Home Dumbbells Vs Gym Membership: 16 Steps To Help You Decide Which Is Better!

home dumbbells vs gym membership

Are you looking to build muscle, tone up, or generally improve your physique? Many people get stuck between choosing home workouts or joining the gym. If this sounds like you, then keep reading. Because today I’ll be helping you choose between home dumbbells vs a gym membership and what’s better for YOU!

I’ve spent the last 10 years cycling between garage workouts and going to the gym. And I know how difficult the choice can be.

So without further adieu, let’s jump right in!

Be sure to use my 16-step checklist to help you make a definitive decision! All questions are explored in the article to help you answer them. The full checklist can be found at the end.

1) Does Gym Intimidation Impact Your Training?

Gym intimidation describes the self-conscious feeling which prevents people from going to the gym.

And it’s a real thing!

In fact, 48% of Americans get gym intimidation to some degree.

48% of Americans experience gym intimidation

And if you’ve experienced it, you’ll know how much it can stop you from reaching your fitness goals.

Different people experience gym intimidation differently.

For beginners, gym fear may stem from being self-conscious with low fitness levels, body shape, or trying a new activity.

But even experienced gym-goers may get gym fear when they try new exercises, or if they like to work out in unconventional ways (grunting, going topless, etc).

8 Ways To Overcome Gym Anxiety "Fear Of The Gym Crowd"

An expensive gym membership with access to all the latest equipment is worthless if you’re too scared to use it!

And if that’s the case, then home dumbbells may be just what you need to get your butt into gear.

Home workouts will afford you the luxury of learning new exercises at your own pace, without feeling judged.

This is something many people would benefit from.

So when you’re deciding between home dumbbells vs a gym membership, you should assess which method you’ll actually capitalize from the most.

If you’re a beginner, you may also be interested in my complete guide to starting the gym as a skinny guy!

2) Cost Of Home Dumbbells Vs Gym Membership.

When you’re trying to decide between home dumbbells vs a gym membership, money is a big factor.

You should weigh out the long-term AND short-term costs of both.

Unsure where to start?

First, here is how much a pair of adjustable dumbbells will typically cost:

Premium Adjustable Dumbbells

  • Bowflex SelecTech 90lb- $799 / £750.
  • Bowflex SelectTech 50lb- $399 / £380.
  • Powerblock Elite series- $329-627 / 734-£1000 (depending on weight).

Budget Adjustable Dumbbells

  • Ativafit- $219-571 (depending on weight).
  • Flybird- $219-339 (depending on weight).
  • Muscle Squad- £150-450 (depending on weight).
  • Braingain 90lb- £399.

You can pick up a pair of adjustable dumbbells for around $400/£400. And this one-time payment will last you many years.

There’s also gonna be a big difference between a budget brand a premium brand (Bowflex or Powerblock).

You should also bear in mind these are prices for selectorized adjustable dumbbells.

They are the most expensive types of dumbbells, with selector mechanisms allowing for effortless weight changes.

But I honestly feel that selectorized dumbbells are the best type of dumbbells (check out my other post to find out why).

If money is tight, then spin-lock dumbbells are a low-cost but still effective alternative.

The main downside to spin-locks is their limited weight capacity (selectorized adjustable dumbbells are also limited but not as much as spin-locks).

Now compare this with gym membership costs:

ExpenseHome DumbbellsGym Membership
Initial Cost$400 / £400$68 / £50 (with sign-up fees)
Annual Renewal$0 / £0$58 / £40
Annual Travel (approx.)$0 / £0$905 / £624
Year total$400 / £400 (one time)$1611 / £1114 (recurring)

This table has been compiled from the average USA gym fees and the average UK gym fees.

I’ve also assumed an average of 3 workouts per week, each commute being around 10 miles (both ways), and fuel costs at $0.58 per mile / £0.40 per mile.

Obviously, these are estimations.

And the real costs will depend on membership type, fuel price, and how much you enjoy driving near the red line…

But one thing’s for sure- dumbbells are a good investment and much cheaper than gym membership in the long run!

You can take a look at my other article to find out how much you should pay for dumbbells.

3) Time Requirements For Home Dumbbells Vs Gym Workout.

Would you benefit from saving around 5 days out of every year?

If so, then home dumbbell workouts could help you do just that.

Let me break it down for you.

home dumbbell workouts can save you time

Each workout requires a commute and invariably having to wait for equipment to become free.

Let’s assume that each commute takes around 30 minutes (round-trip).

