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How Does a Home Gym Compare to a Gym Membership?

See how the two stack up in terms of convenience, cost, effectiveness, and motivation.

W oman in a home gym vs. gym membership

Working out at home has come a long way from the days of step aerobics VHS tapes and exercise bikes that inevitably became clothes hangers. Back then, if you wanted to do effective resistance training and not fill your garage with heavy dumbbells and weight plates, you had to go to a commercial gym.  

However, with today’s smart home gym equipment like Tonal, it’s possible to create a home gym that’ll make you want to cancel your gym membership. When you can work every muscle group with the guidance of an expert coach from home, joining a gym and dealing with commuting or waiting for machines doesn’t seem so enticing.

If you’re on the fence about a home gym vs. gym membership, read on to see how home gyms compare when it comes to convenience, effectiveness, motivation, and cost. 

Home Gym vs. Gym Membership: Convenience

Home gyms have always had a leg up in terms of convenience for obvious reasons. When you work out at home, there’s no need to drive or take public transportation, arrange childcare, or struggle to find an empty squat rack during your gym’s busiest hours. 

“You’ll have access to work out whenever you want and don’t have to share the space and equipment with anyone else,” says TJ Mentus, a certified personal trainer and member of the Garage Gym Reviews Expert Panel. “It will save time in your schedule since you won’t have to drive back and forth from the gym. This can be a great option for someone who doesn’t have an ideal gym close by.” 

Between your job, family obligations, and social life, devoting time to your fitness can seem difficult and even arduous. If you work from home, you can even squeeze in a short workout between meetings. According to one study, it only takes three 13-minute sessions of resistance training a week to build strength. Since it might take you more than 13 minutes to just commute to the gym, it makes more sense to complete these workout “snacks” from home. 

If you like taking classes at the gym but finding one that fits your busy schedule feels like an impossible game of Tetris, Tonal makes all your favorite group fitness modalities—such as yoga, Pilates, and cardio bootcamp—accessible anytime. Want to knock out some 2 a.m. Tabata intervals? At home, you can, without even starting the car. 

Best of all, you don’t need a giant space in your home to create a fully functional gym, especially if you choose Tonal as your all-in-one home gym. Tonal takes up minimal wall space so it’s ideal for small homes and even rental apartments. You’ll get 200 pounds of digital weight to lift without any dumbbells or barbells taking up precious room at home. 

Home Gym vs. Gym Membership: Cost 

Whether you’re paying for a gym membership or buying home gym equipment, you’re investing in yourself, which is always worth the money. But if the gym is charging your credit card each month and you’re not showing up (which let’s be honest, happens more often than we’d like), that money isn’t helping you reach your goals. 

According to an industry study, the average price of a monthly gym membership in 2019 was $52. This varies based on location—for example, the average price in New York City is just over $100—and high-end gyms charge even more. A class at a boutique studio will set you back an average of $34 (more in major cities or at a big-name studio) and that likely doesn’t include necessary extras like renting cycling shoes or boxing gloves. If you want an hourly session with a personal trainer, that’ll cost anywhere from $35-$120. Again, this could be much more based on your location and your trainer’s experience and certifications.

In contrast, Tonal has a monthly membership fee of $49 plus tax for unlimited workouts. If you purchase your Tonal with financing, you’ll pay a total of $122 per month for your membership and equipment, or less than the cost of one weekly boutique fitness class.

Think about the cost of a home gym vs. gym membership if you’re just starting to work out: In one study of new exercisers, it took six weeks with four workouts per week to establish a fitness routine. Zooming in on that first month, if you did 16 workouts at a boutique fitness studio, you’d pay $544, or slightly less with a bulk class discount. On Tonal, those same 16 workouts led by expert trainers (plus any additional classes) will only cost $49. If you join a gym and pay for just one personal training session per week (even at the lowest end of trainer costs), that’d be $192.  

If a family member wanted to join the gym with you, all the numbers above could double, but Tonal’s costs stay the same. Unlike a gym membership, Tonal’s monthly membership includes unlimited profiles for all members of your household so everyone can get fit together while doing their own favorite workouts. With a Tonal membership, you’ll also get access to an ever-growing library of programs and workouts across all modalities. There are hundreds to choose from already with more added each week. Check out Tonal’s membership cost calculator to learn more. 

While a budget gym is an effective option, you’ll still be trading off the convenience of working out at home without the benefit of expert guidance from certified personal trainers  and multi-week workout programs

Tonal's home gym vs. gym membership

Home Gym vs. Gym Membership: Effectiveness

Any gym is only as effective as the workouts you do there—and the same goes for a home gym. 

