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Home Gym vs Gym Membership: Which is Better?

Home Gym vs. Gym Membership

Introduction

If you’re into working out and exercise, then chances are that you belong to a gym or a health club. Both are great ways to stay in shape, get your heart pumping, and promote all-around positive healthy activity.

However, gym memberships are not cheap. In fact, some of them like the luxurious Equinox in New York can cost you as much as $500 per month for the prestige of being one of their premier members. Even when it comes to more common gyms that charge one-tenth of that price, that’s still a dent of at least $50 per month in your budget. 

For that reason, it’s no wonder that so many financial enthusiasts always seem to recommend canceling your gym membership as a way to shave down your monthly expenses. Instead, they offer the alternative of buying some equipment for your house and working out instead.

But is this always true? Would you be better off buying a treadmill or some free weights and converting your basement into your own personal gym? Or are there reasons beyond just the financial aspect that make sense to continue your gym membership? 

In this post, we’ll explore the finances on both sides of the home gym vs gym membership argument. Also, we’ll explore a few other important reasons why you may want to consider one route over the others.

Home gym vs gym membership
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How Much Does a Gym Membership Cost?

Unfortunately, gym memberships are a little like cell phone plans: The cost per month they advertise isn’t necessarily the price you’ll actually pay. You might see promos like “$35 per month”, but then you have to remember that they will also charge you:

  • A signup fee
  • An annual membership fee
  • Miscellaneous fees for certain amenities like the pool or exercise classes

Altogether, according to the site Noob Gains, the combination of these expenses works out to an “average gym” cost of:

  • $58 per month ($696 per year)

Comparing this figure to the total annual expense of a double membership at well-known clubs like L.A. Fitness or even the YMCA, this figure is in the right ball-park. Because places like this often have a lot of extras like basketball courts or reoccurring cardio classes you can attend, there will be a lot of overhead that they have to account for in their price structure.

Budget Gym Memberships

Thankfully in recent times, some gym businesses have recognized there’s a niche for “no-frills” facilities that offer you the bare essentials like cardio equipment and weight machines. One of the more popular examples of such a gym would be a place like Planet Fitness. 

If we use the rates of Planet Fitness as an example of a “budget gym”, then you could expect to pay:

  • Single membership: $10 per month plus a $39 annual fee (total $159 per year)
  • Double membership: Two $10 per month charges plus two $39 annual fees (total $318 per year)

As you can see, that’s quite a bit less costly than the price of an average gym membership. And make no mistake – you can still get in terrific shape at places like this.

Premium Gym Memberships

There are also options if you are wanting a higher end experience, take Equinox and Performix House as the shining examples of this.  

Equinox all-access fee structure: 

  • $500 Initiation
  • $265 per month 

Performix House fee structure has three tiers, but only the two upper tiers let you workout in the gym without a trainer:

  • Tier 2: $500 per month
  • Tier 3: $900 per month

How Much Does It Cost to Create a Home Gym?

If you’d rather not spend $159 to $696 per year on a gym membership, then you always have the option of creating your own make-shift gym at home. Quality exercise equipment is readily available from a variety of retailers like Amazon and sporting goods stores. On top of that, many now come with cool new advancements such as Wi-Fi compatibility so you can stream classes or listen to music.

While some exercise enthusiasts would have you believe that you should be spending as much as $10,000 on a complete spread of exercise equipment, the reality is that most people would be just fine having a few of the basics like a treadmill and some free weights. According to the site Garage Gym Reviews, a basic at-home gym will cost you approximately $1,330. This comes in cheaper than Home Advisor’s estimated average of $2,000, but note that they also believe you can be thrifty and set one up for $300. 

What Do You Need For An At Home Gym? 

What you need for a home gym depends on what sort of workouts you plan on doing. You are going to be choosing from some combination of cardio, high-intensity interval training, yoga, weights & strength training, and/or olympic lifting.