And from my personal gym experience, you’ll also spend around 15-30 minutes per workout waiting for equipment.

Of course, this depends on whether you go during peak or off-peak hours, and how efficient you are at choosing exercises with available equipment.

But the weight benches (often used with dumbbells) are often frustratingly busy…..

If you do 3 workouts per week, that equals 2 to 3 hours per week wasted on travel and waiting time.

And that works out to be 117 to 156 hours every year!

home dumbbells vs gym membership advantages

Time is a big factor when deciding choosing between home dumbbells vs a gym membership.

If time isn’t a concern, then the gym will give you access to much more equipment (more on that later).

But if you’re a busy person who would benefit from quick and efficient workouts, then home dumbbells may be better for you.

4) Space Requirements For Home Dumbbells Vs Gym.

If you’re debating between home dumbbells vs a gym membership, you’ll need to factor in space.

More specifically- do you have enough home space for dumbbells?

If you’re working out at a commercial gym, then home space isn’t going to be an issue.

But if you decide to buy home dumbbells you need to consider the space required to store and use dumbbells:

Dumbbell TypeStorage FootprintWorkout Space
Selectorized adjustable2 square foot25 square foot
Spin-lock adjustable2 square foot36 square foot
Fixed-weight dumbbell set12 square foot37 square foot
Foldable Weight Bench+ 1 square foot+ 5 square foot

Selectorized adjustable dumbbells require the least amount of storage and usage space.

That’s because they are compact, and all the poundages are housed within a single unit.

Similarly, spin-lock dumbbells also require low storage and usage space. But a bit more than selectorized dumbbells since you need to factor in all the different weight plates.

Fixed-weight dumbbell sets require the most space since each weight comes from an individual dumbbell. And you’ll want a complete range of weights to make your training worthwhile.

Also, you shouldn’t forget about a weight bench. These will allow you to get the most from your dumbbells, and they also require space to store and use.

You can look at my other article for the best dumbbell weight benches you can buy!

home dumbbells require space to store and use

If you’ve got 25+ sqf of space, then dumbbells make a great long-term investment.

But if you live in a compact home, then a gym membership can be a great way to train without further clutter.

Also, don’t forget about WHERE you’ll store your dumbbells.

The last thing you want is for the kids to start messing around with them or the dog to use it as a chew toy…

5) Will Dumbbells Help You Reach Your Training Goal?

Different people have different training goals.

You may be training to:

  • Build muscle.
  • Burn fat.
  • Tone-up.
  • Improve cardiovascular fitness.
  • Increase endurance.

Regardless, you should consider if home dumbbells will help you reach your goals.

Dumbbells are generally very versatile and can be used to achieve all the goals above.

One of the most popular training goals is to build muscle and tone the body.

Dumbbells can be used to build and tone muscle by lifting in the 8 to 12 rep range. This involves lifting 8 to 12 reps per set with a weight that challenges and fatigues the target muscle for that particular exercise.

30 Minute Full Body Dumbbell Workout NO REPEAT (Advanced)

Can you get BIG by using just dumbbells?


It really depends on your natural body size (getting “big” is subjective after all) and how heavy your dumbbells are.

If your goal is to get a big physique, you may want to consider going to the gym instead.

There, you’ll have access to the heavy poundages required to build big muscle.

Dumbbells can also be used for cardio in the form of HIIT weight training.

But if you prefer to do functional cardio (bikes, treadmills, rowing machines, etc), then the gym would be the better alternative.

Ultimately, dumbbells can be used to achieve most fitness goals.

But if you have specialized goals in mind, then gym membership will be the better option for you.

This brings me to my next point…

6) Are You Bodybuilding Or Powerlifting?

Bodybuilding and powerlifting are both very specialized goals.

Bodybuilding involves building your muscles as big as they will physically go.

If this is something you’re aiming to achieve, then you’ll want to consider gym membership.

That’s because bodybuilders need to perform a variety of exercises at heavy poundages to stimulate hypertrophy (muscle growth).

Bodybuilding is best achieved with a combination of free weights (barbells/dumbbells) and cable machines.

Without a variety of equipment at heavy poundages, bodybuilders simply wouldn’t achieve the degree of muscle stimulation required to get as big as they do.

Of course, you could always get these bits of equipment for a home gym. But this would cost upwards of 2 to 10,000+ dollars…

home dumbbells are not suitable for bodybuilding or powerlifting

Powerlifting involves training for maximum power and strength.

