At-home fitness has been around for a long time – if you’re old enough to remember the 1980s or 1990s, think Richard Simmons and Tae Bo. But working out at home always had significant drawbacks – lack of equipment, lack of individualized attention, lack of motivation, lack of programming options, etc. Virtual fitness classes have evolved in recent years to better approximate the fitness studio experience. The COVID-19 pandemic gave the at-home fitness industry a real jumpstart that accelerated its growth and encouraged innovation. People were stuck at home and fitness studios and gyms were closed, so people had no choice but to try working out at home. At-home workout companies like Peloton grew explosively.
But now the lockdown is (hopefully) over and fitness studios are open again. People are posing the question, circa 2021, should I work out at home or at a fitness studio? What are the pluses and minuses of virtual fitness classes and in-person fitness classes? In this post we will compare at-home fitness and in-person fitness studio classes from a 2021 viewpoint to help you decide whether to work out at home or at a fitness studio.
Pros & Cons of a Virtual Peloton Fitness Class at Home & a Group Fitness Class in Person
For some people, working out from home will be the best option. For others, joining a fitness studio and exercising at their in person workout classes will be best. It is just a matter of figuring out whether you belong in the former category or latter category. Sometimes it is obvious which will work best but other times you may need to experiment. Let’s dive into some pros and cons of working out at home versus working out at a fitness studio. One note: Even though I am the owner of Worth The Fight Fitness, a downtown Denver boxing fitness studio, I am striving to be as balanced as possible. I sincerely believe that at-home fitness is best for some, and a fitness studio membership is best for others. I’m just here to help people figure out which is right for them!
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Pluses and Minuses of Working Out at Home or at a Fitness Studio
1. If you’re someone who needs extra motivation to stick with a workout regimen, you may be better off exercising at a workout studio in person. If you’re self-motivated, at home fitness might be for you.
It is notoriously difficult to stick with a workout regimen. If it were easy, everyone would be in shape. Some people love to exercise or are very motivated to work out – one of the co-founders of Worth The Fight definitely falls in this category (the other not so much…). This type of person will find a way to work out come hell or high water. But that is a small fraction of the population. Some people find it hard to motivate themselves to exercise, especially at home. If you fall into the majority of people for whom it is hard to be consistent with working out, you want to choose a form of exercise that maximizes the chances you will stick with it. As an aside, this concept of maximizing the chance that people will stick with exercise long term is why at WTF Boxing we chose boxing fitness over other forms of cardio workouts. (Read more: five reasons to try boxing fitness!) We find that boxing fitness is more fun to most people than running, spin, etc. If you find an activity fun, you are more likely to keep doing it. There is no reason exercise has to be drudgery and pain.
When you exercise at home alone, it is up to you to motivate yourself. There are no instructors or other participants to be accountable to. Part of the magic of group fitness classes, the reason that people choose them even when they are much more expensive than just joining a gym like Planet Fitness, is the motivation and encouragement you get from the other people in the class. People become invested in the success of their fellow members. You also feed off one another’s energy in workout classes in person – seeing all the people around you pushing themselves motivates you to push yourself in a way that is not as achievable in a virtual workout. Even Gladys, the co-founder of Worth The Fight who LOVES to work out, found that she did not get as good of a workout when she exercised at home during the pandemic as compared to going to her in-person fitness studio.
Peloton has kind of emulated this accountability through its live classes where people form groups who always attend the same classes. But it is still not the same as being accountable to live people. You don’t form as close of bonds with people who are just user names on a screen. (The only person you see during a Peloton workout is the instructor.) Plus, if you want the accountability of attending classes with a group on Peloton, then you give up a major benefit of virtual fitness classes: the flexibility of working out at any time (since you have to attend the classes your group has chosen).
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Ultimately this factor comes down to knowing yourself. Are you self-motivated and very keen to workout? Then maybe at-home workouts are for you. Do you like feeding off the energy of other people during a workout? Do you like making friends with people in your fitness classes? Do you stick with an exercise routine better with the accountability of other people? Then maybe in-person workouts are best.
Out of all the factors, I think this one is the biggest. This is why people bother to go all the way to an exercise studio to work out with other people in a fitness class when they could easily work out at home or even just join a gym. The electric energy of exercising with a bunch of other people all pushing themselves leads you to push yourself. It is much easier to slack off when you are alone. If you aren’t sure how much difference this factor makes, do a test. Try fitness class in person (if you are in Denver, try a free boxing fitness class with Worth The Fight!) for a week and try working out at home for a week. If you want to get really fancy, also try working out at a gym by yourself for a week. Keep a diary of how often you worked out and what you accomplished and how you felt. This should help you understand whether you are self-motivated.
2. If you are super busy with little time to work out, virtual workout classes take up less time and offer great scheduling flexibility compared to in-person fitness studio classes.
Pretty obvious but one of the benefits of virtual fitness is you can do it from the convenience of your home. There is no need to drive anywhere, which reduces the total amount of time you need for exercising. You can also choose to work out at pretty much any time of day whereas at an in person workout studio you have to attend class according to their schedule. But some fitness studios have open gym time when their workout classes are not in session. For example, at WTF Boxing, we allow people to come in for open gym and personal training outside the times of our fitness classes, so we provide as much flexibility as possible. Learn more about Worth The Fight and other similar Denver fitness studios.
