Thinking about signing up for a big box gym for the new year? You know, like Planet Fitness, LA Fitness, 24 Hour Fitness, Lifetime Fitness…why do all these places sound the same?
This time of year is an inflection point for the commercial gym versus home gym debate. People are trying to decide how they can best fulfill their fitness goals (and new year’s resolutions). I’d like to think of myself as an advocate for the home gym movement. I converted many years ago after several bad experiences at commercial gyms.
If you’re considering a big box gym this time of year, you’re not alone. Consider this from a fascinating 2019 Bloomberg article:
[FourSquare’s] analysis showed that weekly gym attendance begins as early as the second day of the new year, and by January 8, Americans were making nearly 4 percent more visits than on average. From there, attendance dips back toward the full-year average the following week, but generally remains steadily above it through mid-March.
The article also looked at Google search trends for “exercise” and “weight loss,” finding they peak every January. Given that this highly scientific (yet enlightening) analysis was done pre-COVID, I thought I’d pull my own Google data comparing “gym membership” vs. “home gym.” The data shows what you would expect, save one detail.
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You can see interest in both gym memberships (the blue line) and home gyms (the red line) spiking every year in January from 2017 to 2020. At the onset of the pandemic, there’s a massive increase in interest in home gyms, with interest in gym memberships fading. While interest in commercial gyms rebounded in January of this year, interest in home gyms remains slightly ahead, which as a home gym enthusiast, I found encouraging. Perhaps the home gym trend is stickier than commercial gym owners would like?
I’m here to tell you it should be. And I’m here to remind you if you’re waffling between joining a commercial gym or building out your home gym in the new year, the home gym is a great option for total-body fitness.
All the reasons why you should avoid commercial gyms
The older I get, the less patience I have for questionable gym behavior. What follows is my exhaustive list of (18!!!) things you won’t have to deal with at your home gym. Feel free to add your own in the comments.
1. People treating the gym like their teenage bedroom.
Many teenagers leave their clothes and belongings strewn all over their room, only to have their parents (or Mary Poppins) urge them to clean it up.
Unfortunately, some gym patrons treat the gym the same way. Apparently it’s extremely difficult for them to re-rack weight plates or put dumbbells back where they found them.
If you’ve been to a commercial gym, you may have seen the gymgoer who clutters the floor of the squat rack with excess weight plates or that very shredded individual who leaves the 100, 110 and 120 pound dumbbells surrounding the weight bench. We all get it, you’re “beastly” when it comes to chest workouts. But if you’re strong enough to BEAST MODE the bench press, you’re strong enough to put the dumbbells back on the rack so other people aren’t tripping all over them when doing a mere mortal’s bench press routine.
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2. People practicing discourteous perspiration.
We all sweat. It’s normal. Some people sweat more than others. But it becomes discourteous when people don’t wipe their sweat off equipment. People are even more sensitive to this issue since the pandemic.
It brings on a special kind of nausea when you lay down on a weight bench, only to find yourself swimming in a sea of the previous lifter’s body moisture. Feeling the cold, wet sting of sweat soaking through the back of your T-shirt is about as unpleasant as it gets.
3. Waiting for the water fountain.
People are starting to use water fountains again, and at the gym, you’ll often find yourself waiting in line to grab a quick drink of water.
On occasion, I’ve even seen an oblivious patron spend their rest time between sets hovering over the water fountain. Even worse, when they combine their water fountain domination with discourteous perspiration. Time to find a new water fountain!
The people who carry around gallons of water in the gym are definitely on to something.
4. Locker room conversationalists.
Introverts unite! Maybe some people do want to talk in the locker room, make new fitness friends and discuss the day’s big news. As an introvert, I mostly don’t. That’s why home gyms make such a great option for introverts.
In my experience, the worst part about locker room conversations is small talk. In the men’s locker room, TVs tuned to ESPN often steer small talk toward sports. It may come as surprise to some people, but I’d rather not have a random discussion about Bol Bol’s awesome slam dunk last night, or share an enthusiastic reaction to some random goal in the Ecuadorian soccer league that topped the “plays of the day.”
