commercial gyms so you can decide which is a better fit for your goals and lifestyle.

Commercial Gym

Should you workout at home or at a gym?

Here are some pros and cons for both home and commercial gym training.

A look at costs

Commercial gym costs typically range anywhere from $10 (Planet Fitness) to $60 a month. Using an average of $35 per month, you will be paying about $4200 over the next 10 years for a membership.

A decent home gym will cost a bit less than this. At minimum you will need the following:

  • Bench press station (with dip bars and leg extension) - $350
  • Squat rack or stands - $330
  • 7" Olympic barbell - $180
  • 4 spinlock dumbbell handles (one pair for light, one for heavy loads) - $100
  • 600 pounds Olympic plates - $750
  • 300 pounds standard plates - $300
  • Misc (collars, matting, chalk) - $100

The total for this bare bones setup would be around $2,110. This is half the cost of a 10 year commercial gym membership, and the equipment is likely to last 15+ years (or longer) if you take care of it. In the long run a home gym will likely save you money, but it does require a larger initial cash outlay. The money you will be saving can also go to adding more equipment, a decent gym stereo system, or a cardio station.

Note: Prices are from equipment I purchased at New York Barbell. It is not top, top of the line, but has held up extremely well for me over the course of the last 7 years.

You could choose to get less weight, but then you will be required to do more plate switching. That is a major downside to having a home gym. For that reason alone I recommend purchasing a little more weight rather than a little less.

Female Resistance TrainingMusic and motivation

This is a tough one for me. I admit...I hate wearing ear buds while training. Not only do I find them distracting, but I also hate pulling them out at a commercial gym every time I need to ask: "hey are you using the squat rack?"

If you don't mind wearing an MP3 player and popping in ear buds, then a commercial gym will suit you well. And heck, if you don't care about music at all, and are able to train in a Zen-like trance all the while ignoring the annoying pop music in the background, then it doesn't really matter where you workout.

But if you're like me and dislike ear buds, and want the music loud, then there is only one option...a home gym with a monster sound system.

Barbell lifts and spotters

I am able to safely train at home using catch pins on my squat rack and face savers on my bench press station. If I fail a rep, the bar lands on the pins and I do not end up in a precarious position. 

No one wants to dump a squat rep at home, or be trapped under a missed bench press rep. If you build a home gym you must purchase the right equipment so that failed reps are not an issue.

I actually find home gym training to be a better option when it comes to safety and spotters. At a commercial gym it's hard enough to find a spotter when you need one, and odds are this person won't know what the heck they are doing and may even make the reps more dangerous. Overzealous spotters are common. I do not want them grabbing the bar early, or in a manner that will cause me to lose my focus or form.

Training with a partner, or lifting in a gym along with a lot of seasoned lifters, changes this dynamic. If you have access to someone that knows how to spot, then working out at a commercial gym is just as viable.

It should be noted that while most commercial gym squat racks have catch pins (making spotters optional), the bench press stations do not. You can opt to pull up a bench into a squat rack/power rack and bench in there. I've done this many times when spotters were not available.

Restrictions - no chalk, deadlifts, etc.

Very few commercial gyms allow you to use chalk. This is really only an issue if you are powerlifting and not using straps. For the rest of humanity, a commercial gym and a set of straps will work just fine.

Some old school and powerlifting-style gyms still have chalk bins. It's a good idea to ask about this before you commit to purchasing a gym membership.

If you deadlift, know that certain commercial gyms do not allow this lift. Again, it is prudent to find out before you enter into a contract.

Fighting for equipment

It goes without saying that you will have to fight for equipment at a commercial gym. Either that, or you will need to workout during non-peak hours. If you do so, know that you may not be able to find a spotter.

That's the old catch-22 of commercial gym training. If you want spotters you will have to fight for equipment. If you want an empty gym, it's harder to find bench and squat spotters.

On the other hand, you never have to fight for equipment at home. The downside to home gym training is that you have very few pieces of equipment to fight for (unless you are rich).

A commercial gym provides you with equipment options, but if you can never get on the machine you want, what's the point? I hate waiting for gym equipment, and can't always control when I workout. If you lift during peak hours know that your workouts may take a bit longer.

Commercial Gym Training

Training time

While on the surface you might think your training sessions will go quicker at home, this might not be the case.

When I first purchased my home gym setup I was excited about how much time it would save. While it did cut down on commuting times, I found that my workouts were actually longer. Why you ask? Plate swapping.

When training at home I had to constantly move around plates. This becomes especially tedious when training with dumbbells. You can certainly save time by using the same weight from set to set, but this still won't guarantee a faster workout than you'd get in a commercial gym.

