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Gym Memberships vs a Garage Gym – The Numbers

Global Gym Memberships versus a Garage Gym - the Numbers

I tend to believe that; if given the option; most serious and resolute strength athletes would prefer to have a gym right there in their own garage rather than have to pay monthly rent at a commercial gym or a CrossFit box. Even those lifters who do not necessarily disfavor the global gym as a training environment no doubt still see the benefit of having 24-hour instant access to their own private weight room; a gym with no queues, no crowds, no dues and no distractions.

Of course a garage gym isn’t for everyone. Many gym members aren’t at all serious about their training, rather they just go to “exercise”, or check in on social media and take selfies, or even just to troll other men and women. Obviously a private garage gym is the last thing these people want. There are also professional athletes who train in actual training centers or collegiate gyms with a coach; they too don’t need a garage gym either. Finally there are even those who like the global gym as a way to get away from the house for a minute.

By and large though, I believe most people who are completely serious about their training goals care nothing about socializing in the gym, checking in on Facebook, or whatever else casual gym rats are doing down at the Planet Fitness. If all you’re concerned with is raising your squat, bench, and deadlift numbers (or your clean & snatch), and getting stronger and better every single day, why wouldn’t you want to ditch the monthly fees, all the driving, the crowds and the queues for equipment, and all the other annoyances for a gym that’s only a 5-second walk from your kitchen?

If you train at Zoo Culture, the unique environment may actually be worth the monthly dues. (image credit)

But it’s expensive, and it takes up so much space, right? Well the answer can be whatever you want it to be. It can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. It can take up lots of space, but it doesn’t have to. You can build your gym however you’d like using whatever minimally acceptable “grade” of equipment you desire (or can afford). You can buy a giant power rack or get a space-saving wall rack. You can commit an entire 2-car garage or just one bay. The options are limitless.

Update: Just for clarification purposes, advocating for a home or garage gym assumes that you have either a garage or spare room at your disposal for that gym. I am not suggesting the rental of a detached garage or storage unit.


The Cost of Gym Memberships Over the Years (your years)

The thing is that the majority of us lift weights and train not as a temporary “thing to do”, but as a lifelong commitment. It’s a lifestyle choice to be trim, healthy, and jacked. Yes there are those that are in the gym for a couple of months that then go MIA for some other amount of months, then back again, and so on. Well that person is clearly not serious about training, so this article is not directed at them (although it would apply to those who don’t cancel their gym memberships when they go MIA; since they’re still paying dues each month and all.)

In any case, if you do your training in a commercial gym you have to understand that unless you plan to give up training at some predetermined point in the future, you’ll be paying your current and ever-increasing gym dues for the rest of your life. I think it’s safe to assume the majority of you have no plans to quit training, so let’s look at the costs of paying those dues over the next 5 years, 10 years, and beyond.

Total gym dues over the years based on your approximate monthly fees. Chart includes 1-year up to 60-years

Total gym cost over the years based on your monthly dues (click it to enlarge.)

Now as far as the $10/month column goes, that is like Planet Fitness level stuff and I doubt anyone truly serious about training is a member at a gym that prohibits deadlifts and makes even squats hard to do without having to use a Smith machine*.

* I’m generalizing, so please don’t hate-comment me. I’m making the argument that a serious strength athlete would not join a gym that prohibits deadlifts and barbell squats (outside of a Smith machine.) Planet Fitness is a health club – a cardio circuit, machine-based facility that goes out of their way to keep “intimidating”, strong people like you from joining.

A $25 a month membership is probably only had by someone who gets a discount of some kind (a military, government, or work-negotiated plan, and so on), so probably this is a small percentage of people overall. I’ll address this low of a commitment below.

The $35-$50 range should represent the majority of people on a contract at a Gold’s Gym, a 24-hour Fitness, and other such chains. Even at this level you can see how it only takes 2-3 years to have totally funded a decent gym. At just $50/month you can spend $1800 on gym equipment (more than enough) and be putting money into your pocket after only three years; and three years is nothin in the grand scheme of things. Hell this chart doesn’t even factor in inflation, gas money, or the value of your time.

Now if you’re at a Lifetime or Pure, some private gym, or a CrossFit affiliate, you are paying $80, $100, or more per month. Just look at those numbers in those three highest charts and tell me you couldn’t have one hell of a home or garage gym with just two years of dues; not to mention five years. Heck CrossFitters have the most to gain from a garage gym because they need the least amount of equipment, yet they pay the most per month for access to it.

