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Home Gym vs. Health Club: "Which one do I chose?" Print E-mail
Written by Skip "The Beast" Podar   
Saturday, 24 January 2009

ImageDecisions, decisions, decisions!  We're all faced with them.  However, now you're about to make a very important decision regarding your long-term health.  Whether or not to exercise at home, to invest in a gym membership, or both. 

Having done both in my life, I thought I'd give you some insight into some of the pros/cons of each, the options you have, and how to make the most of your decision so that you're as successful as possible.

I began my journey rather humbly.  My first experience stepping into a "gym" was at my high school when one of my friends (who was on the football team) invited me in to show me some exercises.  It was a bit intimidating at first, but everyone there was friendly, and I didn't feel overly self-conscious.  The biggest challenge for me was that I had very little control of the weights and when compared to the other guys in the gym, I was very weak.  I was 16 years old at the time, and our high school gym was primarily for our school's athletes.  Since there were no health clubs in my neighborhood, my only option was to get a weight set that I could use at home.

Me and my trusty old weight bench
Me (at 32 years old) flexing on my old DP weight bench that I bought when I was 16 years old.
Having a home gym was a great investment for me, because it allowed me to workout in the privacy of my home (in this case, my bedroom), and I could use the lighter weights without feeling intimidated by the "bigger/stronger guys".  Unfortunately, my modest little home setup only took me so far.

By the time I was in my late teens, I outgrew the bench I had, and I progressed to the point where the weights I had no longer challenged me.  It was then that I made a decision that changed my life forever.  I took a weight training class.

In the first 2 years of college, you're required to register for physical education credits.  I can't swim, I not very skilled at playing tennis, and golf isn't my thing.  However, weight training was right up my alley!  So I took a weight training class at Miami-Dade Community College for 2 semesters, and in that class I learned two important things:

  • consistency
  • discipline

... I also learned the fundamentals of muscle building and proper form.  However having the class at a set time 3 days per week, put me in a habit of working routinely.  Even if I didn't feel like going, I was required to because my grade depended on it.  After 3 months of doing that consistently, my friends and relatives started to notice changes in my physique.  My Mom actually told me that looked "lumpy".  This helped boost my confidence, leading to my journey through the "3 Stages of Shirtlessness" (but that's another article).  Laughing

Goal Setting

First, you need to figure out what your goals are.  The decision of having a home gym or joining a health club is strongly dependent on what you want to physically achieve and how soon you want to achieve it.  Toning and shaping can be done fairly easily in a home gym setup, however building big muscles (like those of a competitive bodybuilder/powerlifter) will require a more elaborate set up, with more variety in equipment.

The Home Gym

Home gyms come in many shapes and sizes, ranging from the most modest arrangements of dumbbells and benches to a full fledged fitness center set up.  Here are some things you want to consider when you set up your home gym:

Space (The not-so-final frontier)

The amount of room you have for your set up is important.  Some places where you can set up your gym are:

  • bedroom
  • garage
  • carport
  • basement
  • patio (enclosed/open)
  • backyard
  • shed
  • special room in the house

The amount of equipment you can have is directly proportional to how much space you have to put it.  A bedroom is a great first start, but you have to have room for your bed, dresser and other furntiture that is bedroom related.  If you're only going to have a set of dumbbells and maybe a small ab cruncher or treadmill, those can fit in a bedroom.  However if you're wanting a big set up with a bench, a squatting cage and olympic style weights, you'll need to give your set up it's own room.


A basement is probably the best choice for a bodybuilder-style gym set up.  Unfortunately, for those of us who live in places that are at sea level, a basement is out of the question.  In those cases, a garage is the next best thing.

Now, I have a much larger set up than I did as a youngster.  My gym occupies one side of our 2-car garage (my wife parks her car on the other side).  The garage is not only big enough for benches, dumbbells and all the weights you'll ever use, but the ceiling is usually high enough to accommodate a squatting cage.  Plus, basements and garages usually have a solid concrete floor, which is capable of supporting very heavy weights.  This is particularly good if you like to do dead-lifts.  If you have a large set up on your patio, doing dead-lifts could crack a wooden deck, and if it's an upstairs patio, your downstairs neighbor will definitely have issues.

Ok, now that we've handled the physical space, let's go on to the next item,  Enviroment.


Environment is another important aspect of your home gym set up.  In order to be comfortable working out and to preserve the condition of your equipment, you also have to consider the environmental conditions of where you have your home gym equipment.  If your equipment is outside (in a backyard or on a patio), the elements of heat, wind, moisture, and cold can cause excessive degradation of your equipment (particularly any metal and rubber parts).  When I had my first large set up, the only room I had for it was on my patio.  The patio was enclosed, so I didn't have to worry about rain, however dust, pollen and moisture were all concerns.  So, I invested in a tarp with which I could cover my weight bench when I was finished working out.  It wasn't until later that I bought the squatting cage, and at that point I had to bring everything indoors.

Basements can be damp and cold, Garages and sheds can be hot.  The area where you workout should be comfortable, so you'll need to make adequate provisions for climate control.  When I set up my garage gym, I invested in a large digital clock with a thermometer, so that I'd know how warm/cold the garage was.  In the winter, it can be pretty chilly (in the 50-60s in the early morning) and in the summer, it can be brutal (upwards of 90-100 degrees in the middle of the day).  So, I have a small ceramic heater to take the chill out of the garage in the winter, and a large fan to provide cool air for the summer.  Furthermore, with a garage, you can open the door (which in effect removes an entire wall from the room, allowing for an amazing amount of airflow.

