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?
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
Here are some of my most popular and useful (in-depth) guides and articles:
- Creating a Quality Gym on a Budget
- Machine Alternative Exercises in a Garage Gym
- Pros & Cons of Owning a Garage Gym
- Power Rack & Squat Stand Shopping Guide
- Barbell Basics & Shopping Guide
- Steel Weights & Plates Shopping Guide
- Bumper Plates Sets Shopping Guide
- Flat & Incline Bench Shopping Guide
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!