At-home exercise systems can absolutely be as good as the gym. Depending on your preferences, an at-home setup could even be better for you than the gym—or much, much worse. Whether or not an at-home exercise system will work for you depends on your knowledge of the body in relation to fitness, how much space you have, and what motivates you.
If you’ve seen an ad for a fancy schmancy home exercise system and wanted to buy it immediately, you’re not alone. Working out from the comfort of your own home? Sign me up. But are at-home exercise systems actually as good as the gym?
If you’ve heard the term “full-body workout” thrown around, but have no idea what it means, here’s a brief explainer. A full-body workout involves exercising all your major muscle groups in a single session, which includes your legs, arms, core, and often your shoulders and back as well.
So if you see an at-home system advertising that it provides full-body workouts, the company is saying that you can exercise all your major muscle groups through either its equipment, companion app, or a combination of both. This also means that you’ll be able to perform exercises that target a specific muscle group within your body if you want to have separate days for each muscle group.
Anyone who’s familiar with fitness has probably heard “push, pull, legs,” which simply translates to dedicating one day to push movements for your chest, shoulders, and triceps; one day to pull movements for your back, traps, and biceps; and one day to strengthen your legs, glutes, and core. One of the most overlooked features of at-home systems is whether you’re able to carry out pull movements in addition to push movements.
It’s pretty dang easy to get in push movements or have a leg day workout at home—even with no equipment at all. You can use your own body weight for many exercises and explore move variations, increase reps between sets, or reduce your rest time in between sets when things aren’t challenging enough for you.
Pull exercises aren’t nearly as easy to do with your own body weight, which is why people often turn to the gym or an at-home system to target the back, traps, and biceps. But if you don’t want to spend exorbitant amounts of money on the gym or an at-home system, here’s a little secret: you can incorporate pull exercises into your home workout for less than $30 with resistance bands.
Just because a full-body workout is possible from the comfort of your own home, that doesn’t mean all workout systems are as effective as one another. There are plenty of expensive at-home systems that are only good for targeting a few muscle groups, so be careful when deciding which equipment to invest in. Research the workout options every system offers before you buy to ensure every muscle group can be adequately exercised.
The most popular at-home exercise systems offer a variety of workouts to keep things fresh and target most—if not all—of the muscle groups you need to work. Some may only offer strength and cardio workouts, while others give you wildly different options to choose from, like yoga, boxing, dance, and so on.
The Tonal workout system consists of a 24-inch touchscreen display where you can follow a coach’s movements and see your stats in real time. Then, there are two adjustable arms affixed to the touchscreen display, to which you can attach smart handles, a bar, or a rope for different workouts. As you get stronger, you can adjust the resistance weight in one-pound increments.
Tonal advertises that its system offers over 245 unique movements, including moves that target the whole body as well as just the upper body, lower body, and core. There are high-intensity workouts, heart-pumping cardio workouts, and muscle-building strength training sessions, but there are also workout options that focus on mobility, recovery, pre- and post-natal care. You can even get in some really nice toning stretches with Tonal through the yoga, pilates, or meditation workouts.
The lululemon Studio Mirror is one of the best possible options for your home if you’re pressed for space. As the title implies, it resembles a regular old mirror and only needs space on the wall. You can hang it or just use a stand to keep it upright, and when it’s not in use, it’ll look like a sleek piece of decor.
There are over 10,000 unique workouts spread out over more than 60 types of classes, including Strength: Total Body, Arms + Abs, Dance Cardio, Restorative Yoga, Bootcamp, Weight Training, Cardio + Strength, and more. Some of the workouts use simple equipment, like dumbbells, but many workouts use only your body weight to work up a sweat.
Peloton has launched some widespread ad campaigns, so there’s a huge chance you’ve heard of the company’s at-home systems, most notably the Peloton Bike. On the Peloton Bike, there’s a 21.5-inch touchscreen, built-in speakers, and a resistance knob to make your workouts tougher. It takes up roughly two feet by four feet of space and resembles a stationary bike but offers way more comprehensive workouts.
There are weekly live classes that replicate the experience of being in a gym and learning from an instructor in real time. Workouts on the Peloton Bike range from five minutes to an hour and a half, and there are over 15 unique class styles. You can get in some cardio with a running or hiking class, build up muscle mass with Strength classes, or wind down after a stressful day with a yoga or meditation class.
The systems from FightCamp or Liteboxer are only good options if you’re particularly drawn to boxing as a workout style. When you’re in your boxing stance and throwing punches at the FightCamp bag or Liteboxer’s board, your legs and core are involved, but your workout is primarily focused on cardio and your upper body. Through each system’s respective apps and workout classes, it’s possible to get in a solid leg-day workout or stretch out your sore muscles with a relaxing yoga session. However, it’s not as integrated as some of the other at-home exercise systems.
