By Darren Buford
Originally published in Body Sense magazine, Autumn/Winter 2006.
Three factors keep many Americans from joining a gym: they’re crunched for time, cash strapped, or self-conscious about working out in front of others. One solution is setting up a home gym.
But where do you start? And does that old, rusty dumbbell tucked away in your closet constitute a home gym?
Because one person’s definition of a home gym differs from another’s, let’s consider several approaches to establishing your own personal workout paradise.
For starters, your number one priority is space. Do you have ample room for fitness equipment? You’ll want the ability to easily move around. And this includes vertically as well as horizontally—home gym equipment can often be as tall as it is wide.
New Jersey-based fitness expert and professional trainer Jim Ryno suggests a formula of one hundred square feet per person. (If you’ll be consistently working out with a partner or if you’ll be sharing the gym with your family, be sure to compensate accordingly.) “You don’t want to throw equipment into a cramped space where you have to move things around to get to it,” Ryno says. If at all possible, equipment should find a permanent place. There’s a greater chance you’ll workout on a regular basis if the equipment remains set up. If you’re having to tuck things under a couch or into a closet after each session, over time you’ll tire of the procedure and work out less.
Second, make the room motivating. “The biggest problem with home gyms is keeping up your motivation at home, as opposed to the club environment,” Ryno says. Location is paramount. “Don’t use your garage.” Ryno says you want to be inspired to return to the room again and again; otherwise, you’re wasting your money.
With that in mind, keep the room away from easy distractions, like the phone. And give serious consideration to how you approach design. The look and feel of the room are very important. Ryno says that when designing a home gym, it’s common to see individuals put up plain plaster walls and gray rubber flooring, similar to a commercial environment. Instead, make the room a comfortable and aesthetically desirable place to be in—after all, it’s your home.
Striking a Balance
Ideally, when purchasing equipment for your home gym, you’re trying to strike a balance between strength training, cardiovascular exercise, and stretching. There are a variety of ways to accomplish this feat, but most likely your decisions will be based on budget.
Budget-Based. The starting place for most any home gym is dumbbells to build muscle mass. A starter set might include three to eight pairs of dumbbells, each of varying weight and size. With increased strength and fitness, more dumbbells can easily be added. Price range varies from $60 for three pairs up to $300 for eight pairs.
Sky’s-the-Limit. If you have no financial restrictions, a multi-station system in addition to dumbbells is ideal (depending on your available space). These systems use cables and/or extension bands to create tension, allowing for a variety of exercise options—an important factor when working out, Ryno says. “I’m big on variety. I recommend spending some time on a multi-station trainer as well as incorporating free weights because then you’re going to be working your body differently.” If you continue to follow the same routine using the same muscles, the body begins to remember and doesn’t build muscle mass as intensely. Shift your regimen every six to ten weeks.
Budget-Based. A simple jump rope can do the job here. This high-impact, high-intensity activity can really get the heart pumping. According to New-Fitness.com, “Rope skipping can assist in developing agility, coordination, and balance, not to mention improvements in cardiovascular and muscular endurance.”
Sky’s-the-Limit. Treadmills, elliptical trainers, and stationary bicycles are just three of the options when it comes to satisfying the cardio requirement. If you can purchase only one, Ryno recommends going with the treadmill. “When you’re on a treadmill, you’re doing a weight-bearing exercise. This helps you burn more calories because you’re carrying the full weight of your body. When you’re sitting on a bicycle, it’s a non-weight bearing exercise. Ultimately, treadmills provide the better workout.” Treadmills range from $1,000 to $3,000.
Budget-Based. A fitness mat and an exercise ball can provide ample stretching opportunities for a friendly price. The cost for both is under $50.
Sky’s-the-Limit. Stretch stations are growing in popularity. Precor (www.precor.com) sells the StretchTrainer unit, which instructs the user in eight stretches, each of which target large muscle groups. Ryno says it’s a great system for the home because it’s small, but very effective. Price: $1,200.
Master of Motivation
So, can a home gym be set up for under $100? Sure, Ryno says. But for this price, a motivating routine with a lot of variety is critical for an efficient workout. More lavish equipment allows for more variance in workout, but hits your pocketbook deeper. Another budget-saving alternative is to purchase refurbished or remanufactured equipment from a gym, fitness center, or vendor.
Finally, whatever route you choose, stick with a fitness plan. You can spend upwards of $20,000 on a home gym, but you are still the master of motivating yourself to work out. Some keys to commitment include finding a dedicated partner, setting weekly and monthly goals, and creating and sticking to a schedule.