Just like bodybuilders, powerlifters also require heavy poundages. Furthermore, competitive powerlifting routines are always done with barbells and a rack.

So as you can see, your goals should influence your decision between home dumbbells vs a gym membership.

If you’re set on becoming the next Schwarzenegger or Worlds Strongest Man, then a gym will be more favorable to reaching your goal.

Otherwise, home dumbbells are great!

Check out my other article for 9 of the heaviest adjustable dumbbells you can get!

7) Are You 100% Committed To Working Out?

Another important factor to consider when deciding between home dumbbells vs a gym membership is your current commitment level.

This is probably one of THE biggest factors to consider.

Allow me to explain.

Home DumbbellsGym Membership
Short-Term CostHighLow
Long-Term CostLowHigh
Commitment ThresholdHighLow

Gym membership has a low commitment threshold.

This means you can try it for a few months for not much money, and quit anytime you like.

In comparison, home dumbbells have a high commitment threshold.

If you purchase a pair of dumbbells, you’ll be a few hundred dollars out of pocket. And if you don’t use them, then tough shit.

That being said, you can always sell them off…

should you buy dumbbells?

My point is that dumbbells are an expensive investment if you aren’t 100% committed to using them.

So if you’re purchasing decision is based on New Years’ or Thanksgiving spontaneity, then maybe try the gym first and see if you enjoy it.

But if you are 100% committed to training, then dumbbells will be much cheaper in the long-term compared to a gym membership.

8) Atmosphere Differences Between Home Dumbbells Vs Gym.

Great, so you’re 100% committed to training.

Now you should consider what you’ll enjoy more- home workouts or gym sessions?

The atmosphere differences between the two are like chalk and cheese.

atmosphere difference between home and commerical gym

Generally speaking, home gyms are a haven for introverts whilst commercial gyms are a paradise for extroverts.

But that’s not always the case so you need to make your own decision.

Gyms are great for people who:

  • Motivated seeing others striving for similar goals. It’s awesome being around like-minded people.
  • Love the clanging of weight plates. Like an aggressive metronome spurring you on.
  • Find it a haven from distractions. The gym is where you enter “The Zone” and release yourself from home distractions (like the over-clingy dog or a hyperactive 6 year old).

Home dumbbells are great for people who:

  • Get gym intimidation. Workout in the comfort of your own home.
  • Demotivated by seeing highly-conditioned peers. Achieve your goals at your own pace without comparing yourself to others.
  • Become easily distracted with chit chat. No social butterfly’s, glistening six-packs, and fitness chicks to distract you.

As you can see, there are benefits to both working out at home and at the gym.

It’s really a double-edged sword (both can be equally good or bad), depending on your personality type.

But if you choose the best route for you, then you’ll more likely stick with your training and achieve your goals!

Go to my other post to find out if a home gym will be good or bad for you!

9) Do you Have Irregular Workout Times?

Do you live a hectic lifestyle, have irregular work hours, or have other commitments that prevent you from following a consistent training program?

If so, then a home workout is the perfect remedy.

When you have access to dumbbells at home, you can work out whenever you like.

home gyms are great for people who workout late nights or early mornings

Whether it be 6AM or 12AM, you’ll be able to squeeze in a workout that fits YOUR schedule.

Additionally, many gyms (and public transport) are closed during the holidays. Just another thing to consider.

Having your own home gym equipment will also mean you can avoid the madness of peak periods at the gym.

These conveniences can be important for many people when choosing between home dumbbells vs a gym membership.

10) Do You Hate Queuing For Shared Equipment?

Have you ever gone to a gym during peak hours?

If so you’ll know how bloody frustrating an experience it can be.

It’s tight, sweaty, and full of people hogging all the equipment.

“Why the hell am I paying for monthly membership for equipment I can’t even use?!”

Anyone who’s ever been to a busy gym.

Here are the main advantages of getting home dumbbells over gym membership:

  • No waiting for equipment. Home dumbbells are used by you and you only.
  • Available 24/7. Workout whenever you like.
  • Superset without people stealing your equipment. Do supersets and giant sets without fear of someone taking your equipment between sets.
  • Faster workouts. No waiting means you can get more done in less time.
  • Train with privacy. Work out topless and grunt to your hearts desire.
  • F@ck gym etiquette. Your gym, your rules! You don’t have to be annoyed at people not re-racking the weights or the sweat trail from left by the overweight dude trying to get in shape.

