Gym vs. Home Workouts: What Gets Better Results?
Finding a workout program you’ll actually stick with involves a lot of choices: Strength training or cardio? Dumbbells or barbells? Home workouts or a gym membership?
While the answers depend mostly on your fitness goals and personal preferences, it’s also helpful to break down the advantages of one over the other so you can choose the one that works best for you.
When it comes to where you exercise — in your living room or at a neighborhood gym — there are clear advantages to both. And once you pick the place that suits your needs, there are a few things to keep in mind to help you make the most of each and every sweat session.
Benefits of At-Home Workouts
Whether you plop down a yoga mat in your living room, hit your fully-stocked home gym set-up in the garage or opt for a backyard dumbbell workout, there’s no denying your home is your closest exercise space.
“A huge pro for working out at home is the accessibility,” says Amy Schultz, DPT, physical therapist for the Fit Body app. “It’s easier to fit in a workout around a busy schedule when doing it at home.”
There’s no commute, no stress of finding parking, no waiting for your favorite machine, and no swapping in and out with the person on the leg press machine. All of that adds up to fewer excuses for you not to get a workout done.
Because when all you have to do is roll out of bed and get to work, it’s much easier to just do it. But you do need to make sure that you don’t bring all the distractions of home (emails, kids, chores, etc.) with you.
Not only is your home gym right there, it’s also completely private! Wear whatever you want, blast your music (if you’re not in an apartment, that is), try out a new exercise without the fear of your fellow gym-goers' judgment.
Want to dance it out as part of your warm-up? Get it, girl! Need to do a kind of awkward looking stretch because it hits your muscles just right? Do it! Want to exercise in only a sports bra and undies? OK! Your home is your space, and you’re free to use it however you’d like.
This should be especially comforting for exercise newbies or people just starting to lift weights. It can be intimidating to walk into a gym for the first time and not feel like you belong (even though you totally do!). But at home, you can try out deadlifts, perfect your squat, or even mess up on burpees, and it won’t matter at all.
3. Fully Customizable
When you sign up for a gym membership, what you see is what you get. The equipment that’s there will likely always be there, and the group exercise classes are pretty much set in stone. And while that can be a good thing in keeping you consistent and accountable, it doesn’t leave much room for creativity or spontaneity.
At home, though, you can create your ideal workout space and set up a fitness routine that you know you’ll enjoy. You might only use your body weight, or you could choose to invest in dumbbells, kettlebell, and resistance bands. You could even go all-out and buy your favorite cardio machine or an all-in-one home gym.
And with 12 different programs available in the Fit Body app, you get to pick and choose which workout you feel like doing or which workout you’re able to do based on equipment availability.
Things to Keep in Mind
“To hit your different fitness goals, you can play around with the number of reps, number of sets, duration of work/rest, frequency, and load,” Schultz says. “Of these, load is the one variable that may be easier to target in the gym.”
So when your living room pulls double-duty as a weight room, it's important to incorporate progressive overload into your fitness regimen. That means gradually making things more challenging so that your muscles get stronger and you keep seeing results.
Even if you can't increase the weight, you can increase the number of reps or the time under tension by adding a hold or pulse at the bottom of the move (think: squat pulses or push-up holds). You might also try getting creative with at-home dumbbell substitutes like jugs of water or detergent or a backpack full of textbooks.
Benefits of Gym Workouts
1. Variety of Equipment
This is probably the #1 reason people sign up for a gym membership in the first place: all the equipment! There’s no way most of us could stock our home gyms the way a regular gym is equipped without some serious financial backing.
“Most people (myself included) don’t have a huge gym set-up at home,” Schultz says. “Things like a squat rack, variety of plates, heavy dumbbells, cable machine, and space/flooring to support exercises like Olympic lifts are expensive and require valuable space in one's home.” Making the gym your best bet.
And depending on the gym, you may also be able to use equipment you wouldn’t have thought to use before, like medicine balls, battle ropes, TRX suspension systems, and punching bags.
For a lot of people, going to the gym is like going to a book club or soccer practice. It’s not just a chance to exercise, but a chance to socialize as well. When you develop a consistent routine, you end up going at the same time each day and seeing the same people.
“[The gym] is a different environment, especially for those of us working from home, and easier to have a workout buddy there to keep yourself accountable,” Schultz says.
Plus being surrounded by people working on their fitness encourages you to do the same. Research from 2011 in Psychology of Sport and Exercise found that the exercise habits of people you know have a positive impact on your own. And accountability to others was a key predictor for regular exercise in women, per a 2014 study in BMC Women's Health.
Plus, just knowing that your gym membership is coming out of your back account every month is a good motivator to actually use what you’re paying for!
3. Dedicated Space
Sometimes, you just need to get out of the house. The gym can provide a nice little escape from answering phone calls and emails, washing the dishes, entertaining the kids, cooking dinner, and folding the laundry. When you’re in the weight room, all of those things get left behind (make sure to put your phone on airplane mode!).
This helps you be more mindful and intentional about your workouts. That can increase your ability to concentrate on each rep and decrease any tendencies to obsess or overthink, according to a February 2016 study in Translational Psychiatry. It can also help you enjoy your workout more, per a September 2016 study in the Journal of Health Psychology.
Thing to Keep in Mind
As previously mentioned, it can be a little unnerving to walk into a gym for the first couple sessions. And if you’re always sprinting it out on the treadmill, it can feel weird to wander over to the weights (or vice versa).
But it's OK to take up space! You have as much right to be there as anyone. After all, everyone is paying the same money to be there, and any gym that makes you feel unwelcome isn’t the gym for you.
Bottom Line: Gym vs. Home Workouts
Ultimately, where you choose to work out is up to you! Both gym workouts and at-home sweat sessions have their advantages, and you should choose whatever makes you most comfortable and able to commit. Because it’s consistency — not location — that determines your success.
Wherever you choose to exercise, there's a Fit Body program to guide you. There are three gym-specific programs — Sculpt, Strong, and Lift — that are best suited for gym equipment, but plenty of other options, such as Tone, Shred, or Endurance, that combine elements of strength training and HIIT you can do at home.