Garage Gym vs Gym Membership (Which is Better?)


Garage Gym vs Gym Membership

If you workout and if you have a garage, you’ve probably thought about turning it into a gym (or you already have!). But, turning your garage into a gym is a big commitment. You’re committing space, money and the time and effort it will take to put everything together and in place.

Chances are you already have a gym membership and you may even like your gym.

The question then becomes, “Is it worth it to build a garage gym?”

There are four main factors to consider when comparing a garage gym vs gym membership. Cost, convenience, space requirements for a garage gym and finally, the social aspect of being at the gym.

Let’s take a look at all the different factors and compare owning a garage gym vs having a gym membership. Then you can make a decision for yourself what makes the most sense to you.

Garage Gym vs Gym Membership: Cost

Let’s start with cost. For many people I talk to, cost is the biggest driver of the decision between a gym at home or going to one. Let’s take a look at the cost of going to a gym first.

Gym Membership

The first and most obvious cost is the price of the membership itself. At the very low end is the $10/month membership. Typically in most areas, this is the Planet Fitness option. My wife had a Planet Fitness membership for awhile and enjoyed it. I went with her on a couple Saturday mornings to get in some cardio or a quick pump. I was not a fan.

Honestly, if you enjoy going to a Planet Fitness and are paying $10 a month – that’s pretty tough to beat. However, I felt like I was walking on eggshells in there and that was just for a throw away lift. That place just isn’t intended for someone like me. I couldn’t imagine doing an actual lift there.

CrossFit Gym
CrossFit “boxes” can be a lot of things, but cheap isn’t generally one of them.

On the high end are the private gyms and CrossfitOpens in a new tab.. I’ve worked at a couple sports training facilities in the past that trained athletes as well as adults.

Monthly memberships at these gyms ran about $125-$150 a month. Crossfit price ranges are usually something similar. Many people love this type of gym because of the community and camaraderie that these small group training classes tend to build.

However, paying around $1500 a year for a gym membership is a pretty big price tag that many just can’t (or just don’t want to) afford to do.

That leaves the typical “Globo Gym” membership – Gold’s, 24 hour fitness, LA Fitness, etc. A membership at one of these gyms usually run in the neighborhood of $40-$50 a month. On top of the monthly membership, some will even try to get you into a long term multi-year contract.

So the cost of a gym membership is going to run somewhere between $120 and $1800 a year, with the most common cost somewhere around $600.

But, wait… there’s more.

This doesn’t take into account a couple small factors that can add up as well. First, gas. How far away is your gym and how many days a week are you going?

Let’s say you live two miles from your gym. Four miles round trip. You go to the gym four days a week. That’s 16 miles a week – 64 miles a month. Your car gets (I’m going to be generous here for math purposes) 32 miles a gallon. That’s two gallons of gas a month. Gas is $2.50 a gallon.

While your specific scenario might be a bit different, I hope you’re seeing the point. In the above scenario, you’d be spending $60 a year on gas. Granted that’s not a ton of money, but it’s not nothing either.

The last cost is this: When I get done working out, I walk ten feet to my kitchen and make myself a smoothie. If I want a water while I’m working out, I walk to that same kitchen and grab a water.

Can you avoid those costs by planning ahead or choosing against the convenience of grabbing something at the gym? Obviously you can. But, if you stop and add up the amount of times you grab something like that at the gym each month, what would that cost look like?

Garage Gym

How about a garage gym? How much does it cost to turn your gym into a garage?

This is usually the biggest deterrent when it comes to people making the leap to claiming their own garage gym. They take a look at some of the high end, expensive equipment and think, no way. But, it doesn’t need to be. You can get everything you need for a pretty reasonable price.

I would recommend planning on around $1000 as a starting point. A thousand dollars can get you some flooring to protect your garage floor, a rack, barbell and bumper plates. If you don’t need bumper plates then that thousand dollars will stretch even further.

On the high end, I’ve known people that have spent upwards of seven or eight grand on their garage gym. Is that a bit excessive? Maybe. But, it’s like anything else – it depends on what you enjoy and where you want to spend your disposable income. Some people like cars, some like to travel, others really love their gym.

I would say the tipping point for almost anyone is about $2000, probably even less. With that much investment you can cover all the real ‘needs’ you could possibly have. After that you’re really getting into ‘wants’. Then it’s on you as to where you want to spend your money.

I want to reiterate though, you don’t need $2000 to get started. Half that will easily get you started and then you can add to it over time.

What about having to replace equipment when it tears up?

True. Everything you buy won’t last forever and yes, you’ll have to re-purchase things when they tear up. You’d be shocked though at how long most gym equipment holds up over time. Think about it. Most gym equipment is basically steel welded together.

Here is the best example I can give you. One of my closest friends owns a sports performance facility. He has hundreds of athletes workout in his facility six days week. Some equipment like med balls and jump ropes have to replaced every couple years.

But, he has had the same racks, barbells, plates and machines for over ten years. If his stuff has lasted that long with that much volume, imagine how long stuff in your garage will last.

If you compare the numbers, what you’ll find is that a garage gym is typically going to pay for itself after two or three years. After that it’s putting money in your pocket. Over a ten year period a garage gym can save you thousands of dollars.

Garage Gym vs Gym Membership: Convenience

Again, let’s start with a gym membership first.

