Exercising at the gym versus home: Which one is better?

No one needs to join a gym to exercise regularly. As many of the exercises we've selected for our workouts attest, your body offers the cheapest equipment available. A small investment in additional equipment—such as hand weights, resistance tubing, and a stability ball—greatly expands your exercise options.

Gyms do have advantages, though. Monthly fees are a big incentive to exercise. Classes offer companionship, a chance to learn proper technique, and opportunities to challenge your body and sample new trends. Gyms can afford sturdy equipment that would drain your bank account and take up floor space at home. Often personal trainers are available for weekly appointments, small group training sessions, or a short-term overhaul to freshen your routine. Also, for many people, being around others who are investing time and effort in their physical fitness is motivating.

When looking for a gym, consider these questions:

  • Based on your goals, which amenities will you really use (classes, trainers, showers and sauna, or just gym equipment)? Watch out for additional amenities that hike up cost.
  • How busy is the gym at the times you expect to work out? Is there sufficient equipment so you won't waste time waiting?
  • Can you test-drive the gym with a free pass for a day or week?
  • Is equipment in good shape and sized to fit you?
  • Are staff members well-trained, pleasant, and appropriately certified and experienced?
  • Is everything clean and well-maintained?
  • Are there ways to trim membership costs to fit your pocketbook? You might save money by working out only during off-peak hours, selecting a gym with limited amenities, or choosing a community center, a storefront gym, or a branch of the YMCA.

For additional advice and tips to help you get the most from your workouts, purchase the Workout Workbook, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.

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