There are two primary BowFlex systems to choose from: Revolution Home Gym or Xtreme 2 SE Home Gym. Both systems are more than capable of exercising all your muscle groups, and this is the at-home system that best resembles actual equipment you’d find at a gym. However, you’ll need quite a large workout area to accommodate this system, with workout dimensions of 96 inches by 78 inches for the X2SE system and 120 inches by 84 inches for the Revolution system.
With the Revolution BowFlex, there are over 100 possible exercises, 220 pounds of SpiraFlex resistance that you can upgrade to 300 pounds, and quite a few attachments. The X2SE BowFlex offers over 70 possible exercises, 210 pounds of Power Rod resistance that can be upgraded to 410 pounds, and similar attachments to the Revolution.
- ✓ Incredibly convenient
- ✓ Constant variety of workouts
- ✓ Can be more affordable in the long run
- ✓ Don’t have to interact with other people
- ✗ Might lack motivation or get distracted easily at home
- ✗ No one to check whether your form is correct
- ✗ Could get bored, especially if you crave social interaction
Working out in your own home means that you can exercise whenever you want and wear whatever you want. Granted, many gyms are open 24/7 and have a flexible dress code, but you may not want to venture out of your home late at night or change out of your pajamas. Plus, staying home eliminates the time it takes to drive to and from the gym.
You also won’t have to interact with other people in your own home, whether that’s waiting for someone to get off a machine you want to use, being grossed out by someone not cleaning equipment after using it, or talking to someone.
Then, it may seem like exercising at home could get boring, but it’s quite the opposite. At the gym, there are only so many different things you can do based on the available equipment. But at home, you have a plethora of workout options from apps, YouTube videos, or live stream classes, ranging from peaceful yoga sessions to quick high-intensity workouts or a fun dance class. Many at-home exercise systems have a combination of these formats and workout styles to keep things fresh.
Many of the cons to working out at home are the opposite of the pros and largely depend on what you personally need for an effective workout. Sure, working out at home can be more cost effective, but what if you find yourself distracted and unmotivated at home? Then, you’ll end up ignoring the pricey at-home exercise system you invested in and beating yourself up over it.
One incredibly important disadvantage to working out at home is incorrect form during exercise. Though you may practice incorrect form at the gym, an employee or random stranger may notice and offer to help you out. If you think working out at home will be better for you, be sure to focus on your form throughout every move and if something feels weird or wrong—stop.
- ✓ Dedicated workout space with less distractions
- ✓ In-person coaching available
- ✓ Can use other people as competitive motivation
- ✓ Wide variety of equipment and machines
- ✗ Monthly fees can add up quickly
- ✗ Have to pack up and drive to the gym
- ✗ Forced to deal with other people
- ✗ Cancelling your membership can be difficult
If you’re new to working out, the gym can be a less intimidating place to start because there’s a ton of equipment and machines to experiment with, and usually instructions to go along with each machine. Whether or not you hire a personal trainer to help you begin your fitness journey, there are usually other people at the gym—employees or otherwise—that can help answer any questions you have or give tips on your form.
However, if you’re an introvert with social anxiety, everything mentioned above sounds like a horrific nightmare. You’d be in an unfamiliar place, wouldn’t want to ask questions for fear of looking stupid, and would be surrounded by people watching you. Well, okay, they probably wouldn’t be watching you, but that’s how you imagine it in your head.
That said, some people thrive around others in the gym, using strangers as silent motivation to work harder or just soaking up the energy of everyone exercising. Paying for a gym membership isn’t cheap, but that can be another source of motivation for people. For some, actively paying for gym access makes you feel obligated to get your money’s worth every month. Just beware, canceling a gym membership is notoriously difficult, and you often have to jump through unnecessary hoops to get out of the contract you signed.
At the end of the day, you need to choose the option that sounds more exciting to you. An at-home exercise system isn’t objectively better or worse than going to the gym, but it could be better or worse for you.
If you want to be able to work out in private whenever you want to, an at-home exercise system would be a super smart investment. Exercising from the comfort of your own home can allow you to work harder without feeling like others are judging you. Just be sure that you won’t be more drawn to binging a TV show or playing a video game when it’s time to work out.
On the other hand, if you don’t trust yourself to stay motivated after the newness of an exercise system wears off, becoming a gym member might be the smarter option. You’ll be able to draw motivation from paying for the membership as well as other people working out around you, but you’ll need to make sure you can actually get to the gym.