Should You Join a Big Box Gym? (Pros & Cons Explained)

We all want to get in better shape, but you’re probably torn over joining a gym.

It’s another monthly expense you’ll have to pay for, and getting there is another item to add to your already long list of to-do’s.

However, a gym membership can be an absolute game-changer — if it’s the right fit for you.

If it’s not? Well, there are a lot of drawbacks to consider as well.

Here are the pros and cons of joining a gym.

The benefits of joining a big box gym include having access to nearly unlimited equipment, relatively inexpensive childcare, a motivating environment, and more — all for a fairly small monthly price which is just enough to keep you accountable!

However, working out at home or even building a home gym is likely a better longterm investment. And if you prefer privacy when you workout, or thrive in a group setting, you may want to consider some alternatives to the gym.

Let’s dig further into the pros and cons of gym memberships.

Pros or Benefits of Joining a Gym

There are numerous positive aspects of joining a big box gym, and you’ll likely find many of them appealing or motivating.

Below are some of the biggest benefits of a gym membership.

Near Unlimited Equipment Variety

Big box gyms have almost every piece of exercise equipment you could think of.

They have weight rooms and rows of cardio and strength machines.

From treadmills and stationary bicycles to leg press machines and bench press stations, you’ll rarely find a piece of equipment that the gym doesn’t have.

Many big box gyms also have pools if you want a low-impact, relaxing workout.

If you want to play sports with your friends instead, you can reserve a time slot to play basketball or racquetball in one of the gym’s sports courts.

If you prefer a class environment, you’re in luck. Most big box gyms include group classes with your membership, including Zumba, Pilates, spinning, or kickboxing.

Fitness-Oriented Environment Helps Keep You Focused

Sometimes it can be difficult to get in the mood to work out.

Being surrounded by fitness-minded people can help give your motivation levels a boost.

The environment at big box gyms is also optimized for fitness.

You can’t get distracted trying to finish your chores or tending to family members who prevent you from finishing your workout.

Best of all, there are no temptations to skip your workout by laying in bed or having a snack instead.

Many big box gyms have smoothie bars, but the snacks they sell are protein- and carb-based to refuel your muscles after a tough workout.

All in all, the gym is the perfect environment to keep you motivated to workout.

(Learn about the best gyms for beginners to join here.)

Gym Membership Dues Keep You Accountable

Have you ever bought something that you’ve never used?

If so, you know how awful it feels to realize that your hard-earned money just went down the drain.

Wanting to avoid buyer’s remorse can be a motivating factor in getting you to the gym more often.

With a decent chunk of change coming out of your bank account every month, you’ll want to make sure that money gets put to good use.

You can buy a fitness DVD and some weights and consider it a one-time cost that will pay for itself in the long run.

But if you’re not an intrinsically motivated person, you’ll probably find it easier to keep putting off your at-home workouts.

When you have a gym membership, funds are withdrawn from your account on the same day every month.

It’s easier to feel the effects of your money going to waste if you don’t go to the gym often enough to justify the cost.

Costs Less Than a Home Gym

Some people dislike working out in public. Home gyms are a fantastic option for those individuals.

However, building a home gym requires more upfront costs than joining a big box gym.

If you buy everything brand new, you can spend at least a few thousand dollars upfront for a good treadmill or rowing machine, or a solid power rack set up with free weights.

You can save money by buying used items, but depending on how much equipment you buy, you’ll still spend a lot.

That’s a big upfront cost. You’ll definitely notice it when a chunk of money disappears from your bank account all at once.

But breaking your payments up into smaller installments feels like less of a loss. 

Instead of paying one large fee, when you join a gym, you simply readjust your monthly budget to accommodate the cost of the membership.

Monthly payments are more manageable for many people.

Furthermore, if any piece of equipment breaks, it’s not your responsibility to pay for the repairs.

(If you find you suddenly can’t afford the gym anymore, there are options for that, too.)

Childcare, Smoothie Bars, and Other Amenities

Kids are a major distraction (believe me, I know!), and they need constant supervision.

If you want to work out at home, you may feel like you can’t get anything done when they’re around.

When you go to a gym, you can avoid those distractions.

Many large gyms have childcare, so you’ll know your child is in good hands while you’re working out.

Most big box gyms offer plenty of other amenities, too. Some gyms have smoothie bars or cafes. Some have steam rooms. Some even have recovery rooms with massage chairs. 

It depends on the gym you go to, but there’s usually a ton of stuff you can do in addition to working out.

Some gyms even feel like more of a resort, so you can stay focused on your workout and truly relax afterwards.

You can join a cheap gym to use the treadmill, but a really good gym should be a place where you look forward to spending some time.

Cons or Drawbacks of Joining a Gym

Everything has a downside, and you can’t just decide to join a gym without thinking about the negative points, too.

Below are some of the cons of purchasing a gym membership.

Financial Burden

Gyms are expensive, and some people can’t afford the cost of a membership.

Others would prefer to put that money into savings. Not everyone is comfortable with spending a lot of money on fitness.

Even if you don’t mind paying for your fitness, you may prefer to avoid a gym membership if you think about the cost vs other options in detail.

For example, building a home gym is a more viable long-term option for some people.

