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Thinking about creating a home gym? Here's what you need to know about staying put to stay fit

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Nancy and Dave Herbert’s gym in their newly built home opens up to a loggia where they can continue their workout in and around the pool.
Nancy and Dave Herbert’s gym in their newly built home opens up to a loggia where they can continue their workout in and around the pool.

When active empty nesters Dave and Nancy Herbert built their forever home in Vero Beach in 2020, creating a space for exercise was among their priorities. “Fitness is very important to us,” says Dave. “Nancy works out every day,” dividing her time between classes at The Moorings and working out at home. “I start my day right here four to five times per week. When you have a home gym, there are no excuses.”

Like others relocating from the North, the Herberts had a gym in the basement of their Darien, Connecticut home. Here, they opted for a bright space in the southern wing of their newly built residence, opening to a covered loggia—with outdoor seating, TV, and fireplace—just steps away from an outdoor shower and pool. “It still feels like we’re getting out of the house,” chuckles Dave. “We have to cross the yard to get there.”

Outfitted with a Peloton, dumbbells, bench, mirror, assorted training equipment, and adequate space for stretching and mobility exercises, the Herberts’ home gym doubles as an extra guest room with a cleverly concealed Murphy bed. Refrigerated drawers are stocked with bottles of water, and a smart TV mounted on the wall offers easy access to a multitude of fitness programs. “We tap into a lot of streaming content on the internet,” says Dave, “and Nancy regularly does Zoom classes with our daughter in Texas, who is a certified instructor.”

The Herberts’ home gym equipment connects them with online fitness programs
The Herberts’ home gym equipment connects them with online fitness programs.

With the gym opening to the covered loggia and expansive courtyard, it’s easy for the Herberts to continue their workouts in the fresh air. Nancy might step outside to jump rope, while Dave does lunges around the pool or swims laps. “We both play pickleball, golf, hike, and run, so our home workouts keep us in shape for all that and more,” explains Dave. “It’s handy and convenient.”

Convenience is also key for Dr. Stuart Kinsella, an orthopedic surgeon, and his wife, Priscilla, a health care data and analytics channel partner. With busy work schedules and the added responsibility of training a new puppy, the fit young couple relished the opportunity to convert a little girl’s bedroom into a well-used gym when they purchased their Seagrove home in 2020.

After painting the bubblegum-pink bedroom a light shade of green and swapping wall-to-wall carpeting for wood laminate flooring, the Kinsellas installed a mirror, mats, and a dehumidifier. To supplement the variety of small equipment they brought from their Boston apartment, they added a Peloton, a treadmill, and a lat pull-down machine.

Stuart and Priscilla Kinsella save time in their packed days by working out regularly in their home gym
Stuart and Priscilla Kinsella save time in their packed days by working out regularly in their home gym.

“With Stu being so busy, it’s great that he can come home after a long day, finish up his work, and then work out,” says Priscilla. “He starts his workout anywhere between 8 and 10 p.m. It’s the one thing he does for himself every day.”

“If I had to travel to a gym and back, I’d never see Priscilla,” adds Stu, who alternates running for an hour at a time with weight training and cycling on the Peloton. “Since getting the treadmill, I’m running faster than I ever have.”

“I wake up around 5:30 a.m. and work out before Stu’s up, so that we can have breakfast together before he goes to work,” says Priscilla, who grew up playing soccer and other sports. She is a certified barre instructor who has also taught HIIT (high-intensity interval training) classes, and her typical workout involves 30 minutes of Peloton or cardio and 30 minutes of weight training. She balances at-home workouts with in-person yoga classes at local studios.

Stuart and Priscilla Kinsella added new workout equipment to their gym routine when they moved to their Seagrove home in 2020
Stuart and Priscilla Kinsella added new workout equipment to their gym routine when they moved to their Seagrove home in 2020.

Crediting the physical and mental benefits of their regular workouts, Priscilla says, “It’s a big passion for both of us. Even if you have an at-home gym, you can still connect with others. It was such a blessing to work out virtually with friends from Boston via Zoom during COVID. Every day, we held each other accountable.”

During and following the pandemic, increasing numbers of homeowners found creative solutions for staying fit while staying put in their homes. A November 2020 survey by ClubIntel of 2,000 health/fitness facility members over the age of 18 from 20 major U.S. cities found that 41 percent of respondents had not returned to a fitness facility and were working out on their own. A 2020 porch.com survey of 1,083 U.S. homeowners aged 18 and above revealed that 16 percent either already added or were planning to add a home gym. Houzz, an online home renovation platform, reported a 156 percent increase in searches for home gyms since the onset of the pandemic.

