Gym Membership vs. Buying Equipment: Which is Right for You?

Written by — Tonya

Exercising brings so much joy to life, building strength, flexibility, and resolve as you grow; however, it’s not always easy to determine whether your fitness journey is best spent in the gym or at home.

Gym memberships are ideal for people who thrive on competition, camaraderie, and extrinsic motivation, with gyms offering a variety of equipment and programs that cater to your needs.

On the other hand, setting up a home gym allows you lots more flexibility—you can work out 24/7 with no interruptions and cater your setup the way you like it.

There’s a lot to dive into with the classic membership vs. home gym debate, so let’s get right to it.

Pros and Cons of Home Gyms

Home gyms are a great option for people who value their privacy and prefer exercising on their own time. Here are the pros and cons of a home gym.

Pros

Saving Money

Buying the necessary equipment will save you money in the long run, but how much you’ll save depends on your choice of equipment.

Are you looking to get into calisthenics? Parallettes, a pull-up bar, and plain old gravity are a good place to start.

On the other hand, when training for powerlifting, a bench press and squat rack with all the bells and whistles are essential.

Sure, you’ll eventually recoup your investment costs relative to the recurring membership cost at a gym, but it will take time.

Available 24/7

Home gyms are great places to sweat it out whenever you feel like hitting that 5-minute chest pump or a new PR on the rack. You don’t need to worry about a gym being closed when motivation hits you.

Instant Access to Equipment

Unlike a gym, you don’t need to wait for other people to finish using the equipment and ruin the pace of your workout. You and you alone have autonomy over how and when your equipment is used, making it much easier to set up the place to your liking.

More Family Time

It’s a lot easier to get the whole family into exercising if the only thing you need to do for family time is taking a walk to the basement or garage. Better yet, if you’ve got the equipment, you can adjust the resistance for any newbie members of your home gym.

Fresh Air

Let’s be honest: as wonderful as the gym is, it can never really escape the stigma of smelling like sweat. Buying your own equipment gives you the freedom to step outside whenever you need to and take a breather.

Less Intimidation

Getting started is always the hardest part of a fitness journey, and, as innocent as they may be, people who are much farther along than you can sometimes be discouraging.

Setting up your own home gym means that you can focus on your progression without comparing yourself to others.

Music and TV Freedom

Gyms are notorious for playing whatever pop music is trending, and, sure, you can just put in a pair of earbuds to play your music louder, but it’s not the same as having complete access to all your favorite workout tunes in your own space.

Personal Bathroom

If you need to use the bathroom before, during, or after your workout, there’s no need to worry about waiting in line or dealing with dirty bathroom conditions.

No Germs

People don’t always clean up their gym equipment like they should, which is why a home gym puts the ball in your court regarding cleanliness.

You’re not risking germs from other people, and you can be more active in keeping germs off your equipment.

Focus

Some people just focus better when there’s not a lot of activity going on around them. Whether you’re nervous working out in front of others or are just easily distracted by what other members are doing, sometimes the privacy of a personal space helps you focus more on your goals.

No Dress Code

Small as it may seem, feeling comfortable in your workout clothes is important to your success. Having no dress code allows you to be expressive and more relaxed in your workout environment.

Cons

Limited Equipment

Naturally, you only have access to the equipment you buy, so how much you own depends on how much you’re willing to spend.

Lack of Space

Gyms are usually bigger than your home gym, but they aren’t always, and if you need lots of room to work out, you might feel cramped in your basement or garage.

Expenses

You may find there are a lot of upfront costs for equipment at a home gym, which can make getting started a challenge.

Lack of Social Interaction

If you thrive on social interaction as you work out to motivate yourself, then you’ll feel very lonely in a home gym.

Lack of Competition

Similarly, some people are motivated by a sense of competition, whether beating their new PR or learning a new skill. Seeing other people achieve the same thing can drive you to progress faster.

When Should You Consider a Home Gym?

A home gym is worth considering if you’re a more private person with a strong drive and motivation to work out.

If you already know what you want to achieve and how you want to get there, a home gym can save you time and money in the long run.

Pros and Cons of Gym Memberships

Gym memberships offer a lot of versatility, and if you thrive in a gym environment, you’ll enjoy working out there. Here are the top pros and cons of a gym membership.

Pros

Amenities and Services

There’s always something happening at the gym. First of all, there are a lot of machines to choose from. Some are good, and some aren’t.

Nevertheless, with so many classes, machines, and weights at your disposal, you’re never short of resources at the gym.

Social Interaction

The gym is a must for those who love hanging out while working out. Friends uplift each other, and you might find that you form immediate strong bonds with your friends at the gym.

Deals Galore

Gyms almost always run great deals on classes and memberships, so if you’re feeling spontaneous and want to take a new class, you can find something at the gym that will save you money.

Equipment Variety

The variety of equipment at a gym is staggering. Still, the most important thing is that most machines are adjustable, allowing you to push yourself to the limit at a difficulty that’s right for you—an extremely important part of a progressive overload routine.