Cardio Home Gym Cost

cardio home gym
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If cardio is the most important to you, then one or more of the following will be what you’re interested in:

  • Treadmill: ranging from $450 on the low end to $11,000 on the high end
  • Elliptical: $500 up to $6,000
  • Rower: $225 up to $2,300
  • Stationary Bike: $200 up to $5,000
  • Add-ons: Streaming membership for workouts: $180
MinimumMaximum
Upfront Cost$200$24,000
Annual Cost$0$180

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) Home Gym Cost

high intensity interval training
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HIIT workouts are probably the most cost-effective home gym setup available. They are designed to principally use your body weight so not much in the way of equipment is required. The main item you will be paying for is a motivation source via a streaming service. Things you will need: 

  • Yoga mat: $40 – $120
  • Subscription options
    • Jillian Michaels: $90/year
    • Beach Body on Demand: $100/year
  • Mirror: $1,500 
MinimumMaximum
Upfront Cost$40$1,500
Annual Cost$0$100

Yoga Home Gym Cost

yoga home gym
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Yoga is also a low cost workout option, which like HIIT requires fairly minimal investment. Things you will need: 

  • Yoga mat: $40 – $120
  • Free YouTube yoga classes 
  • Subscription options 
    • DDP Yoga: $80/year
    • MyYogaWorks: $15/mo, or $180/year
MinimumMaximum
Upfront Cost$40$120
Annual Cost$0$180

Weights & Strength Training Home Gym Cost

weight lifting
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This is probably what people have more in mind when they think of the standard home gym. There are ways to do this on a budget and also scale up to something very comprehensive. Things you will want to look into: 

  • Yoga mat: $40 – $120
  • Bench:  $50 – $350
  • Kettlebells: $60
  • Free Weights: $100 – $750
  • Bar: $80 – $340
  • Weight Plates: $150 – $1,700
  • Power Rack: $200 – $800 
MinimumMaximum
Upfront Cost$150$4,000
Annual Cost$0$0

The good news is that once this equipment is purchased, that’s it. It should only be a one-time cost and require little (if any) maintenance.

Is A Home Gym Worth It? Calculating the Break-Even Point

From a financial perspective, now that we know how much an at-home gym costs relative to an annual gym membership, we can easily calculate how many years it would take for you to recoup your investment in this equipment. To establish our comparisons let’s use the following home gym setups:

Budget / HIIT focused home gym cost: 

  • Upfront Cost: $80
  • Annual Cost: $100

Mid-tier combo of cardio, HIIT and some weights home gym cost:

  • Upfront Cost: $1,750
  • Annual Cost: $100

Premium home gym cost:

  • Upfront Cost: $5,500
  • Annual Cost: $180

After crunching the numbers, here are the results:

Budget / HIIT Focused home gym breakeven point:

1 Membership2 Memberships
Budget Gym2 yearsImmediately
Average Gym1.6 months0.7 months
Premium GymImmediatelyImmediately

Mid-tier combo home gym breakeven point:

1 Membership2 Memberships
Budget Gym85 years12 years
Average Gym3 years1.35 years
Premium Gym5 months2 months

Premium home gym breakeven point:

1 Membership2 Memberships
Budget GymNever90 years
Average Gym10.6 years4.25 years
Premium Gym1.6 years9 months

This is an interesting range of results. On the high side, if you’re a single person who wants to have a premium home gym type setup that you could also attain at a discount gym, then it would never make financial sense to invest in that level of home gym. 

On the other side of the spectrum, if you and your spouse live in an area where there are no discount gyms and would be okay with either our budget at-home gym or even the mid-tier at home gym, then you should go in this direction since you could easily recoup your investment in 16 months or less. That is an extremely high rate of return.

If we step back and compare budget vs. budget, mid-tier vs. mid-tier, and premium vs. premium, the worst payback out of all of those scenarios is 3 years, meaning that is a 33% annual return. That is over 3 times better than the stock market’s average through history. While there are other considerations that go into gym membership, financially it makes a lot of sense. 

The Benefits of a Home Gym

Aside from the financial aspect of saving money on gym memberships, there can be a lot of other good reasons why setting up a home gym at home can be beneficial. Here are a few strong points you should consider.

  • Exercise whenever you want
  • No judgment
  • No waiting to use equipment
  • Sunk cost avoidance
  • Health / COVID safety 

Exercise Whenever You Want

One of the best parts of having workout equipment at your house is the fact that you can work out literally whenever you feel like it. It could be when you wake up in the morning, when you get home from work, or even at night – whatever fits into your busy schedule. Plus, there are no hours of operation to worry about or commute to deal with.

No Judgement

Gyms can be pretty intimidating places if you’re not accustomed to working out regularly. If your goal is to shed a few pounds or you’re already self-conscious about your body, then an at-home gym might give you the security you need to exercise in a judgment-free environment.