From March to October 2020, health and fitness equipment revenue more than doubled, to $2.3 billion, according to retail research firm NPD Group. Sales of treadmills climbed 135 percent, while purchases of stationary bikes nearly tripled. Increasing numbers of Americans are also downloading health and fitness apps, streaming exercise classes on their laptops and smart TVs, and tracking health metrics on wearable devices.

Lori Long is a personal trainer and lifestyle coach
Lori Long is a personal trainer and lifestyle coach.

Even in a post-pandemic world, there is a variety of reasons gyms are establishing permanent residence in today’s homes, says Lori Long, a personal trainer and lifestyle coach who owns Grow Strong Fitness on Old Dixie Highway. “Aside from health concerns, some people are wary of using the big equipment in a gym. They might be uncomfortable with the gym’s babysitting services, or the gym’s hours aren’t convenient. Walking down the hall to a home gym saves time and money for many people and is more convenient than dragging a change of clothes and makeup to an off-site gym before work.”

Long, who has helped many clients set up gyms in their homes, suggests taking several factors into consideration when creating a home workout area: budget, space, and frequency/intensity of your workouts. Those factors, she says, will determine what type of equipment you should purchase and, ultimately, how successful your commitment to at-home workouts will be.

Some people assume they can set up a gym in their screened porch or garage. Both of those options have serious down-sides, says Long. “I’ve had a treadmill and a StairMaster turn to rust under a screened porch; and working out on the porch or in an uncooled garage can be dangerous in the heat.”

Lori Long encourages home gyms to help with regular workouts, but to also save time and money
Lori Long encourages home gyms to help with regular workouts, but to also save time and money.

Long and other fitness experts advise creating a workout space with plenty of natural light, good ventilation (with a ceiling or oscillating fan), and proper flooring to withstand running, jumping, squatting, and heavy equipment. A mirror is useful to maintain proper form, and a weight bench offers a sturdy and stable base for performing a variety of exercises. “Music is a great motivator in a gym, and smart TVs, iPhones, and iPads are phenomenal for streaming classes for every fitness level,” observes Long.

When it comes to home gym equipment, Long uses and recommends the Total Gym, which she calls “an amazing piece of engineering, combining strength and cardio training for all fitness levels, that can be easily folded up and stored.” She also favors the Bosu Sport Balance Trainer and an adjustable TRX-brand-type suspension system that can be mounted on a door or wall.”

A stationary trampoline, she adds, is an affordable piece of equipment that is great for bone building, muscle strengthening, and balance. A closet pole could be mounted on the wall, not only for barre exercises, but also to wrap bands around.

Water-based training, like the hydrobike John Tremaine uses, is a good workout for improved flexibility and aerobic exercise
Water-based training, like the hydrobike John Tremaine uses, is a good workout for improved flexibility and aerobic exercise.

“You don’t need a lot of free weights,” Long points out. “Resistance tubing and loop bands are just as good. Instead of having a whole stack of dumbbells, try a medicine ball. I have many clients in their 70s using those on a Bosu.”

If budget permits, a Peloton, treadmill, or rowing machine is a good choice for cardio training. For those with a backyard pool, don’t overlook the benefits of water-based exercise for improving flexibility, range of motion, strength, balance, and aerobic capacity.

Long advises people to consult their doctors before beginning an exercise program. She also suggests having a personal trainer come to your home to discuss your goals, design a routine, and get you off to a good start.

“A home gym is one of the best investments you can make toward a healthy lifestyle,” says Long. “You’ll have it forever, and your whole family can enjoy it together.”

The Ultimate Home Gym Checklist

  • Natural light
  • Non-skid flooring
  • Good ventilation
  • Mirror
  • Power sources
  • Sound system
  • Smart TV
  • Hydration station
  • Dumbbells
  • Yogamat
  • Weight bench
  • Bosu Sport Balance Trainer
  • Resistance bands
  • Stability ball
  • Medicine ball
  • TRX-type suspension system
  • Multi-station workout unit (with lat pull-down, leg extension/curl, and pec/fly stations)
  • Total Gym
  • Treadmill
  • Stationary bike
  • Rowing machine
  • Stationary trampoline
  • Foam roller

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