Does It Matter Where You Train?

By Michael Krueger

If you are looking for a different way or a different place to work out, you have a lot of options. Perhaps you want to switch things up and train at a commercial club, at home, or at the station. Maybe you don’t have any preference at all, and you just want to do something different.

As for changing how you exercise, it might depend a lot on where you decide to work out, since different environments offer different opportunities. It will also depend on your goals, experience, location, and available time. If you’re thinking about training at home, do you own exercise equipment now? If not, are you willing to invest some cash to buy equipment? If it’s a gym you’re looking for, is there one convenient to your home or work, and does it have what you’re looking for?

With so many questions and so many possible answers, what do you do? Let’s take a look.


For many people, the most time-efficient place to train is at home. There isn’t any travel time, no worries about a shower or forgetting anything you might need. You don’t have to wait for equipment or wonder if the equipment is clean and in good repair. You can train on your own schedule and at your own pace. On the down side, you are at home and that means distractions, lack of equipment, and the loneliness of solo training.

On the psychological front, at home training means having to motivate yourself without the help of anyone else. There are always undone chores staring you in the face and perhaps children and pets making it difficult to stay on task. Working out at home means there is no one to spot for you or cheer you on. I can attest that the washing machine and water heater don’t care if I get a personal best or not or if I don’t do any training at all.

A lack of dedicated space can also prove to be a problem. If you need to put away all your equipment after every training session, you may find it difficult to get it back out the next time you are scheduled to train. Moving your spouse’s or kids’ stuff before you begin can seem like a huge annoyance and can put you off for your entire workout. 

The biggest logistical issues for at home-trainers are a lack of equipment and a lack of space to put the equipment you do have. Machines are expensive single-use items that take up a lot of space. There are also maintenance concerns with cable and cam operated apparatuses. A cage or rack is a good thing to have when you train alone, but they are big unmovable chunks of steel. They are also attractive places for the nonexercisers in your family to hang miscellaneous clothing and coats. It’s annoying to have to relocate stuff before you can begin lifting.

Then there are benches, bars and plates, dumb-bells, bands, balls, mats, and any number of other things that you’ll probably buy to “improve” your home training experience.  It’s easy to spend a lot of cash on a lot of little odd things that you think you might need. So, while training at home can be a great thing, you need to really take a hard look at your available space; equipment needs; and, perhaps most importantly, your personality.

If the home training route isn’t for you, then perhaps it’s off to a commercial gym. There are many different types of gyms out there. On one end, you may choose a flashy glass and chrome “fitness center” or, on the other extreme, a dark and dingy “muscle-head” storefront. Fortunately, there are other choices in between, but it will take some effort on your part to find one that matches your needs.

Most of these places will generally give you a tour (and perhaps a free pass) along with all the info you need regarding hours of operation and costs. When you check them out, be sure you go at the time you plan on training. Look at the people and how they interact. Is it crazy busy and is there enough of the equipment you will need available, or will you have to wait or adjust your routine? Check out the locker rooms–are they secure, and are they clean? Do the other members put the plates and bars away? Are there wipes for use on the equipment, and do people use them?

There are a lot of things to consider before you decide on one. If you settle for less than you want, you won’t use it, which would be a shame. So do your homework.

Lastly, you may have a gym at your station. If so, you may have the best of both worlds–or maybe not. It’s convenient and (I hope) reasonably well appointed. I’ve seen a fair number of firehouse gyms, and they do vary quite a bit. Some are dedicated spaces, while others are also storage areas. Some have strictly machines, while others have literally a ton of free weights. The equipment often has no sense of continuity, meaning machines are of various brands and quality. This can make it difficult to switch between them because they work slightly differently and usually the resistance settings don’t match.

Often, these station gyms were designed and outfitted by the people who had the most interest in exercise and reflect their taste in training. This isn’t really a problem except that their taste may not be your taste. If they are into Cross-Fit or strongman training, the choices of equipment might not suit your needs. Even so, you can certainly make do with what is there so long as it has the basics and you’re flexible.

A big thing about station gyms is that training while on duty is an attractive option. Getting paid while you work out is nice. I have, in fact, trained firefighters during their shifts in on-site gyms and it worked OK. One issue is that you may (or should I say WILL) get interrupted. Another thing to consider is how intense you intend to train. If you push so hard that you are toast by the end of your workout, you are probably not going to be fully recovered, at least for an hour or two. That is obviously not an ideal situation to be in when you get a call. So, if you decide to train at the station, you should throttle back your on-duty training and push to the max only when you are off duty. I really believe that would be the only responsible way to train in that situation.

A popular option now is a 24-hour fitness place. You certainly can’t beat the available hours, and they are popping up everywhere, so one of them is probably convenient for you. They generally are a bit skewed toward aerobic training, and machines certainly are much more popular for strength training than free weights are. They are usually clean and well-lit and offer showers and such. If you find one that meets your needs, they are a good choice. They are usually quite affordable as well.

So, Does It Matter?

I guess the real question is, “How much does it matter?” Because, yes, it does matter. If you train in a grubby strongman gym because it’s just around the corner from your apartment but you like everything clean and neat, you probably won’t accomplish as much as you could simply because you aren’t comfortable there. If you go to a gym where grunting, chalk, and sleeveless sweatshirts aren’t allowed, you will feel inhibited and unhappy. It also doesn’t matter that your spouse really likes the classes she attends there and that the smoothie bar is just fantastic; it won’t work for you.

Finding the ideal place to train can take a bit of trial and error. This exploration is just another cog in the wheel of finding what works best for you. Remember that what works today may not be so great in six months or a year, so flexibility and a willingness to change are paramount.

So, next time you pass a gym, stop in and look around…

…it just might change your life.

Michael Krueger
 is an NSCA-certified personal trainer. He got his start in fitness training while serving in the United States Coast Guard. He works with firefighters and others in and around Madison, Wisconsin. He is available to fire departments, civic organizations, and athletic teams for training, consulting, and speaking engagements. He has published numerous articles on fitness, health, and the mind-body connection and was a featured speaker at the IAFC’s FRI 2009 Health Day in Dallas, Texas. E-mail him at MKPTLLC@gmail.

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