However, if you’re committed to getting big results and crushing your goals, you will need the right kind of equipment. With dozens of different machines and racks of free weights, traditional gyms typically have an edge over home gyms in the home gym vs. gym membership debate when it comes to hardware. 

At home, bodyweight strength exercises are great if you’re just getting started or need to get a workout in when you’re traveling, but muscle growth and strength depend on progressive overload, or a gradual increase in intensity that forces adaptation. 

Without some type of external weight, you’ll eventually hit a plateau with your strength training at home. “[One] disadvantage may be not having access to all the machines and equipment that is at the gym,” says Mentus. “This just means that you will have to find creative ways to replicate those movements. Invest in pieces of equipment that have multiple uses which will also help if you’re limited in space.”

There are plenty of options for home gym equipment, and trying to decide which ones to buy—without converting your entire living room into a gym—can be tricky. Tonal solves this problem by replacing dumbbells, squat racks, and plenty of other gym machines with one sleek piece of equipment. With digital weight and the ability to adjust Tonal’s arms in many different positions, you can deadlift, squat, bench press, and do a lat pulldown or seated row (plus hundreds of other exercises) without having to bounce between machines at the gym.

Additionally, unless you hire a personal trainer or have a lot of exercise knowledge, you might not know what to do with all those machines at the gym. Tonal’s coaches are expert personal trainers in your living room, guiding you through workouts that are designed to help you reach your goals faster. Tonal’s Smart View feature uses cutting-edge video technology to let you see yourself lift and improve your form in real-time. Tonal also offers multi-week programs that build in difficulty week-over-week and ensure you’re balancing your training and recovery. 

Tonal takes the guesswork out of what weight to use, too. Based on your initial strength assessment and your performance in each additional workout, Tonal suggests an appropriate weight for every exercise. As you get stronger, those weights will go up. If you go to the gym and always pick up the same dumbbells for your strength circuit, you won’t see the same gains. 

If you’re worried about lifting heavy without a gym partner, Tonal’s Spotter Mode will automatically reduce the weight when you’re struggling, making it safer to work out on your own. Spotter is just one of Tonal’s dynamic weight modes that can enhance your strength training and supercharge your results. There’s also Eccentric Mode which adds weight to the lowering phase of an exercise (a proven method for building strength) and Burnout Mode which reduces the weight during a high-rep set so you can keep pushing through the finish. Even at a gym, it’d be difficult to duplicate this type of lifting without specialized equipment or a trainer to help. 

As you’re getting stronger and building muscle, you’ll also want a way to track your progress. You can do this on your own in a notebook or on your phone at the gym, but Tonal automatically keeps track of every workout, down to each rep. Tonal will let you know when you’ve reached a milestone (like 1,000,000 total pounds lifted) or a strength PR in a particular lift, and you can watch your Strength Score (Tonal’s unique measurement of overall strength) increase over time so you know you’re training effectively. 

Home Gym vs. Gym Membership: Motivation 

Studies have shown that working out with others can motivate you to work harder and even make that tough sweat session feel more enjoyable

While a communal environment can be motivating for some, others might find the big crowds at the gym intimidating or feel self-conscious working out around others. Waiting to use machines in a crowded gym or being unsure how to use the equipment may also be discouraging. In that case, the home gym vs. gym membership decision may be easier. 

“Working out at home could get lonely if you need social interaction,” says Mentus. If you do prefer exercising together, Tonal offers several options for getting friends and family involved in your workouts. You can do a side-by-side Partner Workout or connect with friends across the country in a Virtual Workout. If it’s the energy of group classes that motivates you, try a Live Workout. In one of these coach-led live-streaming sessions, you’ll feel the support of other members as you lift. 

By removing much of the friction that comes with a gym membership—commuting, crowds, scheduling—a home gym might make it easier to establish a workout habit. Studies have shown that cues, or triggers in your environment that remind you to complete a habit, are very effective in building a consistent routine. Seeing your Tonal in your bedroom when you wake up or in your living room when you’re sitting down to watch TV, is a pretty reliable cue to do that workout. It’s a lot harder to make excuses when you can exercise at home.  

What’s Right For You? 

There’s no denying that working out with a home gym vs. gym membership creates different experiences, each with its pros and cons. In the end, the best option for you is the one that will keep you engaged, challenged, and exercising consistently; that might be a home gym, a gym membership, or some combination of both.


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