Al Heavens is a Haddonfield, N.J.- based, nationally syndicated, home-improvement writer and author whose newspaper columns, magazine articles and books have been the first word on remodeling for 50 million readers for more than three decades. He is the author of What No One Ever Tells You About Renovating Your Home and Remodeling On The Money: Fifteen Innovative Projects Designed to Add Value to Your Home, and was “The Gadgeteer” on Discovery Channel’s Home Matters program.
I had dropped by my favorite coffee shop while taking the car for its morning exercise. The owner of the nearby Planet Fitness franchise came by to tell the cafe owner that his gym would be reopening the following Monday.
Well, sort of.
Exercise activities would be held in a tent at the rear of the gym, he said. The equipment would be dragged out in the morning and moved back before dark. There would be no indoor exercise until the state said so.
Five months ago, at the start of the pandemic, gyms had been forced to close. This wasn’t a big deal for couch-potatoes, or for people who were running out of excuses not to go to the gym, but for those of us to whom a daily workout is as necessary as exhaling after inhaling, it was a disaster of biblical proportions.
In this article, we will look at the benefits of adding a home gym to your house. We’ll also discuss some things to consider (and to avoid) when you’re ready to add a custom workout center in your home.
Take me, for example. I learned to swim at 63, and by 66, I had become a master swimmer. The pool and I were inseparable for two miles a day, six mornings a week. After those two miles came the trip to the fitness room for 40 minutes on the elliptical, then three miles on the indoor track. Sprinkled throughout the week were yoga, mat and reformer Pilates, with tennis and golf off-site.
Even when I went back to work after two and a half years of retirement, I kept up the pace. The indoor track was replaced by long walks to and from Realtor open houses.
Then came mid-March 2020. After completely shutting down for a few weeks, my gym began offering Zoom and Facebook Live exercise classes, but it was no substitute.
One of the dangers of sheltering in place is proximity to the refrigerator.
Fearing shortages, I started baking. An occasional blueberry muffin became a two dozen at once. Who bakes hot-cross buns after Lent? I gained 10 pounds.
Many Americans are having gym withdrawal. A Porch.com survey of home-improvement projects that have been planned or completed during the last five months shows that 16 percent of homeowners built a home gym or workout area. Eighteen percent put in swimming pools, but considering what goes into the construction of an amenity that, in most areas, is usable three or four months a year, a gym seems like a better, and more cost-effective, idea.
I’ve had a home gym in the corner of the basement next to my office for three years. I built it for my wife, whose job made it difficult for her to get to our gym regularly when her employer demanded she show up for 9 a.m. meetings.
The workout area is functional, but not pretty. It covers 13-feet-by-10 feet and opens into the rest of the basement. Two of its walls are the exterior concrete-block; the third is drywall (the rear, outer wall of my office), and is mirrored from floor to ceiling. The floor is concrete with a couple of layers of carpeting, and there are two 3-foot-by-8-foot Everlast-brand exercise mats.
On the front wall of the room is a shelf wide enough for a flat-screen TV (we put iPads on it). The area is well-lighted and has two outlets on the mirrored wall, but the hot water heater does sit uncomfortably in the corner.
There is a weight bench and a set of weights, a spin bike and an ancient Nordic Track I bought my wife for Christmas 1990 that she still uses.
Our home gym was meant as an alternative to and not a replacement for the one we pay for if something prevented us from getting there for a couple of days – a January snowstorm immediately comes to mind.
What you should strive for is a home gym designed to be part of your daily life that you will still use after the owner of Planet Fitness moves his exercise equipment back into his building permanently.
Unable to predict when the pandemic will be tamed by a vaccine, we are finding ourselves thinking too much in the short term to compensate for the things in our lives that have, temporarily, gone missing.
If I spent $60,000 on a kitchen renovation during the pandemic because I couldn’t eat at a restaurant every night, I would have wasted a lot of money if I returned to my old and expensive ways when things got back to normal.
I would, instead, use my existing kitchen as much as I could now to find out what kinds of changes were needed to make it better later.
But this is about home gyms, so let’s look at some of the options.
Most of the Internet information about home gyms are designed to sell equipment. Since I already spend my exercise time on the equipment chosen by experts, however, I want to focus on the place in which that equipment will find a home in your home.
