16 Tips for Home Gyms

[1. Consider hiring a personal coach to help you reach your exercise goals.]

Just because you’ve decided to work out at home doesn’t mean you can’t still work with a trainer. In fact, a trainer can design a program for you to use at home or help you take your workout to the next level. “I’ve found with a lot of my clients that they don’t know the right thing to do even if they have a home gym,” says Greg McMillin, a personal trainer and the owner of Fitness Together in Portland. “They often come to me for expertise.”

Part of that expertise is helping you achieve your goals by having you focus on more than just the exercise equipment you may have at home. A good trainer can help you see how all of the aspects—cardio, diet and strength training—come together to create an effective exercise program. “You need all three of these pieces to be successful,” he says. “Knowing the right amounts of each to fit into your life are all benefits of having someone who knows what they’re doing.”

[2. before you turn a spare bedroom into the spitting image of rocky’s gym, Assess your exercise goals and exercise history.]

Think about why you might want a home gym in the first place. Do you want to lose weight? To increase strength? To maintain your girlish—or he-man—figure? To train for a marathon?

For anyone who wants to exercise but has a difficult time getting to the health club or just out for an hourlong walk, a home gym could be the perfect solution.

According to Mike Davis, the commercial sales manager for Northwest Fitness Supply Company in Portland, lifestyle plays a large part in determining whether or not you’re a good candidate for a home gym. “I’ve sold exercise equipment to families where the mom doesn’t want to deal with the daycare at the gym,” he says. “She wants to work out and have the baby monitor right in front of her.”

[3. research the cost of various exercise options before you spend money on setting up a home gym.]

While gym memberships and classes can often be had at bargain prices, it’s wasted money if you’ll rarely show up at the gym. Of course, a home gym can have other tangible benefits that may be worth the larger expense of outfitting your own home-based gym. “The main benefit to a home gym is convenience,” says McMillin. “If you can set one up on your own and plan how to use it, it works well. I have a lot of clients with treadmills at home, and I find that they really do use them.”

[4. buy a treadmill that’s of a quality that the heaviest family member can be on it for an hour without the rest of the family ending up with ‘Shaken Family Syndrome.’]

If you’re going to have a treadmill at home, make sure it fits your family’s needs. Is more than one person going to use it? Are people walking on it, jogging on it or racking up miles? But regardless of use, it will create a disturbance.

“The pounding of your body weight creates the noise,” says Tyler Dodge, the fitness sales manager at Copeland Sports in Beaverton, Ore. “Some treadmills have orthopedic belts or flex frames that will provide some impact protection.”

Depending on what you plan to use the treadmill for, you should expect to spend between between $1,500 and $2,000 on a quality treadmill.

[5. Remember that exercise areas require specific qualities to function.]

Once you’ve decided to add a workout space to your home, don’t just set it up in a random corner or a part of your house you rarely go to. What works for storing boxes of childhood treasures doesn’t necessarily work for a well-functioning exercise space.

“The spatial quality for an exercise area has its own set of requirements,” says architect Andrew Montgomery, the principal of Terraforma in Portland, who’s worked with clients who’ve incorporated workout and yoga spaces into their new homes. “It needs to be bigger-scaled with a high ceiling and open spaces because when you exercise, you create heat and sweat.”

[6. before you buy a big piece of equipment, measure and remeasure it and the room in which you’ll use it.]

You may have found the perfect treadmill, but if you can’t get it through the door of your guest room, you’ve made an expensive mistake. You can get a good workout with just one piece of equipment, so don’t overlook how and where it will fit into your home. Think not just about how the equipment fits in the room, but also about how you and the equipment will fit in the room. “You need space in a room to walk around your exercise equipment,” says Davis. “There’s no written rule, but you should be comfortable and be able to easily access all of the equipment.”

[7. Protect your floors from sweat, equipment grease and repetitive motions that ruin your hardwoods.]

If you’ve just spent the last few years fixing up your Foursquare, the last thing you want to do is ruin that Douglas fir floor, crack cement or chip tile by dropping weights or gouging the floor every time you get on your equipment. If you’ve just invested a lot of money in new cardio equipment, spend a little more on floor-protecting products.

“If your machine is on carpet, your floor will be fine,” says Davis. “But, if it’s on wood or cement or tile, you need a cardio mat which helps dampen the vibrations that radiate through the machine.” A thick, high-quality floor mat made to go underneath machines such as treadmills can be found at most stores that sell exercise equipment. Carpet and rug retailers such as Mill End Store in Portland also sell thick mats that can be cut a couple of inches smaller than a large rug to invisibly protect a hardwood floor.

[8. Think beyond the treadmill.]

Historically, the treadmill has been the most popular in-home exercise machine, but now there are a lot more options. In recent years, elliptical machines, which put less stress on your body than treadmills, have outpaced the sale of treadmills. “Ellipticals are huge,” says Dodge. “They’re all over gyms, and people are lining up to get them. With an elliptical trainer you just glide along. You burn the same amount of calories that you would on a treadmill, but without the wear and tear on your body.” Other popular options are recumbent and upright exercise bikes.

Your physical condition can also determine which type of equipment would be appropriate. Ellipticals and cycles are popular because they allow people with chronic injuries and people who’ve had knee surgery to keep exercising. “The recumbent bike was invented for people recovering from knee surgery,” says Dodge. “If you have nagging problems with your ankles, knees or hips, you want to buy an elliptical, but if you’re really trying to get into shape, you want to purchase a treadmill.”