At any rate, if the assumption is that you’ll train indefinitely then no gym in the world is less expensive than training at home over the long haul. An argument can be made that a $25 per month membership at a real gym isn’t all that bad, so as long as the driving, equipment queues, the creepers and the crowds don’t bother you, then by all means stay with it until it becomes more expensive. If you’re paying more than $25mo though you should really look into the garage gym option. At least consider it.


Other Factors of Gym Rental

Imagine that you go to Gold’s Gym for about $50 a month after taxes for the next 10-years. You will have spent $6000 on gym dues not counting your enrollment fee, the over-priced drinks you buy while there, the gas you spend to get there (probably a crap load of money if you think about it), or any other miscellaneous purchases associated with physically going to the gym. What do you have to show for it other than your gains? Nothing. (though maybe in 10 years you made a friend at least.)

Now imagine you took $2000 tomorrow and bought a squat stand, a bar, bumper plates, a bench, maybe even a curl bar and a GHD and set up shop in your garage. First off, $2000 can go a long way, and second of all think of all the things you no longer have to deal with:

  • no more trying to schedule training around peak hours, or simply being forced to train during peak hours. You train when you want to, no peak hours ever.
  • no more driving to and from the gym, and paying for driving to and from the gym.
  • no more standing around while the dick in the power rack takes 10-min rests between sets, but won’t work you in.
  • no more asking to be worked in. Or being asked!
  • no more of other people’s sweat, mess, and germs.
  • no more garbage, budget barbells. Train with equipment of your choosing.
  • no more hunting down equipment someone took to the other side of the gym then didn’t put back.

Things that suck about commercial gyms - messy pricks!

  • no more weirdos coming to try and spot your squat (gross).
  • no more bad music and constant advertising (both audio and visual).
  • no more having to enter that locker room. My God.
  • no more rules about chalk, or breathing hard, or grunting. Wear what you want too.
  • no more creepy social butterflies who we all know are not at the gym to work out.
  • no more dealing with child care at the gym.

With these and all other annoyances removed from your daily training experience, I’ll bet your mood will be infinitely better, and your level of focus much improved. It’s hard to focus when irritated, and waiting in traffic just to wait 20-minutes to use the squat rack is irritating.

On top of all of this (as if this wasn’t enough), after 28 months you’ve broken even and you own something that will pretty much last forever. Going forward, each and every month that you train at home (from now until the end of time) is either $50+ into your own gym, or $50+ into your pocket. So when someone says they can’t afford to train at home, I wonder if they can afford to not train at home.

Oh, and even if you buy things along the way that make it take a year longer to break even, is that even a bad thing? Hell no. That gym is still yours!


How Much Does a Home/Garage Gym Cost?

So you can see plain as day what a gym membership costs over the years, but how much is the alternative? Well the short answer is as little or as much as much you’d like.

You can build out a full garage gym that would give you access to squats, deadlifts, all the presses, all the rows and pulls, pull-ups, pressdowns, curls and so on for under $1000. We are talking a decent bar, used weights, squat rack with a pull-up bar, bench, and collars.

You can double that $1000 investment and change out the squat rack for a full-size power rack, greatly increase the amount of weight at your disposal, and perhaps even add a GHD. You could also buy a higher performance bar, or a second bar or specialty bar.

As you increase your budget you get access to more high-performance equipment, you get access to more training gear and accessories, and you guarantee that every single product you buy is high enough quality to never, ever need to be replaced. $2000 is enough to pull that off, and anything more than that is just icing on the cake. Again, you people at CrossFit affiliates for $150 a month could have an amazing gym for what you’re paying in dues.

Complete garage gym - 100% CrossFit, Oly lifting, and powerlifting ready.

Very nicely equipped gym; even with the squat stand instead of a power rack. CrossFit, powerlifting, or Oly lifting; all 100% possible in this garage gym. This could be built for ~$1500 not factoring in the rower.

Fully loaded garage gym - big money spent here.

This is what a few grand gets you; a beefy power rack with accessories, GHD, extra bars, lots of weight, and accessories galore. This gym owner is $4k-5k in, but if he came from Lifetime that’s only four years of dues.

A little advice…

Don’t go look at the $1600 power racks out there and be discouraged. You not only do not need a rack that big, you would probably discover very quickly that you didn’t even want it. Same goes for bars. A good barbell can be had for as little as $250. Don’t look at the $600 power bars or $800 Oly bars and think that bars are too expensive. They aren’t; you’re just looking at professional equipment. The bars you used at Gold’s couldn’t be any further from a professional bar. Your $250 bar will be infinitely better. Be smart, but reasonable.