It is true that people go to the gym to socialize as well as exercise. I have, however, lost track of the number of times I would be working out on the elliptical while a 40-minute conversation was underway between the person on the next machine and, apparently, a long-lost friend standing in front of it.
The sometimes-intimate chatter tended to seep into my earphones, drowning out any sound of music I use to help me get through my workout.
At home, there will be no interruptions. It will be much less crowded because it is only you and maybe your wife and the dog. You will be able to choose the music … and hear it. There also will be no limit to how long you can use the equipment, nor will you have to arrive at the gym at a certain time to make sure you get a machine.
Need a class? There are thousands on the Internet. Make sure your gym has high-speed Internet access so you can stream a class or pick a film or television program you might want to watch while working out.
There are apps offering workout classes that charge a monthly fee as low a $9.95.
Let’s talk about monthly gym memberships. We pay $118 a month for a family membership for three people – two seniors and a son with learning disabilities – which is very reasonable. That includes several classes and two swimming pools, as well as unlimited use of the fitness center.
Gloflox.com reported at the end of November 2019 that the 62.5 million gym members in the United States pay an average of $58 a month, and that doesn’t include classes such as yoga, reformer Pilates, or cross-training, which can cost as much as $50 a session.
What is more, only about 18 percent of members use the gym consistently, and nearly $1.8 billion in memberships go unused annually, Gloflox.com reports. Even though I get my money’s worth out of our gym membership, my wife and son tend not to. It’s probably a lot easier working out of home rather than getting up and dressed to drive a few miles if time is essential.
Even full-time members have some sort of home facility if they unable to make the journey to the gym, so if you are committed to working out, you have options.
Just one more point: A home gym could be of benefit to your home at resale time.
StreetDirectory.com calls it a “no-sweat option to adding value to your property, although Realty Times, for which I was a weekly columnist from 2001-07, says it might reduce the number of people interested in your property who don’t want a home gym.
I don’t agree with Realty Times. If you have added a room to accommodate a home gym, that automatically adds value to your house at resale time. Unlike a kitchen or a bathroom, a room with a gym is all-purpose: If you don’t want the home gym, it can be a playroom, a home office, or a bedroom without much effort.
If you need to add a room to the house for the home gym, it increases the square footage and that fact alone boosts value.
The problem with our home gym is headroom. The basement ceiling is a bit too low, although it would be an issue if I had to jump rope for my next fight. Seven-foot or eight-foot ceilings would be ideal, as would enough space to accommodate the equipment you will be acquiring immediately or buying later.
If more than one person in the family will be using the equipment at the same time, there should be enough space for everyone.
Think about privacy … I mean from the outside, not your spouse on the spin bike in the same room (she already knows about the 10 extra pounds). Although I am a big fan of natural light, exercising in front of a picture window on the street-side of your house is not a good idea, and not just from an aesthetic point of view.
Watching what’s going on outside can be as much of a distraction as two people talking loudly at the next elliptical, so choose your location wisely.
Although a first-or second-floor location is preferable for natural light and offers a connection to your surroundings, basements are better for privacy, noise reduction and structural soundness (a concrete floor needs no reinforcing for the pounding of your feet on the treadmill).
I would, however, go for a rubber or cork surface on that concrete floor to make yoga or mat Pilates more comfortable for you.
If possible, soundproof the area so the noise of your working on the equipment will not travel throughout the house. The soundproofing I installed in the new walls I built for my home office dampens the noise of my wife on the spin bike around the corner if I close the office door, and that should be a consideration during construction.
The area should be well-ventilated. It can get pretty hot in the workout area, even in the winter, and a floor fan helps.
What about music, which seems to be important to everyone (including me)? Do you need to build in a stereo system, or will an iPad or iPhone and a really good pair of earphones be a better choice?
I’d go with the iPhone, even though I have had occasion to pull out the earphones during an intense workout when I’m lost in thought and perspiration. The home advantage is that you are not competing with big gyms’ sound systems blasting music you never wanted to hear.
A television set? As long as you have cable access, that’s perfect, and flat screens have limited the amount of space needed and restrictions on location.
Make sure you have water and towels close by, as well as wipes to sanitize the equipment – a standard practice in the big gyms even when COVID-19 isn’t hanging in the air.
Finally, don’t forget the mirrors. Not only will they let you keep an eye on your form (I tend to pitch forward on the elliptical instead of standing up straight, and an occasional glance at the mirror lets me correct the problem), and it makes the workout space seem much bigger.