[9. realize that the small things—bottles of water, a heartrate monitor, dumbbells—are as important as big, spendy exercise machines.]

It doesn’t always take much to set up an effective home gym. “The thing I like about home gyms is that a lot of them are very inexpensive and very easy to facilitate with things like a Swiss ball or a yoga ball, and yoga and Pilates mats,” says Chuck Gonzales, a personal trainer at Bally Total Fitness in Hillsboro, Ore., and the strength and conditioning coach for the Portland Lumberjax. “With just a few items, you could get a great workout without breaking the bank.”

Gonzales’ laundry list of must-haves includes a set of 5-, 8-, and 10-pound dumbbells, a 55-cm ball, a kettle bell, a BOSU® and tubing (a green, a red and a blue). “With just that equipment, you could set up a good exercise program.”

[10. try out equipment before you buy it.]

Don’t just buy the first piece of exercise equipment you see, because they often come with a lot of bells and whistles that you may or may not need. It’s best to first do a little research of your own. Check out an unbiased resource such as Consumer Reports, which covered home gyms in its June 2006 issue, and then test out equipment you’re interested in at a local gym or at a sports-equipment store. You’ll probably see a variety of machines and you’ll be able to question the sales staff about each product.

“I try to find out what you’re currently doing for exercise,” says Davis of how he helps a client end up with the equipment that’s right for them. “A lot of people have been going to health clubs and just don’t want to deal with the club rat race anymore. I get a lot of info from the customer on what he or she needs. Once you figure out which machine you need, I go through the differences between different models of that machine. A client is usually able to tell me which machine they feel best on. Ellipticals are difficult: The geometry of each machine is different, and the machine really needs to fit your body. If it doesn’t, it’ll just become a coat hanger.”

[11. A trainer can be your accountability partner to help keep you on track.]

When you decide to work out at home, you often lose the opportunity to work out with friends, who can support you in achieving your fitness goals. In that case, a trainer can complement what you do at home and provide you with a more effective workout. “Clients train with me in the gym and then sometimes they take advantage of equipment they have at home on their own time,” says Gonzales. “I’ll write out a program for them of things I’d like them to take care of on the days they’re not working with me.”

[12. don’t ban all exercise videos just because you’re sick of seeing richard Simmons sweat to the oldies in his hotpants.]

There’s a new generation of exercise DVDs to help you stick with your program. Videos and DVDs are another inexpensive way to keep your workouts fresh. The explosion of new forms of exercise has created a wide range of videos, and whether you want a video to help you stretch, get fit using your body weight or burn calories, there’s something out there for you.

When choosing exercise DVDs, whether they’re for yoga or kickboxing, look for programs that accommodate different ability levels and intensities, which allow for progression.

And, make sure that an exercise expert, who brings a wealth of knowledge to the program, produces the DVD. “One of my favorite trainers in the U.S.—he’s probably one of the best trainers in America—is Juan Carlos Santana,” says Gonzales, “and he has a slew of DVDs and exercise videos covering a wide range of programs.”

[13. Create an exercise room That isn’t just for exercise.]

An exercise room is no different from any other room in your house in that it can be used for a variety of activities and adapted as your needs change. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to devote a large amount of space to working out or are able to incorporate a gym into a remodel or a new home, it’s important to make the room multifunctional. “They can be multipurpose rooms, like a rec room,” says Montgomery. “If you’re able to, make it a good size—16 to 20 feet by 16 to 20 feet—with 10-foot-high ceilings. Don’t look at it as a closet with weights in it: Plan it so you can do a bunch of things in there—paint, dance or meditate.”

[14. think about your workout space as a retreat.]

You’ve got to want to go there. If you don’t use the space, not only are you not getting the benefits of exercise, you’re also not getting good use out of the area your treadmill is hogging. You probably won’t want to spend time in a crowded garage or basement. And if you have to fight your way through clutter to get to the exercise bike, you may be less likely to exercise. According to Montgomery, if you make your workout space as enjoyable and comfortable as possible, you’ll want to go there and you’ll be more likely to exercise. “No-one really likes to work out,” he says. “Most of us have to be coaxed into it. You want to make the space as attractive and inviting as you can. Think of it as a retreat.”

[15. figure out which bells and whistles you really need on your equipment.]

While you might be impressed that a piece of cardio equipment comes with 20-plus programs, think about how many of those you’ll actually use. “If you’re buying fitness equipment, it’s good to set goals for yourself and use the machine until it breaks,” says Dodge.

On the other hand, don’t be afraid to try out some of the programs: You might find out that you enjoy achieving the cadence of Lance Armstrong! “You have to be comfortable with an equipment’s electronics,” says Dodge. “A lot of the bells and whistles intimidate people, so I like to demonstrate how they work.” The more you know about your machine the more comfortable you’ll be using it.

[16. Make working out a part of your life.]

With any workout program, the odds are against sticking to it. In the case of home gyms, a treadmill can become the perfect place to hang those clothes that you wear all the time. But if you think about your goals and invest the time and money into creating a home workout space that addresses your fitness needs, you’ll use it and see results. “It’s all about finding a way to keep exercise a part of your lifestyle,” says McMillin.