You don’t want to be running to Academy or Dick’s for your gym equipment, but unless you have got a 525-pound bench press or 165 kilogram clean & jerk, you also don’t need to be looking at elite equipment. Companies like Rep Fitness, Rogue Fitness, & Vulcan Strength will allow you to fill your gym with quality, high-performance equipment at very reasonable prices. The equipment from these guys will last a lifetime as well.

Again, it’s about being smart while being reasonable; your garage gym doesn’t need IWF Competition bumpers, but you don’t want CAP bumpers either.


What Are You Giving Up?

As a novice doing Starting Strength, 5/3/1, or any other similar barbell-based programs, or a powerlifter, Olympic weightlifter, or even a CrossFitter you aren’t giving up much. You lose access to the cardio room, and you do lose machine access, but nobody needs a treadmill and machines are only really “needed” by veteran bodybuilders.

Granted some machines are worthy of being missed; such as the cable crossover, or even the leg press. Novices tend to miss the lat machine, but that’s not only a short term problem but there is also the Spud Inc option for $99 – a simple, low cost fix to that.

Sadly for some, you will also lose access to the full dumbbell collection at the global gyms unless your initial investment allows for their purchase (or for the purchase of an adjustable pair.) This is probably the biggest equipment hit you’ll take, but fortunately dumbbells aren’t on everyone’s radar.

Finally, those of you who do enjoy the social aspect of the gym will miss that – but honestly, unless you train among your peers at a true iron gym or Olympic training center, I can’t see how this is a big deal. If you’re going to surround yourself with other lifters, make sure they are as committed and ambitious as you are. You’ve got 22-23 other hours in the day to be a social person and interact with people; why does it have to be at the gym? Focus!


Finding Equipment for Your Garage Gym

I could go on for tens of thousands of words about how to buy each and every piece of gym equipment, where to look, what to look for based on your skill level and goals, how much to spend, etc. Fortunately, that’s basically what this entire site is; my ramblings about choosing good equipment.

If you are indeed in the market for equipment, I recommend that you take advantage of my buying guides and reviews. Both can be found at the top menu under Guides and Reviews. You can also search for specific reviews & articles by using the search bar towards the top of the right-hand sidebar.

The Guides are useful for those needing to know what to look for in any given piece of gym equipment; be it power racks, plates, bars, collars, you name it! The reviews are obviously product-specific, and great for detailed info on those specific products.

Garage Gyms Steel & Rubber-Coated Plates Shopping Guide

Here are some of my most popular and useful (in-depth) guides and articles:


Summary

At the end of the day, this article is simply meant to show you in real numbers what kind of financial commitment you’re making by renting gym time. If you have no issue putting out tens of thousands of dollars over the years in dues, then keep doing it. If ever that changes, well it’s never too late to bring the training home. I am simply giving you the information and providing further resources for those who do want a garage gym.

If this article or any of the above linked articles still leave you scratching your head, feel free to leave a comment in any appropriate post; I try to answer everything. If you have a unique issue then feel free to visit my About page and send me a private message. And no matter where you train, train hard!


 

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{ 15 comments… add one }
  • M January 20, 2018, 1:24 am

    Don’t neglect space costs, which can vary widely especially by region. I think most home gyms are in garages,which run about $300/space/month around here — and they are mostly unavailable to rent. Only if people own a garage they would not otherwise use or rent should the cost perhaps be neglected and even then that garage was paid for with the house,although it can be usually expected to have a residual value later.

    HVAC costs can also be non-negligable.

    So equipment costs can easily, over time, be the smaller part of the costs of having a home gym.

    • jburgeson January 20, 2018, 11:36 am

      Oh no, I’m not suggesting renting a garage for a gym if you do not already have a garage in your home. That’s not helpful at all – way more expensive than most gym memberships. Last I heard apartment units can charge $100-$150 or more per month for a garage, and they are small and detached. Yeah no, sorry I thought it was implied that this is beneficial in your own home, with the garage being the usual go-to space for a gym.

  • M January 21, 2018, 12:11 am

    OK, I see where you’re coming from — but if I go buy a house around here, it’s several million dollars up, with the garage being a significant part of that since the garage occupies valuable lot space. This applies to some extent most everywhere except when someone has space they have no other use for and it’s too expensive to move to free that up.