At a commercial gym you have more equipment options. These options include machines, cables, dumbbells in 5-10 pound increments, etc. It's much easier to move from dumbbell to dumbbell and machine to machine at a commercial gym. This saves quite a bit of time.

When I train at a commercial gym I usually hit a muscle group with 1-2 barbell/dumbbell compound lifts before finishing a bodypart with machines or cables. At a home gym you don't have this luxury. All your finishing or accessory work will require dumbbells and barbells, and more plate swapping.

The point here is simple: it's unlikely that training at home will be any faster. In fact, if you train at a commercial gym during off-peak hours, your workouts may likely be quicker.

The dreaded commute

There are times when I want to ht the iron, but am not in the mood to drive. It's much easier to walk down stairs into your basement, or walk across the house to your personal gym.

If you have a tedious commute, it will require a lot of discipline not to miss workouts. Knowing that consistency is key, it is essential that you only miss a handful of workouts per year. Will you be able to do this while commuting? That is the question only you can answer.

Commuting to a gym can also cost you an extra 30 to 60 minutes per day. This wasn't much of an issue when I was single, but it was simply too much time to waste when I was an adult with a home, career and family.

Powerful BodybuilderBonus services and features

Many commercial gyms offer one or more of the following:

  • Running tracks
  • Swimming pools
  • Hot tubs
  • Free classes (spin bike, body pump, etc)
  • Tanning beds
  • Massage chairs/beds (Planet Fitness)
  • Stretching rooms
  • Basketball courts
  • Female-only resistance training areas
  • A myriad of cardio machine options
  • Tons of unique pieces of equipment
  • Personal training

If these bells and whistles are appealing to you, then a commercial gym is definitely the way to go. It will be worth the extra money per month in the long run.

No distractions

If you dislike distractions and want to stay focused during your workouts, then a home gym may be the best way to go. You could also opt to be completely anti-social at a commercial gym, but this isn't always possible.

You never know what to expect at a commercial gym. Random conversations. "Bros" asking you about your supplement choices or diet. People doing crazy, dangerous exercises. People doing station work and hogging all the equipment. The random dude that sits on the leg extension machine for 45 minutes, texting. Bad, bad, bad music.

Many of these distractions are rather harmless, but as a whole they can start to add up and drive you bonkers. I recommend training for a week or two at a commercial gym to get the feel for the environment before signing a long term contract.

Other noteworthy points

  • Encouragement - At the right gym, you are likely to find a great deal of encouragement and extra motivation. If you are a very serious lifter, then training at an old school/powerlifting/bodybuilding gym will be beneficial. You will learn a lot, and likely be pushed to accomplish more than you could on your own.
  • Nutrition - When training at home you can go eat a big meal right after training, if you so desire.
  • Curls in the squat rack - At home you can curl in the squat rack without facing ridicule. Why? Because you own the squat rack.
  • Circuit work - Much easier to do circuit work at home, with the right setup and exercise selection.
  • Barbells - The barbells at most commercial gyms are horrible. They typically have smooth grips and can't handle much weight or abuse.
  • Freedom - At home you can burp, fart, scream or scratch your backside at will.
  • Mirrors - Mirrors distract me from good form on squats and deadlifts. If you like training while looking at yourself, then a commercial gym is the way to go.
  • Bad weather - Bad weather doesn't stop you from training if you have a home gym.
  • Limited space - Even if you have the money to furnish a home gym, do you have the space to house all the equipment you want?
  • No need to rack - You don't need to clean up your plates at a home gym.
  • No stalkers/gawkers - At a home gym you will have no creepers and peepers.
Posted on: Mon, 06/29/2015 - 19:28

Home Gym of mine.
2nd Hand Powertec Levergym $500
Weights: 2X45 4X35 2X25 and 2X5&10 $200
nautilus Bench with attachments: $125 (Adjustable and 2nds as a situp bench) 2nd hand sports store
Dumbbells 2X - 40, 30, 20 (plates are my other DB's) Paid approx $150
Misc collars and phat grips $80
So I'm $1,100 - $1,200 into weights that I could sell for $500 quickly Plus I already had 140lbs of standard
Total Cost minus what I could sell for: $700
Cost at local gym $28/mo and I have had the weights for 4 years - so $1, 344 of gym membership saved
Plus I realize that at 4 workouts a week I save 4 hours per week in time (getting dressed for the gym and driving there, showering there)
What I do miss is a sauna - I like the hot room before and after lifting. What I don't miss is having a guy say_ "I only have 3 sets left on the shoulder press when he is sitting for 5-6 minutes in-between sets
I'm 54 years old, I own a clinic and time is money. I do the PHUL workout and like it. I don't mind switching plates. I superset everything and I'm done in an hour. I bench and squat (300lbs - 5X) more than my bodyweight and I don't max out. I lift around a fused back and 2 knee surgeries and wear a belt for 1/2 every workout.
Life is good with a home gym - I never! ever! miss a workout :) or have an excuse - because there isn't any!