When you train at home, you can be hardcore. No shirt, no shoes, no whining.
Another added benefit of having your own gym is that for most bodybuilder types like myself, working out in your own private workout space in your garage/basement gives you the luxury of dressing however you want.  When I train at home, I like to workout without a shirt on.  I find it not only more comfortable, but I can monitor my form in more detail in the mirrors as I'm exercising.  And, I can practice my posing between sets without people thinking I'm crazy.  Yeah, it's vain, but hey... it's MY gym.  ("No Shirt, No Shoes, No Whining"). Laughing

If you're working out in a warm enviroment, make sure you stay well hydrated.  I like to keep a jug of water handy whenever I workout, but this is especially important if where you're training is very warm.  Working out in a room that is over 85 F can be be life threatening if you're not careful.  So drink plenty of water between sets, and keep a towel handy to dry off.

A few other special touches you can add to your home gym to make it more "enjoyable/user friendly" are the following:

  • rubber flooring
  • mirrors
  • weight tree (for organizing your weights)
  • a sound system (for music)
  • motivational posters (of other bodybuilders, inspirational slogans/quotes, etc.)

In my "pros/cons" section below, I'll talk about ways where you can make having a home gym a successful and worthwhile investment.

The Health Club

ImageAs I've often said, "Use the right tool for the right job".  No one buys a drill because they want to spend $50 on the fanciest drill in town.  They buy a drill because they need to make a hole.  You could use a spoon, or a pointy stick, but that won't get you the results your looking for.  The same holds true for an exercise routine.  In my experience, I've found that a health club is beyond a doubt the best way to accomplish your physique goals in as short a time as possible.  Not only do you have a variety of equipment to choose from, but you get to train with like-minded people who can encourage and motivate you.  Here are some of the things that most health clubs offer:

  • free weights and machines
  • cardio equipment
  • group fitness classes
  • personal training services

Here are a few things to consider when joining a health club:

  • location (is it convenient to home/work?)
  • amenities (do they have the equipment/services I need?)
  • hours of operation (will they be open when I need them?)
  • price (is it within my budget?)
  • cleanliness & maintenance (how clean is the facility and is it maintained frequently?)
  • friendly staff (are the employees friendly and willing to help me if I need it?)

Location is important because if your health club isn't convenient for you to get to, you're not as likely to visit it consistently.  If you're health club is within a mile of your route to/from work, that's usually an optimal arrangement.  That way, you're more likely to visit without it being a major inconvenience. 

Amenities are also very important.  Some fitness centers even have additional offerings such as swimming pools, basketball courts, sauna/steam room and child care.   The provision of these amenities alone often makes training at a health club worth the investment.

The hours of operation for your health club determines if you'll be able to workout on your schedule.  Most people find it easier to integrate a consistent workout routine into their daily life by training before/after work.  So if your health club doesn't open until mid-day, and you have to be at work at 8 AM, that doesn't help you.  My health club opens at 4 AM and closes at 11 PM during the week, which I think is awesome.  I never workout that early in the morning, but I know of a lot of people who do, and it's great that they have the ability to workout at that time.  If you've ever visited a health club that early in the morning, you can tell the people who train at that time are very disciplined and consistent.

Depending on the  type of fitness center you join, memberships can range from as little as $20 per month to as much as $100 per month per person.  For example, the basic membership rate where I once worked is around $1.25 per day, which is quite economical when you think of how much we have access too.  True, having a home gym is less expensive in the long term, but if you had to invest in all the same equipment, it could rapidly grow out of your price range.


The Pros/Cons of Each

Below is a table of the good and bad of both the Home Gym and the Health Club:

 Home Gym

 Health Club





 Never crowded, unless you invite a lot of friends over.

 Limited on equipment

 Lots of equipment

 Can get crowded during "prime time"

You don't have to drive to get there.

It's too easy to put off working out until later.

Once you're there, working out is the priority.

Travel time to get there, parking, fuel.


Area can get cluttered easily and if something breaks, you'd have to get it fixed.

Usually is quite clean and well maintained.

Can be expensive

You can listen to whatever music you like.



If you don't like the music they play, you have to bring your own.

You can workout without a shirt on if you want to.

Might NOT have air conditioning.

Air conditioning!

Even if the air conditioning is broken, you still have to wear a shirt when you workout.

 24 hour / 7 day per week access

 Too easily interrupted by family members while working out.

You can get into a "zone" while working out and not be interrupted.

Might get interrupted by inconsiderate gym members.


Making the best of both worlds

In conclusion, here are some helpful tips on making your Home Gym and/or your Health Club membership work.

Home Gym

  • Keep the area clean and free of clutter.
  • Set it up in a space that's large enough to move around in.
  • Arrange your set up so that it's easy to move from one exercise to another without a lot of switch-out time of weights/equipment etc.
  • Set a specific time of the day to workout (ie. right after work/school, as soon as you wake up, just before dinner).
  • Make sure your workout environment is comfortable for you (not too hot, not too cold).

Health Club Membership

  • Schedule a specific time in your day to go workout.
  • Workout with a friend, relative or personal trainer.
  • Find a place that's near where you work, live or is within a mile or so of your daily travel path.
  • Join a health club that is within your budget (especially if you tend to be inconsistent with your workouts).
  • When you move to a new area, find/join your new health club within the first 2 weeks (this will help you develop a consistent pattern early).
  • If overcrowding is a pet-peeve, workout during the slower times (before 9 am, between 1 pm - 4pm, or after 8 pm) and on the lesser visited days (Thurs - Sunday).

So, regardless of which route you choose (Home Gym, Health Club or both), I hope this article has helped you make the best decision that'll get you to your fitness goals. Laughing

Last Updated ( Sunday, 19 December 2010 )
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