Why home gyms don't work in the long run
Updated: Oct 21, 2020
If you've tried to buy a piece of home workout equipment after hearing that gyms were shutting down, you're not alone. The demand for equipment in Melbourne skyrocketed when the lockdowns were announced, and coupled with supply issues thanks to the virus, this lead to what some are calling the great kettlebell shortage of 2020. Wait times for kettlebells have jumped from shipping on the same day, to estimates of 7-14 days or being sold out for months.
So, with all these people purchasing a gym for their home, surely it is easier to stay fit and strong now? You can sleep in a little bit longer, workout in whatever clothes you like, bring your kids to gym, bring your pets to gym and have a cup of tea as soon as you finish. Sounds perfect!
But people are finding that it's not as easy to recreate a gym as just buying the equipment, myself included. Gyms provide more than just the equipment for a workout, they provide an environment supporting exercise, social accountability and all the resources you could need.
This is why home gyms often don't work in the long run.
The wrong environment
The moment you walk in the door at the gym, your focus is directed towards working out. The pumping, energetic music hits your ears but so does the sound of iron, the sound of people working hard. Images on the wall encourage you to achieve your goals. Everyone is wearing workout gear, sharing exercise tips, sharing nutrition advice, egging each other on. You walk in those doors, you know you're there to work.
Meanwhile the walk to the home gym usually involves walking past the kitchen, ignoring the growing pile of washing you need to do, moving your favourite pastime out of the way and clearing some space where you usually sit enjoying a fresh cocktail.
There are far more tasks vying for your attention at home than at the gym and for some it can be hard to ignore the temptations. Others may feel uninspired or not have the energy. Creating that atmosphere of greatness that you can step into is one of the keys of a successful gym and why home gyms often don't have the same effect.
No one to hold you accountable
Have you ever made a bond with someone without ever interacting?
Maybe you both take the 6am train from Cheltenham station every day.
Maybe you both hit up the gym at 2pm on Mondays and Wednesdays before the school pick-up clogs up the roads.
Maybe you both wear stripey outfits to the local pub every Friday night.
What happens when that person suddenly and inexplicably doesn't turn up?
You probably notice when they're not there and are more conscious about when you show up.
That is a weak form of social accountability.
I still remember the big, friendly muscly guy who was seemingly always there at the first gym I ever went to. He was probably bench pressing double the weight of my 18-year-old body and we didn't have much in common except for working out. We would rarely chat, and not about anything particularly deep, but he would ask after me if I didn't show up on my regular days.
And sometimes that's all it took to get me to gym each week.
Even when you're at the gym, social cues can help keep you moving. I can't tell you the number of times these past few months where I've been working out at home, I've sent a cheeky Instagram message and ended up staring at the screen for 10 minutes past my rest time. With no one waiting for me to finish my workout, what difference did it make if I finished now or in another hour?
You don't realise how important a social environment is until it's gone. Who is going to notice if you do the last rep, push as hard or skip out the last exercise?
The gym has coaches, personal trainers, training buddies and good old peer pressure to keep you working out. The home gym typically does not. Going to the gym is hard enough already, we should take any force that will help push us over the line.
Lack of resources
At the gym you will see many ministers for the department of wacky workouts. Using machines completely wrong, crazy neck workouts or way more weight than they can handle - you will see it all if you spend some time at the gym. Unfortunately, taking away this equipment does not lead to safer workouts, only wackier ways in which to get injured. Cue the 10 minute compilation
Due to the equipment limitations of a home gym, choice in exercise programs is also going to be limited. While there are plenty of options to implement progressive overload without increasing the weight (tempo, pauses, increased range of motion, longer lever arm etc.) most people will tend to go too light or too heavy instead, leading to under performance at best and more injuries at worst.
Overhead pull downs (think along the lines of chin ups) can also be particularly tricky to set up at home without investing in a chin up bar, meaning you might have to miss out on an entire movement pattern.
Finally, think of the value of asking at the gym "is this right?". With no one to give you feedback and limited equipment, the overall integrity of most people's program will suffer.
Gyms provide all the resources you need to create efficient and effective workouts, keeping you safer and providing better results.
With that being said...
All of that said, some people will actually be finding the opposite in their home set up. Some people have the perfect set up in their backyard/garage, thrive in the solace of lone workouts and enjoy experimenting with movements while there is no social pressure to stop them.
Maybe you never really liked the gym anyway and this lockdown has opened your eyes to another way to workout which doesn't involve being cramped in a box with dozens of other sweating bodies.
To those people I say "all the power to you my friend but... that doesn't work for me". I'll be the first one walking through the gym doors when we can finally reopen.
If you choose to stay in your home gym you can make it safer, more effective and be held accountable by working with a personal trainer online.
If you're interested in that sort of thing... check out my gym's offer here!
So, while it has helped improve our physical and mental health during these lockdowns, the home gyms most likely won't sustain your fitness goals long term. Don't blame yourself if you haven't been working out as hard as you usually would, but do take responsibility for what comes next as we begin to take our tentative steps out of this lockdown.
Get yourselves back in the gym when it is safe to do so (and support a local business!).
I leave you with these final words of wisdom: a habit isn't just something you do. A habit is a certain smell early in the morning, a familiar noise when you are lost, a bitter taste in the back of your mouth, the tempting sight of something you loathe or love and a specific feeling in the air.
Just one of those senses is enough to sway your opinion. Make sure they are working on your side.