Gym Membership

In my mind, the biggest convenience of belonging to a gym is the variety of equipment available to you. Most gyms carry a pretty large variety of cardio machines and free weights. Depending on the gym it may also come with a pool, basketball and/or racquetball courts, tanning beds, etc.

Commercial Gym
Yes, a commercial gym is going to have a lot more equipment than you’ll probably ever have in your garage. But, how many of these pieces of equipment do you actually use?

Some gyms include everything in the membership and some charge extra for certain amenities, but the convenience of having it all in one place is still there.

Next is the fact that other than wiping down your bench after using it, you don’t have to clean. Cleaning a garage gym should be, at minimum, a weekly occurrence. Not having to replace anything that breaks or tears up is another convenience of going to a gym.

Having done it myself multiple times, not having to worry about moving your gym can be a huge convenience. What I mean is, if you end up moving to a different house and you have to do that moving yourself – moving a gym is not exactly fun.

In fairness, though, if you’ve ever had to cancel a gym membership because you’re moving – also not fun.

This one is a smaller one, but one of note. Most (not all) commercial gyms are nicely climate controlled. You don’t have to worry about heat in the summer or cold in the winter. How much of a convenience this is is different for everyone. I actually like being in the elements so to speak in my garage, but I can understand why many would not.

Finally is the fact that you don’t have to give up your garage space. Yes, it is possible to still park your car in your garage with a garage gym, but it does require a bit more work.

Otherwise you’re having to give up the ability to avoid getting in your car when it’s either 97 degrees outside or 7 degrees outside. (Depends on where you live and I’m not sure which is worse)

Garage Gym

Obviously the biggest convenience of having a gym in your garage is, well, it’s right there. My commute to the gym takes me four seconds.

I don’t have to fight traffic, look for parking, remember my membership card, remember my headphones, remember a change of clothes – actually not having to worry about remembering all the things that go into your gym bag is almost reason enough to have your own gym.

Because the one thing you forget is always the one thing you really wanted that day.

Power Cleans on my DIY Platform
No better feeling than power cleaning on a wood platform.

For me, the next biggest convenience is being able to do the lifts I want, when I want, how I want. If you want to do any Olympic movements – Clean, Snatch or Jerk – you can almost forget about it at most gyms. It’s “too dangerous”. So is dropping weights at many gyms.

If you go to a Crossfit or private gym, you may be able to do those lifts, but you’ll probably have to workout during or around group times.

In my garage, there is no one telling me what I can and can’t do. I can do whatever lifts I want and the piece of equipment I want is ALWAYS available. If I want to lift at 6AM, great. If I decide to sleep in and lift at 8, that’s okay too. If I want to use chalk, no problem. My gym. My rules.

I don’t have to worry about ‘working in’ with strangers or having strangers asking to ‘work in’ with me. True Story. I was squatting at a globo gym. I had just loaded up 315 for my next set. Guy walks over and asks to ‘work in’. Not wanting to be a complete jerk, I said sure. He then asked to put 95 pounds on the bar. I just left immediately.

Next, selecting your own music. If you go to a gym my guess is you either wear headphones or don’t care at all about music because the music played at most gyms suuuuuucks. Wearing earbuds is fine, but nothing beats getting to blare some Metallica (or whatever gets you going) and move some weight.

Finally if you have kids, unless your gym has child care available, leaving them at the house while you go workout isn’t exactly a viable option. I’m not saying trying to work out in your garage is going to be sunshine and rainbows either, but at least it’s a possibility.

Garage Gym vs Gym Membership: Other Considerations

I wanted to discuss a few other considerations based on two questions that I get asked a lot. One of those is, ‘Isn’t lifting by yourself boring?”

No. At least not for me. If you are part of a small training group at a private facility and you enjoy the group atmosphere, then go for it. I get that. But, I do not understand the people that go to a globo gym to socialize.

In fact, anytime I walk into one of those places I make sure to ALWAYS have headphones just to deter people from trying to talk to me.

When I’m lifting, the only thing I’m concerned with is the lift. Each day is a challenge and all I’m focused on is rising to meet that challenge.

Also, that’s assuming that just because you’re at home that you have to lift by yourself. When your friends find out that you have your own gym, you’ll be amazed how many of them will want to drop by for a workout.

Doesn’t it take up a ton of space?

It can, but it doesn’t have to. If you have a 15′ x 10′ foot area, about half the size of a single car garage space, then you have all the room you need. It also doesn’t have to be in your garage. Could be in a basement. Could even be on a back deck as long as you have a means of keeping your equipment safe from rain.

If you’re in an apartment, it’s probably going to be very challenging (but not necessarily impossible) to set up a proper gym. However, if you’re in a house or even a condo, chances are you have the space to make it work.

Final Thoughts

Everyone has to decide for themselves what the right decision is for them. I’ve done both as well as worked in weight rooms my whole life. I would never give up my garage gym and I definitely wouldn’t choose going to a gym instead. Between the cost and convenience it just doesn’t make any sense to me personally.

If you decide to go the garage gym route or you’re still on fence, check out some of the other info I have here on Garage Gym DIY. Between building some equipment yourself to save money, buyer’s guides, how-to’s and even workouts designed for lifting in your garage – I’ve tried to pour as much good stuff into this website as possible.

Stay Strong!

Ryan H

My name is Ryan Horton and I've spent the last 18 years as a Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coach and am currently the Director of Sports Science with Georgia Tech Football. I've always set up workout areas at home everywhere we've lived, but now I have a garage and I'm going all out.

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