No Waiting to Use the Equipment

There’s nothing more annoying than going to the gym on a tight schedule only to find one or all of the pieces of equipment you need in use by the other patrons. With an at-home gym, you get to avoid this because you’re the only one there. Even if other family members are using your equipment, you can always easily do something constructive around the house (like chores) and come back to it 30 minutes later when they’re done.

Sunk Cost Avoidance

Since it costs so much upfront to buy exercise equipment, you can use this mentally to your advantage. Tell yourself: If I never use this equipment, I’m just letting thousands of dollars go to waste. That point alone can be motivation enough for some people to use it regularly.

Health / COVID Concerns

In our post-COVID world, if you’ve got any reservations about leaving your house and putting yourself in harm’s way, then a home gym can provide you with some comfort. Since you’re the only one using the equipment, you can feel safe about the integrity of its cleanliness.

The Benefits of a Gym Membership

Even though gym memberships can get pricey, there may be some advantages to using them that outweigh the financial aspect. Here are a few important benefits to think about.

  • Not taking up space in your home
  • Wider range of resources
  • No maintenance
  • Access to classes and trainers
  • Focus / lack of distractions
  • Motivating atmosphere

Not Having to Devote Space in Your House

When you set up workout equipment in your home, it can easily start to take up a lot of space. Even if it’s just 2 to 3 pieces like a treadmill or weight bench, it could easily fill a corner of your basement or even a whole room. If your house or apartment is already limited on space, then this could become an issue. Alternatively, with a gym membership, you don’t have to devote any of your living space to this equipment. 

Wider Variety of Resources

If you’re someone who likes to use several pieces of exercise equipment, then you may find that the home gym will be too restrictive. Unless you’ve got several thousands of dollars to drop on several separate machines and a lot of space to put it all, then you could be limiting yourself to just a few exercises that are within your capacity.

Besides, if you like to use the amenities of a health club such as the pool, basketball court, or indoor track, then you may find that the at-home gym will not allow you these benefits. 

No Maintenance

Though a quality piece of exercise equipment from a reputable brand should last you several years, some of the pieces are mechanical and will inevitably break down. Depending on what the issue is, the part availability, and the business performing the service, it could end up costing you several hundred dollars over the life of the machine to fix it. 

By contrast, when you belong to a gym, equipment maintenance is their problem. You can freely use another machine while the business works to get the defective one repaired. 

Classes and Trainers

If you’re someone who needs guidance or just likes to work out with others, then you might find that joining a gym can offer you a huge array of classes to try. Exercise classes go above and beyond aerobics and yoga. You can find classes for just about anything you’d like to improve:

  • Fat burning
  • Stomach toning
  • Weight training
  • General movement
  • And much, much more 

If it’s one-on-one assistance that you need, then gyms are also a great place to get connected with a certified personal trainer. Not only will they be able to offer you expert guidance and a customized workout plan, but they can also serve as a coach to keep you motivated.

Focus

One of the biggest downfalls of home gyms is the fact that you can easily be distracted. Since you’re still “at home”, you might be thinking about the sink full of dishes, laundry, or any other number of routine jobs that you’d rather be doing. Consequently, it’s much easier to cheat yourself, cut your exercise routine short, or possibly even skip it altogether.

However, when you go to the gym, you get to leave all of that behind. Because you’re in a different setting, there’s nothing for you to focus on except what you came here to do – exercise!

An Atmosphere of Health

Speaking of a change of setting, one last benefit to consider when it comes to joining a gym is that it can be a very motivating experience. By nature, humans tend to shape their pursuits on the things we find desirable in others, including tone bodies and big muscles. 

When you work out at home, unless you’re incredibly disciplined, it may be challenging to stay devoted to your routine. However, at a gym, seeing other people working out may be the push that you’ll need to keep up the good work.

Home Gym vs. Gym Membership Conclusion

Though it can be tempting to cancel your gym membership and start a home gym instead to save money, the reality is that this will depend on several different factors. If you’re really into exercise, like to use several pieces of equipment, and there are budget gyms available, then you should seriously consider joining a gym. Otherwise, buying equipment to use in your house is the smarter choice financially.

Beyond the financial aspect, don’t underestimate other important factors such as your availability and access to other amenities. Above all, your decision should ultimately be based on whatever you believe is going to keep you the most motivated to continue a healthy lifestyle.

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