13 Reasons why a Home Gym Is Better Than a Commercial Gym
I’ve trained in many commercial gyms – both cheap and high end.
I’ve had gym memberships (which I used regularly) to budget, nation-wide chain gyms (like PureGym, The Gym, Fit4Less etc.).
I’ve also trained many times in expensive, high end gyms (like Gymbox, David Lloyd, Bannatynes) and many places in between.
Some of these gyms were kitted out with fancy shiny equipment like pristine Eleiko plates and bars.
Others were full of rusty, mismatched plates and “pro-style” dumbbells that rattle as you move them (the old-school bodybuilder type that have to be put together with an allen key).
But then in March 2020, my gym memberships were suddenly taken away.
For a little over a year, I made do with a pair of spinlock dumbbells, a pullup bar and a couple of other small bits. I put together my ultimate home workout guide during this time and it served me well!
Then I moved house, got a place with a garage, and started putting together my own home gym. I have only trained in a commercial gym a handful of times since, using my home gym regularly instead.
Personally, I feel that the advantages of a well kitted out home gym (which might not cost as much as you think) make a home gym the FAR better option than a commercial gym.
Caveat: You NEED to know that you’re going to maintain your habit of working out before investing in a home gym.
If working out is a new lifestyle for you, you should probably solidify your habit with a couple of years in a commercial gym first. You don’t want to be investing thousands into a home gym that you never use.
There’s a lot of advantages to a home gym, and also some drawbacks. But overall, I think a home gym is the best option. Here’s why.
Why a home gym is a better option than a commercial gym
Time is your most valuable resource. Even more so than money. You can always get more money, but once time is gone you cannot get it back.
The older I’ve gotten, the more time has become valuable to me. Maybe this is because of the growing realisation I’ve had that time is completely finite. It is always running out and you can never get more of it. You only have the amount of time you have, and you’re always spending it. So you need to really make sure you’re not wasting it.
Here’s how a home gym saves you time…
When I trained in a commercial gym there was always some sort of commuting time just to get to the gym. This has ranged from a 5 minute drive to a 15 minute drive (20 in traffic). Don’t forget this time is doubled, because you have to travel back after your workout too.
After driving to the gym, I still had to park the car and secure my valuables. Depending on if I was coming from work or not, I had to get changed. Depending on if I was going to work after, I had to use the shower at the gym.
All of this adds time. The time investment could potentially be:
- 40 minutes total travelling time (to and from the gym)
- 2 minutes parking, getting out of the car, walking into the gym, through the barrier etc.
- 2 minutes walking to changing room, putting whatever you need in your locker, locking it, walking back out to the gym floor, etc.
That’s 44 minutes of time and you haven’t even lifted a weight yet! You could have done your whole workout in that time (and with my reduced time plan, you could have done two workouts!)
At some gyms when you arrive you even have to queue to get through the barriers or be checked in by someone at the desk!
Sometimes I would arrive and then have to stand around waiting for someone to notice me and then come and buzz me through.
Compare to your routine if you have a home gym. The gym is in your garage, basement or a room in your house. Your commute time is under 1 minute (unless you have a really big house). You don’t need to park, queue, visit the changing room first, fiddle with a locker, etc. You can leave your valuables anywhere; wallet, keys, car keys, etc. (or you don’t have them on you – because you’re at home). The only thing you have to do is open up your gym. It takes me 10 seconds to unlock and open the garage door and flick on the light.
Now, I should caveat that some people (like myself, once) use the gym as part of their work day. You’re commuting to work anyway, and the gym is nearby. I’ve had a situation where I was commuting into London by train, then walking to the office and going past the gym on the way. This situation is ideal because you’re losing no time whatsoever to commuting because you were already doing it anyway. However, it’s not just the lack of commute that saves you time with a home gym. A home gym saves you time in other ways, too…
Save time by leaving equipment out
I know, right? This is terrible practise in a commercial gym and likely to get you a stern talking to from personal trainers and gym management.
But, because it’s your own gym, you can save time by leaving your equipment out instead of putting it back. I do this sometimes if I’m really rushing to get the workout in. You can leave a loaded barbell or some dumbbells on the floor. This doesn’t even necessarily add time to the next workout because it may actually be convenient for it to already be out (depending on what you’re doing).
Example: Your last exercise is barbell rows and you leave the bar out with the plates still on it. The next session is beginning with deadlifts. Oh look, how convenient! The bar is already out and ready for your first warmup set.
