It never fails. The New Year brings a plethora of new members to gyms across the US. The “Resolutioners” as they are known on some circles. They will flood the commercial gyms with their bright new sneakers and contagious enthusiasm, much to the chagrin of the “regulars” who find that their normal routine has been disrupted by overcrowding of equipment and machines. So quickly they forget they were once new, too. Personally, I am happy to see more people working out. I just wish they would stick around. Usually by this time every year, things have died down.
Besides this, there are other drawbacks to belonging to a commercial gym. Uneducated or misinformed trainers looking for a new commission, strange behaviors in the locker rooms, curling in the squat rack, stinky people, strange hours…the list could go on. These are all reasons some people choose to skip the gym all together and workout at home or outdoors.
Of course, all of this depends on what kind of exerciser you are. If you are a big time runner, training for marathons, you are probably going to have less need for a gym, save for the winter months for a treadmill (in the colder snowy states anyway). Whereas if you are training for a body building competition, you are more likely going to frequent the gym.
How do you decide what is right for you? I am going to give a few pros/cons for each scenario, based on my experience over the years as an at home exerciser and then a gym go-er, being both a cardio junkie and a free weight fanatic. (Keep in mind, I am not going to be discussing training specific gyms or setups like Karate, power lifting,Olympic training, or sport specific conditioning facilities. For this, I am referring to the general population/average gym go-er).
1. Convenience. It may be only a few steps away or a flight of stairs that separates you from your gym. There are no excuses to not get there, you are already there.
2. Time. You can workout whenever you want, as long as you want, and not have to wait for someone else using the equipment. There are no open and close hours. If you are a new parent, or a parent in general, a lot of gyms have increased fees for day care and will often only accept babies that are 6 months or older. If you have everything at home, you are more likely to find time to workout then if you had to find somewhere to take the little one. (I say this as a childless person…ask me again if I find this to be true in the future!).
3. Money. Depending on where you get your equipment and what you are doing, you can acquire what you need on the cheap. A lot of equipment can be acquired through Craigslist, classifieds, or ebay. Some systems, like the TRX can provide a total body workout for about what some people pay for a month at a gym. (In my case, my weight set was a hand-me-down from my parents. I still want a treadmill, though).
4. No contracts. A lot of gyms require you to sign a contract for months of even years. This could pose a problem if for some reason you were no longer able to go, or just didn't want to anymore.
5. Freedom. If you want to do clean and jerks and medicine ball slams against your wall, you can do it. If you want to jump around doing the latest Zumba DVD, you can do it. It’s your house. A lot of commercial gyms have rules about throwing/dropping weight. Many also have time limits on cardio machines.
6. Shower. You can use your own shower and not have to haul your stuff with you to and from the gym to get ready.
1. Limited space. If you live in an apartment or small home/condo, you might not have the space to do even jumping jacks. Okay, well you should have space to do those at least. I had a roommate once that brought a treadmill into our second floor apartment. She only used it during the day, but I can only imagine how annoying that was for the people below us.
2. Lack of motivation. A lot of people are unable to motivate themselves to workout without going somewhere or being in a group setting. They need to have someone or something to push them to get the job done.
3. Money. Even though you can get a lot of equipment for your needs for cheap, it can still be a big investment. A decent treadmill is going to cost you around $1k. Decent weights are going to be hard to find and the price per pound can add up fast. (If I hadn’t been able to get my parents old set, there is no way I could have afforded to buy a new, comparable set).
4. Climate. No, not the climate in your house/garage, I am talking about the great outdoors. Living in the great Midwest has it’s advantages and disadvantages. If you don’t own your own preferred cardio equipment (if that is your thing, you don’t need to do traditional cardio for a great workout! more on that later) or have the space (see above) to do it, getting outside for your run/bike/walk/hike can be a challenge. Lately, even though the temperature has been in the 20’s here, the condition of the trails and roads make it slightly unsafe for running and biking. Of course there are the diehards who run and bike no matter the weather, but for most, it’s going to be a deterrent.