    • jburgeson January 21, 2018, 12:22 am

      I mean I know what you’re saying, but the assumption really is still that a home gym is even something that can be considered in ones current situation. That is, I don’t think a whole lot of people would search for this site or find this article if they weren’t contemplating a home gym of some kind, you know? But yes, I do sometimes forget about apartment renters and such, and that’s on me. I get used to seeing and hearing about garage gyms it becomes the norm haha.

  • dunkman January 23, 2018, 7:43 am

    I’ve had my home gym for about 15 years now. Despite the fact that I can work out for free at military gyms, it’s still a fantastic deal for me, for all the reasons you list – knuckleheads dropping deadlifts and damaging bars and plates; curls in the squat rack; not having the right equipment; the convenience of hitting my gym whenever I want for as long as I want; exercising my own gross habits without being judged. OK, I’m married so that’s not actually true. I’m reminded of how much i enjoy having my own gym every time I travel and have to use a public gym.

  • Gaylen January 23, 2018, 6:33 pm

    I love my home gym. Get a bit cold in the winter, but love the space. I only wish it was bigger. One car garage. Trying to decide what equipment to buy this year for all the money I save from not spending $100 + / Month.

    • jburgeson January 23, 2018, 8:29 pm

      For one months due you can buy a propane canister floor heater =)

  • D January 31, 2018, 9:20 am

    January 2017 my gym closed due to some storm damage. My wife and I decided to make use of the kid’s old bedroom and buy our own equipment as we had been wanting. After finding your site and reading some of your reviews, we went with squat rack(amazon) and bench, bar, and weights from IronMaster. Best decision ever! We are able to work out when and how we want. No waiting on gym equipment to be open, and can take our time with workouts. Can even try new exercises without feeling rushed by others waiting on equipment. My wife is even doing squats and deadlifts! She would’ve never tried in commercial gym setting. We did do a membership with…Planet Fitness.. :( Only $10 a month, but for use of cable crossover (we don’t have room for) and leg machines. It’s worth it. And best part, I still run into some of the regulars from our old gym at PF, and they’ve commented at how much size I’ve put on since we now work out at home! Keep up the good work on Garage Gyms!

    • jburgeson January 31, 2018, 9:53 am

      Thanks for that. That’s awesome, and it’s what I like to hear!

      • D February 5, 2018, 9:12 am

        My wife reminded me (cause I’m old.. ) I forgot to mention, I’m 54 and my wife is 57. Lifting for Life! We see so many people our age that can hardly get around. They ask how we do it. I tell them to be more responsible for your own health. Don’t put it all on your doctor to just ‘fix’ your problems with a pill or surgery while you neglect yourself.

        “Women that look good in yoga pants do more than yoga” ;)

        • jburgeson February 5, 2018, 10:09 am

          haha I like that quote – it’s very true too.

  • Sarah March 25, 2018, 1:52 pm

    I wish i had found this site 4 weeks, just finished gearing up my basement gym, and leaving my monthly dues behind me. Most recently acquired a Tmill and oly weights to add to my pre existing gear that includes a conept II roeer, power rack and a limited range in free weights plus a variety of accessory equipment I’ve amassed over the years.

    Eager to try building a homemade dlift platform now!!

    Great job on the pro/con analsys!!

    • jburgeson March 25, 2018, 2:18 pm

      Thanks Sarah!

  • Dan Zuehlsdorf April 29, 2018, 3:52 pm

    I can’t tell you how much I miss my garage gym. Had a 3 car detached garage and used one of the spaces for my equipment. Sold the house and live in an apartment now with a “fitness center.” GARBAGE. Not a fan of crowded gyms and driving to them and trolling for parking equals more headaches. It was so nice to be able to go smash weights any time I wanted. That was the key for me as a single parent – TIME. My kids could come out to the garage and find me if they needed something or if I had an important phone call. It was also a lot of fun decorating the gym space. Had some amazing and rare black and white posters of Jay Cutler and Kevin Levrone, had the iPod and decent bluetooth speakers. If I felt like listening to hard core metal, no problem. Post workout meal was minutes away in the kitchen. All the equipment was purchased on CL for the most part. It was an amazing place and I made good gains there. I encourage anyone considering a garage gym to give it a go.

    • jburgeson April 29, 2018, 4:33 pm

      It is definitely a treat to train at home. I’m jealous of a 3-car detached garage, that’s for sure. I hope you get that back in the future.

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