Expert Training

At a gym, you benefit a lot more from the expertise of personal trainers who can help you along your fitness journey.

Of course, there are a lot of online resources for home gym members, but it’s nothing compared to the scope of the hands-on training you get at a gym.

Childcare

Gyms often offer childcare so you can keep up with your family and your fitness simultaneously.

Cons

Commute Cost and Time

The biggest bummer of going to a gym is the travel time. For people who have moments of inspiration (honestly, we’re all like that sometimes), the commute time to a gym can kill your mojo.

Set Hours

Similarly, gyms are only open for set hours, making it more difficult to squeeze in that late-night routine at some gyms.

Large Crowds

The crowds at a gym can drive you nuts, especially if you’re working out at peak time. Competing for equipment and being surrounded by sweaty bodies can be frustrating.

Cancelling Is Difficult

Once you’re obligated, canceling can be quite difficult due to the nature of your contract, so once you sign up, make sure you’re committed to seeing it through.

Who Should Join a Gym?

People who thrive on friendly competition, positive peer pressure, and expert guidance should invest in a gym membership.

The variety available is impressive, allowing people to experiment with many different styles.

Home Gym vs. Gym Membership Cost

On average, a gym membership costs just over $50 a month, including the joining fees, renewal fees, and monthly costs.

Naturally, you’ll spend more at a high-end gym and potentially less at a budget gym.

Home gyms, as you might expect, have a price point that’s entirely dependent on you.

You can start working out with just a $15 yoga mat and gravity, but if you want more complex equipment, you will be spending more.

Annual Gym Membership Cost Comparison Table

GymAverage Annual Cos
Lifetime Fitness$1958
YMCA$900
Goodlife Fitness$873
Gold’s Gym$737
Curves$718
Capital Fitness$585
World Gym$525
Snap Fitness$577
24-Hour Fitness$554
Anytime Fitness$538
LA Fitness$500
Retrofitness$400
Blink Fitness$380
Work Out World$380
Crunch$295
Youfit$250
Planet Fitness$240
Cardinal Fitness$200

Annual Gym Membership Cost Comparison Table

In most cases, you will save money with a home gym. Over a 10-year period, a budget home gym will only cost you $1000, while a decked-out gym will cost you upwards of $5000. For context, a high-end, mid-range, and low-end gym will cost you around $10,000, $5000, and $2800, respectively.

Will You Save Money with a Gym Membership?

The answer to this question is complex. If you would otherwise be buying up a bunch of expensive equipment—fancy machines, free weights, weight plates—then you might save some money by going to a gym instead.

FAQs

How Effective Are Home Gyms?

Home gyms are great if you have the time, motivation, and energy to work out regularly. Without the guidance of a personal trainer, your fitness journey and diet are in your hands, which is certainly doable, but might prove more difficult.

Do Home Gyms Build Muscle?

Home gyms can certainly build muscle, but for the most mass, you should progressively overload with heavy weight, which can be accomplished easily with two adjustable gym equipment: the squat rack and the bench press.

Is It Worth It to Buy Your Own Gym Equipment?

It’s worth investing in your own equipment if you want autonomy over how they are used and prefer to own them.

Is It Worth It to Pay for a Gym Membership

Paying for a gym membership is worth it if you want the option to use lots of different equipment and participate in classes. Who knows? You might even make some friends while you’re there.

What Machine Gives You a Full Body Workout?

Machines like the rowing machine, elliptical, power cage, and air bike can work your entire body, but that’s not to say that they don’t target specific muscles. You should definitely focus on engaging muscles specifically as well for maximum effectiveness.

Is It Better to Use a Machine or Free Weights?

While not applicable to every machine, it’s generally better to use free weights since you have a better range of motion. That said, some machines allow you to maintain better form more easily.

How Much Should You Spend on a Gym Membership?

You can expect to spend about $50 a month on a gym membership, but it’s worth looking at your gym’s amenities and plans to see which plan is best for you.

Can You Gain Muscle without Weights?

You can gain muscle without weights, but putting on lots of mass is difficult due to how progressions work in calisthenics.

Why Do I Have to Pay for a Full Gym Membership If I Don’t Use All of the Equipment?

Gyms don’t look at who’s using what equipment—they simply don’t have the resources for that kind of oversight. Therefore, they charge you a flat monthly rate regardless of equipment usage.

What Is the Best Gym to Buy a Membership for?

The best gym depends on what you’re after. Crunch Fitness is great for those on a budget, while Anytime Fitness offers great resources for strength training.

Conclusion – Which one is the winner?

Ultimately, the debate about home gyms vs. commercial gyms comes down to your preferences and what motivates you to work out.

Think about what inspires you to keep going. Is it the comfort of your own space, great music, and privacy, or do you prefer camaraderie, socializing, and experimentation?

Whichever you prefer, get started with your fitness journey at home or the gym today!