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Weighing home workouts against fitness-club memberships

Posted Monday, Aug. 23, 2010  comments  Print Reprints
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What's better, a gym workout or the home version?

Some people are motivated by going to a gym: There's positive peer pressure and fewer distractions. They're paying for it, so they may feel more invested.

But others like their privacy and their own TV set, or running in the neighborhood with their dog. Or maybe they don't want to go to a gym till they're in better shape, sort of like avoiding clothes-shopping because you have nothing to wear.

We asked two experts to weigh the pros and cons of the home workout and the gym experience.

David Upton, an assistant professor of kinesiology at Texas Christian University, spent 25 years designing fitness setups ranging from 200 square feet for individuals to 150,000 square feet for corporate campuses, resorts and such.

"Arthur Jones, who founded Nautilus, said you can get results with a pail of sand -- if you know what you're doing," Upton said.

Pete McCall is an exercise physiologist with the nonprofit American Council on Exercise who assists USA Rugby with its high-performance training program. He recommends that you envision a "new you." When you're motivated by specific goals, he says, "location has little impact."

Here are their thoughts on the strengths of home versus gym.

Cardio

Home: It's where the heart is. Most times of year, you won't require a gym for your cardio-respiratory workout. You can do it outdoors - running, for example. Or you can run in place indoors. "You need 20 continuous minutes a day at your target heart rate," Upton says. Partial to the StairMaster at your gym? You could get the same benefit at a place with stairs, like a high school football stadium or "a park with a long flight of stairs," says McCall.

Gym: Weathering the storms. This is the place to be when the elements won't cooperate. In Texas, those days aren't concentrated in a specific time of year. You're up against heat in summer, ice storms in winter, sudden thunderstorms just about anytime.

Flexibility

Home: Little or no equipment needed. "You can do this on the living room floor while you watch the news at night," Upton says.

Gym: Instruction helps avoid injury. If you don't have a routine, it's helpful to sign up for a yoga or Pilates class, or a stretching regimen such as those offered for older adults.

Strength training

Home: A stability ball and some dumbbells (adjustable ones go from 5 to 65 pounds) give you a number of options for an exercise program. McCall suggests a workout on the web, such as the one at www.acefitness.org/workouts/6/. He also recommends the TRX, a versatile piece of equipment that lets you do a number of different exercises using your own body weight, changing the angle of the body to increase or decrease the resistance, for less than $200 (www.acefitness.org/workouts/1/1).

Gym: Consider the time/machine effect. If you opt for a multistation piece of equipment in your home, "you can spend half your workout time moving cables and pulleys to reconfigure the machine," says Upton. "A 45-minute gym workout can take twice that long at home."

Cost

Home: You can purchase a few versatile pieces for less than $400, about the cost of eight months of gym membership, but the pieces can be used much longer than those eight months. But space matters. If you give up a 12-by-12 bedroom to equipment, that's 144 square feet on which you're still paying mortgage and insurance, or rent. That amount of money might be fairly close to a gym membership.

Gym: Consider cost per visit. Divide the monthly membership fee by the number of times you visit the gym; if it equals a cup of coffee, then you're getting a good value. However, if it equals the cost of a meal, you should reconsider maintaining the membership. "If a membership costs $50 a month and an individual visits three times a week for an average of 12 times per month, then the cost per visit is approximately $4, whereas four visits a month would equal a cost per visit of $12.50," McCall said.

Trainers

Home: House calls? Even if you belong to a gym, it's likely you'll pay extra for a trainer. "Our fitness-club system generally isn't designed to increase people's knowledge," says Upton. You get access to a lot of equipment, but if you want to learn how to use it best for your body, you'll probably have to buy a personal trainer package, as well. Check out paying a trainer to come to your home once in a while.

Gym: Safety first. If you use free weights and some other types of equipment, "you need to know what you're doing and have someone work with you, a spotter," says Upton. It's easier to find a buddy or trainer in a gym setting.

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