Now compare this with the disadvantages of getting home dumbbells over gym membership:

  • High initial lump sum. Expect to pay $300-400+ for a good set of dumbbells that will last.
  • Requires space to store and use. You’ll need around 25 square foot to safely workout.
  • Limited equipment. You only have access to your dumbbells.

Note: dumbbell advantages also equal gym membership disadvantages, and vice versa.

Generally speaking, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages when it comes to buying home gym equipment.

But as always, you should weigh up the pros and cons for your personal situation.

Read my other article for 15 things to look for when buying an adjustable dumbbell.

11) Are Gym Luxuries And Amenities Important?

Depending on your membership type, a gym can offer more than just a weight room.

Many premium fitness centers also offer facilities such as steam rooms, pool, massage therapists.

Whether or not you need these is entirely your choice.

consider luxury amenities and services when deciding between home dumbbells vs gym membership

But more relevant to working out are the classes and personal trainers available at a gym.

These can be extremely beneficial for certain types of beginners and these services aren’t available in home gyms.

Again, it’s your decision.

If you value these kinds of services, then it may be cheaper to get a package with your gym membership.

Otherwise, stick to your home workouts!

Either way, it’s definitely something to consider when deciding between home dumbbells vs a gym membership.

12) Will You Benefit From Spotters At The Gym?

A spotter is someone who facilitates you as you lift a weight.

This commonly involves the person hovering their hands over you as you lift, ready to catch or help you lift the weight back up when you approach failure.

There are 3 main reasons for using a spotter:

  • It’s safer to lift heavy weights. Someone will catch you (or the bar!) when you fall.
  • Easier to beat personal bests. You’ll be able to push yourself to your maximum physical capacity.
  • More motivating when someone is pushing you. Spotters often push you with verbal encouragement (whether you like it or not!).
The Best Way to Spot Dumbbells Up for the Bench Press

Dumbbell training is generally safe since they allow for your arms to move freely and they’re also lighter than barbells.

But it’s sometimes beneficial to ask a stranger to spot you at the gym on your heavy days (most people will happily assist you).

You’ll also find that people will often give you pointers if you’re a newbie practicing unsafe lifting methods.

They’re not trying to be an a$$ hole. They just don’t want you to injure yourself (and them!).

Ultimately, spotters are not necessary for most people. But they can come in handy if you want the best results.

Just another thing to consider when deciding between home dumbbells vs a gym membership.

Check out my dumbbell workout to get ripped!

13) Will You Benefit From Gym Machines?

One of the big elephants in the room when deciding whether to buy home gym equipment or gym membership:

Will you benefit from the weight machines?

These are all the contraptions you see in most gyms.

Each one is a system of pulleys and handles that facilitate various pushing/pulling exercises.

Leg extension, lat pull-down, cable machines, etc are all common examples.

Here are the pro’s and cons of using free weights vs machines:

Weight Machine AdvantagesWeight Machine Disadvantages
Safer and more enjoyable for beginners.Most gyms have more variety than is needed.
Often have guidance labels.Many redundant machines train the same muscle.
Easier to learn good form and technique.Not essential to achieving most training goals.
Great for isolating specific muscles.Don’t replicate daily functional movements.
Quick weight changes for drop/pyramid sets.Don’t work muscles with a high intensity
Pros and cons of using free weights vs machines (opposite applies for free weights)

Generally speaking, weight machines are great for absolute beginners since the movements are guided along a single path of motion.

They can also be great for experienced lifters since the quick weight changes allow for efficient drop and pyramid sets.

dumbbells vs weight machines advantages

So is it better to use dumbbells or weight machines?

Dumbbells and weight machines are both effective for most training goals. But dumbbells can provide better training results because they are unguided movements, engage the stabilizer muscles, and are generally harder to perform. This makes dumbbell workouts more effective than machines.

Ultimately, gym machines are unessential. It’s much better to focus on dumbbells.

But machines CAN give you a confidence boost as a complete lifting newbie!

14) Dumbbells Aren’t The Only Type Of Free Weights!

What are free weights?

Free weights describe any weight which you can pick up and move freely in all directions.

The most popular are dumbbells, kettlebells, and barbells. These can all be used for weight training movements to build muscle, tone, and increase muscle endurance.