Another example: Your last exercise is dumbbell shoulder press, so you leave the bench out in the upright position and the dumbbells on the floor. The next session starts with dumbbell rows. Now all you have to do is put the bench flat and you’ve got the dumbbells ready for your first warmup set.
The only situation you shouldn’t do this is if you share your home gym with other people. They shouldn’t have to spend the first few minutes of their workout time unloading the bar you left out and putting it away.
No waiting for equipment
Another way a home gym saves you time is because your equipment is always available. There’s no one else using it. Have you ever had to stand around in the gym waiting for someone else to finish with a piece of equipment? Or even walk around trying to track down a particular dumbbell, only to find someone in a random corner of the gym using it in a circuit for their whole workout?
With a home gym, all of that goes away. You never have to rush getting changed and run to the gym because you want to get to the squat rack first. You never have to ask anyone “how many sets have you got left?” and you never have to hang around the benches waiting for someone to get off one.
No time spent getting dragged into conversation with people
Not a concern for everyone, but some people just love to chat at the gym. It’s not uncommon to see workouts getting delayed by 20 minutes because of all the chatting that goes on. That won’t happen when you train at home.
More time doing the things you want
A home gym saves you a ton of time, but you’ve also got to think about the times that the gym is available at.
If your gym doesn’t open that early, or stay open that late, then you’ve got to sacrifice time you could spend doing something else, and if you have to travel there you will need to sacrifice more time than if you had a home gym.
With a home gym, the time you sacrifice is ALL spent working out, because you don’t have to commute and get changed. That means you can easily do it at the start or end of the day during dead time that you would have spent scrolling your phone.
For me, this means I have more time for the things that matter to me, like time with my family. When I was training at a commercial gym, I would have to leave home at 9:00pm at the latest to get a short workout in before closing time at 10pm. Earlier if I wanted a longer workout. This meant cutting short precious evening time with my wife after the kids had gone to bed.
Alternatively, I could go in the daytime and miss out on time with my kids.
Having a home gym means I have more time for the things that matter to me, like time with my family. I can do a workout when everyone else goes to bed, or before they get up.
Fit in “micro-workouts”
A home gym is fantastic if you work from home, because you can squeeze workouts into your work day.
You know those stats about how people only actually do about 2 hours of work per day in the office and the rest of the time is spent on facebook and chatting? Well if you work from home you can use the wasted time to fit in workouts instead.
If you have 5 minutes you can go and do two sets of pullups.
If you have 10 minutes later you can go and do a couple of work sets of bench press.
Find another 10 minutes? Three sets of dumbbell rows.
You didn’t need a block of 25 uninterrupted minutes, but the same amount of work got done. This is actually a huge hack for people who can’t find big blocks of time to work out.
No one is going to travel to the gym two or three times in a day to do 10 minute workouts. But when you have a home gym, that is a real option.
You can also do chores between sets in what would otherwise be dead time, like putting clothes on for a wash, or folding them to be put away.
Right, that’s enough time related reasons now. Moving on to….
One common problem in commercial gyms is the hygiene of the people you have to share the gym with.
If everyone would practise good hygiene this wouldn’t be a problem. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Therefore you have to deal with:
- People with verrucas or bacterial foot infections walking around barefoot in the changing rooms, showers or even on the deadlift platform.
- Sharing the showers with these same people, who may also urinate or blow their noses in the shower that you’re about to get into.
- People who never shower and have bacterial skin infections as a result leaving their infected sweat all over the machines and benches.
- People hitting some squats the morning after a huge curry, farting and clearing the place out.
With a home gym, you’re in control of its cleanliness and you don’t have to worry about people with bad habits coming in and making it nasty. When it’s just you and your close family using it you’re unlikely to have any of these issues. Hopefully you’ve married the right person and brought your kids up right, so if there’s any sweat left on equipment they simply wipe it straight away.
In terms of cleaning, there’s not likely to be much required. Just sweeping maybe once a week and possibly blowing some leaves out through the garage door.
When working out in a commercial gym, you’re likely to be met with lots of inconvenience that gets in the way of your workout.
Here are some of the most common ways:
- J Cups and spotter bars on the racks being at the wrong height.
- Not being able to remember exactly where you need your spotter bars for different lifts (with a home gym you can put magnets or labels on the rack to remind you).
