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Choosing Where to Weight Train: Home or Gym

Is the Gym the Best Place to Start Weight Training?

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Updated July 04, 2007

Weight training is any organized exercise in which the muscles are trained by applying resistance to their movement. Put simply: when muscles have to work against a resisting force they get bigger and stronger.

That being so, you can probably see that various exercises in which one pushes against an immovable object like a wall or even against one’s own body, as in two hands pushing against each other, can be defined as resistance exercise or weight training. This is called isometric exercise. Using various rubber bands and tubes for resistance is also weight training.

Now I don’t know about you, but pushing against a wall for thirty minutes is not my idea of a good time. And that’s part of the secret: you have to enjoy your exercise in some way, either because you really like the feeling of movement and effort or because of the social group interaction or even to experience the joy of setting and achieving goals.

That’s where training with weights can help. Using free weights and exercise machines, fitness balls and other equipment provides an almost endless variety of exercise choice, which helps to keep your interest fresh.

Once you decide that you actually wish to train by using weights or machines, how do you decide where to do it -- gym or home gym or even in the local park?

Advantages of a Home Gym

Home gyms or workout rooms are becoming very popular because they have several advantages if you have the space:

  • Equipment: Minimal amount of equipment and space required to start.
  • Travel: Save on traveling time to gyms and health clubs.
  • Convenience: before work, after work, weekends, in the middle of the night.
  • Home life: Partner can share the workouts. Pet can watch with strange look on face.

Pets and lovers aside, home gyms have a lot going for them.

Disadvantages of a Home Gym

It’s not all rosy with home gyms though. Here’s why:

  • Too convenient: Sometimes a training venue works better away from the dwelling place. Exercising in a different environment seems to provide the stimulation often required to follow through with exercise programs.

  • Social contact: Getting out to the gym, particularly for group exercise, is known to be a factor in maintaining exercise commitments.

  • Home life: Being away from partner and family interruptions could be preferable for some people.

  • Medical Rehabilitation: Some evaluations show that home-based gym work is not as effective as supervised training for diseases such as diabetes or hip operation recovery, particularly for older people; for example a hospital rehab center compared to a home-based program.

Gym or Health Club or Fitness Center

‘Going to gym’ is the traditional way to weight train, although these days many gyms have evolved, more or less, into health clubs with an astounding array of additional features including swimming pools, tennis courts, sauna, tubs, restaurants, child minding and so on. These are really nice environments in which to pump iron.

Come On Down to the Ironhouse . . .
Nevertheless, traditional ‘ironhouse’ gyms exist, particularly in competitive weightlifting where the sweat and pounding and effort exclamations of mountainous powerlifting men eclipse even the best grunts of some top women tennis players. You want male ambience? You got it! And let’s not leave the women out either: womens' weightlifting is an Olympic sport these days.

Don't try to "grunt" your way to success at a health club though. It's usually not allowed.

It is important to distinguish competitive weightlifting in the forms of Olympic and Powerlifting from weight training for general wellbeing, strength and body shaping.

Advantages of Joining a Gym

Here are the attractions of choosing a gym for your weight training workouts:

  • Range of equipment: Depends on the gyms in your area. Look for a well-equipped one. You never know what you might decide to use.

  • Supervision: Trainers are usually available, free, for checking safety aspects of exercise execution and providing advice. Ask about this before joining.

  • Social networking: And perhaps business networking with other members for fun, profit and perhaps serious games. Who’s that great girl (or guy) in the pink tights?

  • Amenities: Modern gyms cater for busy people. "Women only" gyms are available.

  • Motivation: If you pay for something like a gym membership it’s an incentive to keep going with your exercise program.

Disadvantages of a Gym or Fitness Center

  • Expensive joining fees: Some centers are for the rich and famous and you may not be one of them.

  • Choice: You may not have a selection within reasonable travel distance or the ones available are of poor standard or overcrowded.

  • Gym rats: Yes it’s true: some gymsters are a pain in the gluteus maximus -- and that’s the butt if you don’t already know. Poor hygiene in the locker rooms, hogging the equipment at busy times, boring your boots off with chit-chat; prancing, preening, posing and postulating -- and that's just in the locker room: yes, the gym rat is alive and well. However, in my experience there aren’t too many these days and mostly you can avoid them. Don’t let them stop you joining a gym.

If you do decide to set up a home gym, take a look at my article How to Set Up a Home Gym. This gets into more detail about types of home gym workstations and equipment and how to decide what you need.

That's it. Either way, you win. You could even drag a couple of dumbbells down to the local park and work out next to the tai chi and karate guys -- just for a bit of variety. Go to it and start pumping iron!

References

Ashworth NL, Chad KE, Harrison EL, Reeder BA, Marshall SC. Home versus center based physical activity programs in older adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2005 Jan 25;(1):CD004017.

Dunstan DW, Daly RM, Owen N, Jolley D, Vulikh E, Shaw J, Zimmet P. Home-based resistance training is not sufficient to maintain improved glycemic control following supervised training in older individuals with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2005 Jan;28(1):3-9.

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