It is important to keep in mind, though, that Peloton describes itself as a content and media company. Why? Because they consider their main purpose to be creating great live classes and delivering them to you (creating stars out of some of their instructors along the way). Part of the reason people get really into Peloton is their big live classes with celebrity trainers. The reason this matters is that those instructors only teach certain classes at certain times, so you won’t get much more flexibility than having to show up to in-person workouts at your local fitness studio. In fact, you might have less flexibility because most instructors teach under ten times a week. That gives you less choice that the typical workout schedule at a group fitness studio which usually has 30+ classes. On the other hand, Peloton and other at-home fitness companies are still convenient in that you don’t have to drive anywhere.
3. Fitness studio workouts provide an instructor who can correct your form and modify movements as needed for you. At an in person gym, you will get individualized attention.
One reason to go to fitness classes (whether virtual or in person) as compared to just working out on your own is having an instructor. The instructor programs the workout for you and is there to motivate you and to provide corrections and modifications. Virtual fitness classes have an instructor, just like in-person workout classes do, but you don’t always get the full benefit of having an instructor unless you are working out in person.
This is because in many cases in virtual fitness classes you can see the instructor but the instructor can’t see you. For example, Peloton classes can have thousands of people, so there is no way for an instructor to provide any individualized help to each person. Instructors can’t modify the workout for you nor can they give you tips of technique. They can motivate the group generically but they can’t give you specifically any encouragement. There are some virtual fitness classes where the instructor can see the participants (e.g., Zoom workouts), but it is still more difficult for the instructor to give individualized help, modifications, or encouragement over the Internet versus in-person. Your mileage may vary but in my experience instructor input during remote workouts feels, well, remote. It doesn’t feel personal, and I don’t feel as connected.
You may be thinking that you don’t care about individualized help and encouragement from an instructor, but note that this help sometimes comes in the form of technique corrections necessary to prevent injury. We have a friend who tore both her rotator cuffs as a result of strength training with improper technique. She’s so strong that she could muscle up really heavy weights even without using proper technique. She wishes someone was there to correct her technique!
4. Both at-home fitness and group fitness studio memberships can be expensive. The cost of at-home fitness equipment that comes with virtual workouts – Peloton, The Mirror, Tonal, Hydrow, etc. – is four figures for the equipment plus a monthly subscription for the fitness classes (anywhere from ~$50/month to ~$150/month). A good fitness studio membership is usually over $100/month.
When people talk about at-home fitness classes, they are usually talking about one of two things. The first is the at-home fitness equipment that comes with fitness classes – the most well-known of these is Peloton, but there are many others including The Mirror, Tonal, Hydrow, etc. At-home fitness equipment and the related ongoing subscription fees are very expensive. A Peloton bike or treadmill will run you $1500-$4000 and the subscription to actually use your hunk of metal runs $40/month forever.
The other type of at-home fitness people talk about is virtual fitness classes over Zoom, Instagram, or another live-streaming platform. The instructor livestreams a fitness class to everyone who joined the stream. Sometimes you can see the other participants. The price of these virtual fitness classes ranges – we’ve seen everything from free (during the pandemic) to $25/class. This option will probably be cheaper than at-home fitness equipment or a fitness studio membership, but it comes with drawbacks. If you want to have a class-like experience, you must adhere to the schedule of the instructor, so you won’t have the flexibility afforded by other at-home fitness options. Also, these classes tend to be limited to mostly bodyweight exercises since there is typically no requirement to have any special equipment. Bodyweight exercise is pretty limiting. It is not bad as a fill-in workout from time to time when you are really busy, but it’s not usually ideal for your main long-term exercise regimen.
An unlimited group fitness studio membership typically runs over $100/month (in cities like New York City and San Francisco, expect more like $200+/month). You can attend as many classes as you want with an unlimited membership. Generally classes are up to 20-30 students at max, and the instructor gets around to help each one out individually. If you attend a lot of workout classes, you can bring the cost per class down a lot. My co-founder and wife, Gladys, goes to one to two fitness classes a day! Each class costs her only a few dollars. If you don’t want to attend that often, many fitness studios offer 4x/month and 8x/month memberships which are cheaper than buying class packs.
From a financial perspective, both fitness at home and fitness studio memberships can be expensive. The one difference to note is that, unlike with Peloton and other at-home fitness companies, a fitness studio membership doesn’t require you to buy a $1500+ piece of fitness equipment. The trouble with this is, if you decide that Peloton isn’t for you, you now have an expensive hunk of metal – but, hey, at least you have a very nice rack to dry your clothes. You may be able to return it if it is within the specified return period applicable for that at home fitness company. In contrast, if you decide you don’t like the workouts at a group fitness studio, you can typically cancel with a short period of notice. For example, at WTF Boxing, all memberships are month-to-month and can be canceled with 30 days’ notice. There is no chance of losing $1,000+.