- People asking to work in with you, meaning you have to keep jumping on and off equipment and changing the weights between sets.
- Having to do a different workout to the one you had planned because the gym is so busy.
- Having to track down dumbbells and plates because people don’t put them back where they’re supposed to go.
- Having to navigate a minefield of trip hazards (dumbbells, plates, clips, cable machine attachments etc.) that are strewn across the floor.
- Equipment being out of order (especially cable machines) because people don’t take care of them, letting the weights smash back down on every rep while they give their ego a workout.
- Navigating human obstacles, like someone doing burpees with their personal trainer in front of the dumbbell rack or a group of teenage boys crowding around the bench press.
- Not being able to access the dumbbells you want because someone is doing their 8th set of biceps curls right in front of the rack (and the mirror).
- Having to hear someone grunting/screaming on every rep of a 12 rep set.
- People hoarding all of the 20kg/45lb plates, loading them all onto the leg press to move them through a 2 inch range of motion.
- Awful music.
With a home gym, everything is wherever you left it. You only have yourself to blame if something is in the wrong place or is broken. If you’ve bought well and you respect your equipment, nothing should break.
Avoid gym closures
This is actually a pretty big one these days and the reason why a lot of people started building their home gyms.
Before 2020, there was no reason that gyms would suddenly ALL be closed. Covid changed everything. Now you don’t know when something like that might happen again. Hopefully we’re past it, but you never know.
A decent home gym set up that will last you for decades is going to require significant investment.
However, if you use it for the long term instead of paying a gym membership, you will eventually save money – and in less time than you might think.
Obviously what you buy depends on what you want to do.
If you’re interested in lifting with free weights, then the most cost effective route to go down is to buy a squat rack, barbell, bench and plates. You can work every major muscle group very effectively with that set-up.
Here’s what I spent on those items (plus flooring).
- Squat rack with pullup bar – £300
- Adjustable bench rated up to a heavy weight (this one that I have is 450kg) – £280
- 7 foot Olympic barbell – £180
- 6 x 1m² 30mm rubber floor tiles – £201.60
- Weight plates – variable cost dependent on your strength and potential (Estimated at £857 – more below).
How much you spend on weight plates will depend on what type you go for (steel, bumper, thin, standard size, tri-grip, etc.) and how many you need based on your strength level and likely future strength level.
Let’s say you want bumper plates (a more expensive option) so you can drop them without problems and have them all be one uniform size (+ coloured like the professionals use!), so you buy:
This is enough to add up 190kg to a 20kg bar and would cost you £800 from Mirafit. You’d then need some smaller 5kg, 2.5kg and 1.25kg plates for incremental loading – that’s an extra £57.
With all of that you can load your barbell up to 227kg (500lbs). A 500 lb deadlift is considered pretty strong by most people. If you need more weight than that then you’re pretty advanced.
How long does it take for a home gym to pay for itself?
All products I’ve linked to on this page are products that I personally own in my home gym.
They’re not the cheapest products you can find (but they’re also far from the most expensive). You can definitely kit yourself out with something cheaper that will do the job, and if you buy used then you can slash these prices dramatically.
Nevertheless, the total cost for what I’ve recommended here is £1,818.
A budget gym membership at a bargain basement price that you’d be lucky to find is £15 per month. This only really exists in certain areas of the country where there is a lower cost of living.
At that price it would take 10 years for your home gym (all bought new with my recommendations) to pay for itself.
Let’s say you have a more expensive, but still cheap, gym membership at £30. This is much more realistic and is probably around what most people are paying for a budget gym. That cuts the timeline in half. Now it would only take 5 years.
Now let’s say you have an even more expensive gym membership at £60 per month. This is pretty standard (even still on the cheap side) for a luxury gym. At this rate it will only take 2.5 years to make back the investment in your home gym.
Of course, you can add more to your setup (and you’ll probably want to) which will increase your costs and the time it will take for it to pay for itself.
You might want a cable attachment for your squat rack (£150), some adjustable dumbbells (£869), a few cable attachments (1, 2, 3 – £53) and some accessories like locking collars for your bar (£13), an extra set of j-cups for your rack (£50) and a safety squat bar (£210).
Again, these aren’t the cheapest options, these are just the exact products that I have. You can spend more, or less. If you look for used options on Facebook market place you can pick up some bargains.
Adding all of that only brings the cost up to £3,163.