Here’s how dumbbells vs kettlebells vs barbells compare to each other:

Weight Training FactorBestOkBad
Maximum weightBarbellDumbbell & Kettlebell
Weight incrementsBarbellDumbbellKettlebell
Range of motionDumbbellKettlebellBarbell
Learning curveDumbbellKettlebellBarbell
Workout speedKettlebellDumbbellBarbell

All three types of free weight have their own advantages and disadvantages.

Barbells are great for lifting heavy and building maximum muscle. However, they take up a lot of space and cost more.

Kettlebells are versatile and durable. They’re often used for conditioning and toning. But they have large weight increments (the difference between 2 kettlebells in a set may be 20+ pounds). This makes them unsuitable for building muscle.

Dumbbells are generally considered the best all-rounders in terms of price, functionality, and ease of use.

If you’re happy to use just dumbbells in your home workouts, then there’s nothing wrong with that.

But if you feel like you would benefit from an assortment of free weight types, then gym membership may be better for you.

Of course, you could always supplement your home dumbbells with a barbell and kettlebells.

This would complete a fully functioning home gym.

But it would also cost $2-5000 and take up considerable space!

Check out my other article to find out what kg dumbbells you should get!

15) Home Dumbbells Vs Gym: Which Will Bring Better Results?

Taking all the above points into consideration, is a home workout as effective as the gym?

Home workouts can be just as effective as gym workouts. If the appropriate equipment is available in a home environment, a home workout can be used to reach most training goals including fat burning, muscle building, and toning. Therefore a decision should be made based on personal preference.

Most people thrive in a home gym environment, and never go back to a commercial gym.

But make sure your decision matches your personality type.

If you are the “I’ll do it tomorrow type” then the convenience of a home gym may give you excuses to postpone workouts….

16) Will Home Dumbbells Be Worth The Money?

So far I’ve given you an objective overview of the pros and cons of home dumbbells vs a gym membership.

Now let me ask you:

Do YOU think home dumbbells will be worth the money?

Go with your gut instinct and make a snap decision….

If you answered “YES”, then I’ve got good news- you’re not alone.

I polled various social media communities to find out how they feel.

Here are the results:

poll results for should you get a home gym?
should you buy adjustable dumbbells?
should you buy dumbbells or gym membership?

Go to my other article to find out why adjustable dumbbells are worth the money!

Home Dumbbells Vs Gym Decision Checklist: Should I Buy Dumbbells For Home Use?

Now here’s the 16-point checklist to help you decide whether or not to buy dumbbells for home use.

Simply fill in the questionnaire.

If the majority of your answers are “Yes” then dumbbells will be a good investment for you.

If most of your answers are “No” then you should consider either gym membership or getting another type of free weight.

home dumbbells vs gym membership checklist

Recommended Dumbbells

I use and recommend the Powerblock Elites.

Having researched over 2 dozen different dumbbell models, I found these to be the most affordable in the premium range.

But they are also packed with enough features for beginners to advanced lifters alike.

The base unit weighs 50lbs. But they can be upgraded up to 90lbs with the add-on kits (whenever you wish).

They also feature small 2.5lb-5lb increments, making them great for progressive overload.

These are some of the most comfortable dumbbells I’ve tested. The square shape takes a couple of weeks to get used to, but they are compact and provide a great lifting experience.

It’s made from heavy-duty powder-coated steel with minimal plastic components. They’ve lasted me for 3 years now, with no signs of degradation.

The adjustment mechanism is quick and slick, and this makes for faster workouts.

They also come with a 5-year warranty (the longest on the market).


Today I’ve compared the benefits and drawbacks between home dumbbells vs a gym membership.

For most people, home dumbbells are a great investment for your health and fitness. They’re extremely versatile and can be used to achieve many training goals.

But they’re not for everyone.

So go through my 16 point checklist to decide whether you should get dumbbells, gym membership, or another type of free weight!

Will you be buying home dumbbells or joining the gym?

Feel free to send me a message if you have any questions! You can find my details on the “contact us” page.

You may also be interested in the downloadable Kalibre Blueprint PDF which details exactly how I gained 40lbs of lean muscle (it’s 100% free!). It details the exact exercises and nutrition (with printable worksheets) I used to go from skinny to ripped!

Thanks for reading guys!

Peace Out,


(Biochemistry BSc, Biomedical Sciences MSc, Ex-Skinny Guy)


I'm Kal (B.S, M.S)- a health & fitness writer and owner of Kalibre Fitness. I love to nerd out on weight training and nutrition. My primary interests are in muscle hypertrophy mechanisms and strength development. You can connect with me in the "Contact Us" section below!

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