Is it less anxiety-inducing to make monthly payments instead of huge upfront ones? Absolutely, for some people. But it’ll also cost more in the long run.

As I mentioned earlier, a home gym could cost anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000.

If your gym membership costs $50 per month, you’ll pay $600 per year for the gym. 

This means that if you build a home gym, you’ll have out-paid that $1,000 upfront investment in under two years. If your home gym costs $2,000, you’ll have out-paid it in about three years.

A home gym can last indefinitely. Good equipment that you care for properly could last you up to a decade. 

Long Wait Times During Peak Hours

Gyms can get crowded fast.

Even if they’re huge, you may have to wait for machines to free up before you can use them. And the classes may fill up before you can register.

It’s incredibly frustrating not being able to use the parts of the gym you want, when you want, and can feel like a massive waste of time.

The crowds can also be distracting by being loud or getting too close to you during your workout.

If you value privacy, a gym membership might not be for you.

Long Commutes

Your gym may not be far away from where you live, but getting there still adds time to your allotted workout window.

You have to change your schedule to accommodate the commute to and from the gym.

You also have to factor in traffic, which is unpredictable and can double or triple the length of your commute.

Let’s face it: It’s unlikely a workout at the gym (counting drive time) will take up less than an hour of your day.

A home workout on the other hand? That could be done in about 15-20 minutes.

Sometimes the extra time just isn’t worth it, or even feasible for your lifestyle.

Exposure to Germs

Gyms look sparkling and clean, but are they?

People sweat all over the gym, and you never know who’s been on the machine before you.

They could’ve coughed or sneezed on it, too. And don’t even get me started on how likely people are to actually wipe down their equipment.

It’s a good idea to bring sanitation wipes and clean a machine before and after you use it, but if germs are a concern for you, you’re putting yourself at risk just by being at the gym.

Depending on how crowded it is, you could be in close proximity to dozens of people.

If you’re afraid of germs and picking up an illness from the machines or in the changing room, then a big box gym might not be the best place for you. 

Too Many People Watching

Gyms can be intimidating places.

Some people flat out hate the gym for that reason.

If you’re a beginner, it’s easy to be terrified by all the people there. Especially the advanced or extremely in-shape folks who seem to know their way around really well.

Chances are they’re mainly focused on their own workouts, but it’s still something to think about before you buy a membership.

If you don’t want people watching you during your workout, you probably won’t enjoy your time at the gym.

And if you don’t enjoy your workouts, there’s no way you’ll stick with them long term.

Best Alternatives To Joining a Gym

Despite all the cons of joining a gym, I still think it’s one of the best choices for anyone looking to get in shape.

But if it’s not a fit for you, don’t worry.

You have lots of other options!

Group Classes at a Studio

If the classes at your gym are too full or the membership cost is too high, you can consider going to classes at a boutique studio. 

Studio classes often have smaller class sizes, more personalized instruction, and a better overall atmosphere.

The best part about a fitness class is that you never need to think about what workout to do — just show up and follow the instructor!

There are countless classes you could take. Here are a few options:

  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Barre
  • Dance
  • Cardio kickboxing
  • HIIT
  • Spinning

One downside? Fitness classes at studios are usually more expensive than a gym membership.

Learn more about the different types of fitness classes here.

Home Workouts

You don’t always need a full home gym to get going.

You could just start with one machine for some quick cardio sessions.

If space is an issue, you can look for manual treadmills and stationary bikes that fold up against the wall and are easy to stow away.

Heck, you can get in amazing shape from home without any equipment at all!

HIIT classes in your living room, calisthenics, yoga, and more — it’s all on the table!

The primary advantage here is cost and convenience. When it comes to those two elements, commercial gyms just can’t compete.

Outdoor Workouts

Outdoor workouts are good for people who don’t want to be in a confined space with lots of people while working out. 

Many people work out in the park, and there are also outdoor classes you may wish to consider.

Running and cycling are two outdoor workouts that you might like.

They’re both a fantastic way to get fresh air, they burn a lot of calories, and they’re free after the startup costs of buying your gear.

You can do either activity by yourself, but if a team environment sounds more appealing to you, you can join a running or cycling group.

You can even make cycling a family activity! A family outing on bikes is a great way to bond and have fun with each other.


If you adore nature, hiking is a fantastic way to get some exercise.

A challenging hike along a local trail will raise your heart rate and get your blood pumping.

Hiking has the bonus of not feeling like a workout because it’s not as structured. And when you’re taking in the scenery around you, time will go by much faster.

Hiking enables you to work your body and have a nice day out at the same time. Hiking with family and friends will make the workout even more pleasant.

Wrapping Up

You don’t need to join a gym to get fit. You can work out alone or with groups, with gear or without. 

Everyone’s bodies and preferences are different, so you just have to figure out the best path to fitness for you.

Individuals who need to be surrounded by other people to get motivated to workout will benefit from a gym membership.

And if you like to try different styles of workouts, you’ll love having access to all the different equipment.

On the other hand, people who enjoy privacy, convenience, or not spending money on fitness should look for another alternative.

The best thing to do? Try a free trial at a gym near you and see how you like it. There’s no harm in giving it a shot!

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Hope this helps!