Even worse than locker room conversationalists…
5. Naked locker room conversationalists.
Need I say more? Bonus points if they are applying a lotion, cream or powder while talking to you.
6. Gym shower cleanliness.
Again, this one’s probably top of mind after the pandemic. Half-used bars of soap. Wet towels on the floor. And…body hair. Yuck.
7. Mirror posing.
My wife will tell you I do this at home, when no one’s looking. But I definitely don’t do this in public. While taking a photo for social media.
8. Heavy smartphone users.
I’m not just talking about mirror posers here. Most of us check our devices during a workout. But what we don’t do is dominate a single piece of gym equipment, doing something so important in between sets that we can’t make way for others.
Ever ask one of these people to move so you can work in? You are really putting them out with this simple request.
My favorite, less seen example of this now that we’re in the texting era, is the person who is so busy with work they have to conduct phone calls while working out. Gotta maximize that profit!
I suppose the 2023 version of this would be taking a Teams or Zoom call while exercising. Anyone seen this one? I know I haven’t, because I have a home gym!
9. Biceps enthusiasts.
This cannot be your entire workout.
10. The personal trainer you didn’t know you’d hired.
Thanks for the unsolicited tips on form! And no, I don’t want to try your overly complex, borderline dangerous workout.
11. People showing off (or dangerously trying to).
Workouts should be safe. In an effort to demonstrate their buffness, some gymgoers attempt to lift unsafe amounts of weight. Often, they are biceps enthusiasts throwing their entire body weight into curls. I’m sure the injured lower back was worth it.
12. Gym-based supplement marketing.
This must be a reliable revenue stream for commercial gyms. Have you ever been coerced by a personal trainer into trying the newest protein shakes, pre-workout XPLOSION supplement, or that $100 bottle of amino acids that will change your life?
My favorite supplement story comes from many years ago. My buddy and I bought some liquid creatine that came in a medicine dropper. The product label told the story: “Instantly absorbed into the blood stream.” Instantly. This stuff was so potent, they kept it in a locked, glass cabinet.
We definitely got in an extra rep or two on the bench press. Definitely.
13. People talking about their physique.
Never use the following words to describe your muscles:
- any sort of firearm
Again, looking at you, biceps enthusiast. This also applies to people wearing T-shirts with these terms or other bothersome slogans.
14. Spotting (or lack thereof).
For those of you who are unfamiliar with spotting, it’s the act of supporting someone during an exercise—for example, making sure they don’t drop the barbells or dumbbells on themselves while doing a bench press.
There’s a bit of an art to spotting. You want to make sure you aren’t supporting someone so much they are losing the benefit of the exercise, but you also want to support them enough to where they don’t drop the weight.
Unfortunately, some people haven’t learned from a good spotter. I’ve been asked to repeatedly spot a random person when they clearly didn’t need it. I’ve also seen people who are lifting way too much without a spotter, or even bristling at the suggestion of a spot.
15. Reading while doing cardio.
It seems like you’d have to be walking at a pretty leisurely pace on the treadmill to read those small lines of text on your phone, tablet, magazine or book. Just an observation.
16. Weight machines.
I’ve never been a big fan of weight machines. They restrict you to an unnatural range of motion, and putting together a full workout with them can be time consuming.
If you’re able to, use dumbbells. At your home gym.
17. Loud yelling.
I’m OK with the occasional grunt, and even with people dropping weights on the floor. I mean, come on, weights are heavy. I’ve always thought the “lunk alarm,” an alarm that goes off to discourage unwanted behavior at Planet Fitness, was a bit much, even if the video compilations are hilarious:
That said, when grunts turn to yells, it creates a less than welcoming environment.
This is the absolute worst thing. While many of the things on this list are funny, this is not.
People will always use gyms to make unwanted advances, no matter if you’re single or in a relationship. But guess what? They can’t bother you in your home gym.
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