Posted on: Sun, 04/27/2014 - 18:54

I would not trade my home gym for commercial chaos.adj. bench power rack. five different bars [e-z, tri ec t.] eight pairs dumbbell handles. adjustible with quick lock handles. 4-50's 4-25's 40-10's 20-5's ect..plus timers, fridge a set of HD mats to drop the DB's when reaching failure and to think I started with a bench an a barbell (with my legs in my closet) 30 yrs. ago.

Posted on: Tue, 04/01/2014 - 16:04

Midwest Steve (up top), I live in NH and train year round in my gym, which gets brutally cold in the winter. I use a Propane tank with the heater from Home Depot that screws on top of it, works very well. I filled it twice this winter, so it was only 25.00 in fuel costs for the winter. Look into it if you havent already...

Posted on: Tue, 04/01/2014 - 07:18

For DaBears, I do live in a 900 sq. ft. apt. I have access to a commercial gym nearby and i use both the commercial gym and my home gym. For my home set-up, i made my 15x20 kitchen into a "gym." i bought $200 ofmats and placed over the hardwood floor. equipment- spider curl prone unit, incline bench, tri-bar, curl bar, home- made belt squat set up, adjustable db's and fixed db's - maybe 20 fixed db's, assorted fixed and adjustable grippers, assorted Ironmind products, removable door chinning bar, annd a recently purchased LPG squat handle, plus other assorted pieces. Nothing super heavy like a sq rack or deadlift platform ( i live in an apt). I have probably paid 4 grand for all this home eqipmment over the last two years, but it should last forever.

Advantage home- lift whenever you want with whatever you music you like. Advantage comm. gym- besides the advantages Steve mentioned, there is the social factor at the gym - bullshitting and whatever- that i enjoy on occasion.

Posted on: Tue, 04/01/2014 - 05:28

Steve, Thanks for the article. I really appreciate your articles and workouts!! For a beginner/intermediate lifter like myself, you have been a great help. Thanks!

Posted on: Mon, 03/31/2014 - 20:50

Good article, but unfortunately it does not apply to me (or to many other big-city apartment-dwellers) in the slightest. I live in NYC, where a gym membership on the low end can easily set you back $150 a month. That's $15,000 over ten years. Yikes! And of course, building a home gym is so out of the question it's laughable when you live in a 900 square foot apartment with a roommate or roommates. Add to that the hardship of getting to and from the gym when you're a busy young professional working upwards of 12 hours a day.

I would like to hear your thoughts on building and maintaining strength without any equipment at all for somebody who either (a) lives in a tiny apartment and has a demanding schedule or (b) travels continuously for work or other purposes and has no access to a gym aside from the joke ones in most chain hotels.

Posted on: Wed, 03/26/2014 - 20:29

Oh hi james w! Do you workout bud? Sweet! Fag.
Good article. I may be forced to leave my home gym and go to
A commercial one for a year or so. Never been to one
So I found this quite interesting.

James W
Posted on: Sun, 03/23/2014 - 06:48

The whole plate swapping part is not even remotely true. First off, with Powerblock Dumbbells you can switch weight in 10 seconds. Secondly, if you have a basic power rack you can literally modify it to your likings for cheap and add/remove plates from the bar in seconds.

Finally you make no mention that in a home gym you can buy specialty barbells that 99% of commercial gyms wont have: trap bar, farmers walk handles, swiss bar, football bars, multi press bars.

junk article

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Sun, 03/23/2014 - 19:42

It was very true for my home gym. I went from 260 pound one armed dumbbell rows to 35 pound reverse laterals. Was a real headache.

When training squats and deadlifts on the same day, I would be moving from a 600+ squat to a 700+ deadlift and that was exceptionally tedious.

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Sun, 03/23/2014 - 19:43

Yes you can buy specialty bars, but most folks don't need them or use them.

Good point.

Posted on: Sat, 03/22/2014 - 20:50

Very good article !

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Sun, 03/23/2014 - 19:44

Thank you.

Posted on: Sat, 03/22/2014 - 16:50

I enjoy my modest home gym in the garage, until a mid western winter/summer. From December to February temps in my 'gym' range from 10 to the 30's (today it's 27). In the summer my garage can be 90-100. The costs to heat/ac a large garage for just an hour or so of training can be prohibitive. But I still wouldn't trade my gym for anything (unless the Lotto buys me my dream one). Great article as usual.