So, as you can see there is a lot to think about (probably more then I listed even) in deciding on the home gym. Now, let’s talk about the out of home gym experience. I have been a member of many gyms throughout my teen and adult life. Some nicer then others, but mostly your typical commercial gym like any Lifetime Fitness, Gold’s, Bally’s, or LA Fitness.
Gym go-er Pros
1. Variety. Most commercial gyms are going to have a plethora of options when it comes to weights, cardio machines, group classes, sports like racquetball and swimming, and even leagues. Some higher end places are going to have even more of the “extras” like spas, day care, kids activities, snack bars/coffee shops, etc. Most people will be hard pressed to not find something they enjoy.
2. Professional Instruction. I say this with hesitation, because while there are some really great qualified trainers out there, I have seen my fair share of bad trainers. That being said, most commercial gyms offer the option for personal training sessions, for a price of course. Some people need this motivation to workout. Also in this category are classes. Again, a lot of people like the social interaction and group motivation you can get from classes like spinning, body pump, and yoga.
3. Convenience. It can be more convenient to work out at a gym. If you are close by, either where you live or on your commute to and from work, it can be extremely easy to get there. A lot of places are even open 24 hours. Some offices and companies offer discounted memberships or even have great facilities on site for their employees.
4. Motivation. Much like I noted in #2, many people need to go to a gym to feel motivated. Being in the environment seeing other people working hard and even looking good can motivate.
5. Social Interaction. A lot of people have friends they have met at a gym or meet up with and workout with. It’s a great place to meet people and find people with similar interests.
Gym go-er Cons
1. Inconvenience. For some, there just isn’t a gym nearby, especially in rural areas. In other cases, the gyms that are nearby are too expensive or too costly in time to get to and from. Maybe the closest gym has hours that don’t match up with your schedule. Or, maybe the gym itself is way too busy to get anything accomplished during the time you are able to go.
2. Kids. If you have children, it can be a pain to pay more for day care (if the gym nearest you even has a daycare) and can be hard on the parent to leave them, especially if they just came from daycare all day. (Not speaking from experience here, so to each their own!) If they are older, a lot of places have a minimum age at which they can even use the facility, even though they are old enough to be on their own.
3. Crowding. Like I mentioned at the beginning, commercial gyms rely on the influx of new members at the beginning of the year which can really inconvenience every member – new or old. If you have ever had to wait for a piece of equipment, a weight set up, or treadmill hog, it can get to be annoying. In some cases it can be hard to find a locker or room in the locker room to get showered, changed, and get ready.
4. Bad trainers. Again, not saying there aren’t good trainers out there in commercial gyms, but I have seen and heard time and time again the not so good training. Keep in mine that the commercial gym is a business and has to make money. Often, the trainers and staff will prey on new members and tell them things that may or may not be true in order to sell expensive training sessions. I have been a victim of this myself of the high pressure sales people telling me lies in order to get me to pay.
5. Rules. Some places have rules about what you can and can’t do at their facility. Mostly out of the interest of the safety for the other members and probably to prevent law suits. Many have time limits on cardio equipment. If you are a runner training for a distance event, you are probably going to need more then 20 minutes on a treadmill.
6. Money. Depending on the gym and the circumstances, membership fees can top $100 or more a month. You may also be required to sign a contract, pay initiation fees, or cancellation fees. Some gym services also cost more. Obviously a trainer will cost you, but use of the pool, basketball court, or even some classes can cost more then your monthly dues. Day care is usually an extra fee as well.
So, what do you think? What factors influenced your current workout set up?
For me, motivation is not a factor. I can and always have been able to motivate myself to workout. I enjoy it, so it’s not something I view as a chore. Some things that were a factor in me joining my current gym were convenience and cost. The gym I choose was the least expensive for the equipment I needed, namely the treadmill and free weights, and close to my home. But, I do have the means to workout at home if need be, and having that option has been wonderful. Sometimes I just don’t feel like going to the gym, or if the weather is bad, driving might be out of the question. I am glad I have the equipment I do, and who knows, maybe someday I won’t belong to a gym like I did for about 3 years after college.