Now your (well kitted out) home gym will take 17.5 years to pay for itself vs. a £15 per month (unlikely) gym membership, 8 years & 9 months vs. £30 per month, or under 4.5 years vs. £60 per month.
If you’re serious about training you will very likely still be training in 5, 10 or 20 years, and you’re probably spending more, not less, on your gym membership – making this an absolute no-brainer. Remember, this is all just costs in monetary terms. You will make significant time savings too which also has value.
These costs are obviously significant as you have to pay for most of it up front. Not everyone has the capital to do it. However, there are a lot of 0% financing options. If you were paying for a gym membership anyway then you just cancel that but continue to make the payments – now towards your own gym instead.
Customisation and Control
When you join a commercial gym, you have to use whatever equipment they provide.
You can buy whatever you want for your home gym and configure it however you want.
Many gyms don’t have a safety squat bar in them. I hadn’t used one before I bought one. Now I use it for every squat workout.
I never used to program trap bar deadlifts for myself because there was only ever one of them in the gym. It was very often in use, so I avoided having it in my program. Now I can buy a trap bar and always have it available.
Whatever you want, you can have it.
Want to superset barbell back squats with leg extensions on a machine buy couldn’t because they’re on different floors of the gym?
Now you can.
Have dodgy shoulders and want to bench with a football bar, but no gym ever has one? Not a problem any more.
You’re also in control of the environment. You can set the temperature and you can control the music. No more listening to Ed Sheeran while you’re going for a squat PR. No more TVs everywhere with depressing news on.
You can get chalk everywhere if that’s your thing, or you can slam your weights down with no-one complaining to management.
You can even work out in just your underwear if that’s what you want to do.
More Focus, No Distractions
When you’re training at home you won’t have other people distracting you. You can focus on your own workout. With the gym set up the way you like it with music that gets you going you will lift with a new intensity. Expect to hit some new PRs.
You also won’t be influenced by the idea that other people are watching you.
A lot of people don’t approach lifting the way they should because others can see them.
They use more weight than they should, max out more often than they should and avoid exercises they find hard because they can’t take the hit to their ego.
Example: They lack the mobility to do full below- parallel squats, therefore they just don’t do squats because they don’t want to be seen as a rookie.
Or they should really use less weight on the lat pulldown, but they load up with 30% more weight than they should and then move it with nothing but momentum – achieving nothing.
Or they should just follow the damn program and lift at whatever % of 1RM that it says for that week, but there they are loading up for a new 1 rep max again.
When people don’t have eyeballs on them, they train differently. There are no other people to “impress” so they are more likely to follow the plan or do the work properly.
Having a Home Gym Sets an Example to Your Kids
This is one of the biggest advantages to a home gym that most people don’t really think about.
Your kids will see your workout habits and be very curious. Kids copy. They also think being strong and having big muscles is cool. If you train regularly at home, it’s very likely that they will pick up the habit from you. It’s a fantastic thing to be able to pass on to your kids.
They’ll start young which means they’ll have a fantastic chance of hitting their full potential, training through the most anabolic time of their lives (especially if you have boys).
When you have all of the equipment to train and build a strong, healthy and impressive body in your own home, you set an incredible example to your kids and pass something priceless onto them that will impact their lives in ways that can’t be quantified.
You’ll be able to give your kids the gift of being strong, having more confidence, standing out in an unhealthy population, being less likely to develop non communicable diseases, benefiting from unconscious bias and much more.
You can also train WITH your kids and teach them how to lift. That in itself is a joy.
What about negatives of a home gym?
As I’ve laid out, there’s a ton of positives to having your own home gym. There’s probably some I’ve missed too.
The only real negatives are these (and they might not apply to you):
- Need to have your own space you can dedicate to it (like a basement, garage or spare room).
- Start up capital needed (or credit)
- Some people might miss the atmosphere or “buzz” of a commercial gym
- There will undoubtedly be more equipment options, especially machines, in a commercial gym – unless you’ve got a ton of space and money to get them all at home)
But the biggest negative (which is actually a positive) is now you have no more excuses! You can no longer say:
- “I don’t have the time for a workout!”
- “The gym is closed!”
- “The gym closes in 30 minutes, that’s not long enough!”
- “I have an early start tomorrow!”
- “I’m working late tonight, can’t make it!”
You’ll be all out of excuses, which is not a negative at all. Another point in the “pros” column for a home gym!