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Home 'Work'
Create your ultimate home gym with valuable tips from area pros


B&E General Contractors converted this space into a home gym.

Itís great to work out at the gym ó if you can make the time for it and access the equipment you want while youíre there. In fact, time constraints and packed health clubs are both primary reasons why more people are choosing to install a fitness room at home. With a home gym, you can accomplish your workout with no driving and no standing in line, whenever you want.

At-home Fitness

The key to a home gym or fitness room is to use it. And, if youíre going to commit a space in your home, youíre more likely to use if you make it inviting and motivating. Like other rooms in your home, your fitness room should welcome you.

The goal is to meet your workout needs, but not feel like youíre crammed into a tiny space.

"Not long ago, I designed a home gym and spa for a client in what was formerly a guest bedroom and bathroom, about 10-by-12 feet in size," says Adam Schwai, an architect and designer with B&E General Contractors in Glendale.

To make the room appear larger, reflect light and allow the homeowner to check his form while exercising, Schwai installed large mirrors on two of the walls. "We put in rubber snap-lock flooring, which is a nonslip surface," he says. "We hung a pull-up bar and also a punching bag from the ceiling."

A small cedar-lined sauna room was added along with a tiled steam room. "We opened up the powder room and put in tile. The steam room is really a steam shower, large enough for two people," Schwai says.

Selecting Equipment

Of course, your budget will dictate the kind of room and equipment you choose. The question of what type of equipment to buy is very "person-specific," according to Ben Quist, a physical therapist and co-owner of Form & Fitness Personal Training Studio in Mequon and Form & Fitness Health Club in Grafton. "If you have health concerns that affect exercise, you should consult your physician to make sure the equipment youíre thinking of buying will not affect you negatively," he says. "If you are new to exercise or relatively inexperienced, hiring a fitness professional to outline and develop your fitness goals and make recommendations will likely save you a lot of money on equipment purchases that are unnecessary and put the focus on items that will help you reach your goal, at a cost-effective price."

Select the best home gym equipment you can afford, says Matt Barber, personal trainer for the downtown Milwaukee YMCA and the Delaware House in Bay View. "Some basic items include a mat for floor exercises, a yoga ball for balance and crunches and some different size resistance bands will enable you to do a variety of exercises. You donít necessarily have to spend a lot of money," he says.

Quist agrees. "Nonmachine strength training equipment costs less, doesnít require as much space as machines and is just as effective or more so to achieve most strength training goals."

Barber also recommends an adjustable dumbbell set for strength training. "You buy a bar and weights and you can take the weights off and on, depending on your needs," he says. For a good cardiovascular workout, he suggests buying a treadmill or a stationary bike, but only if you are really going to use them. "Iíve seen too many of them become clothes hangers," he says.

To avoid spending a lot of money up front only to discover you arenít using a piece of equipment as often as you thought you would, Quist suggests looking into purchasing refurbished equipment. "The upside of this is a much reduced cost for the same product," he says. The downside is you probably donít have as much of a warranty.

Form and Function

If youíre looking for a more sophisticated piece of exercise equipment that will suit your needs such as a "multi-gym," consider something like the Torque F5, suggests Dan Berlinski, co-owner of Northern Fitness in Glendale. "You want something that will give you a full body workout. The Torque F5 is this kind of equipment, and it closes up into a cabinet that only takes up 4 square feet of floor space," he says.

The Torque F5 is just one type of multi-gym; there are others in various price ranges, such as the Bowflex. Like anything else, you get what you pay for, and it pays to investigate what youíre buying, Berlinski says. "When you think about a home gym, it might be the single piece of equipment that you buy, so try to get the biggest bang for your buck."

Arranging the Space

Before you even bring exercise equipment into your workout room, it makes sense to visualize where it will be placed. Some designers suggest placing the tallest and largest pieces of equipment along the walls with smaller pieces in the middle, as most health clubs do.

In order to determine whether you have sufficient space for all of the possible equipment you might want to include in your home gym, consider the approximate space designations for various pieces of equipment. You can do that by creating a floor plan ó or having your designer or remodeler do it for you. "You will need sufficient space for cardio, resistance and specialty equipment, including a space for floor exercises and stretching," Barber says. Home design software programs can help with design, as well. Check out or for some options.

To make your home gym more attractive, consider hanging some prints or posters on the wall. The right artwork can even be motivational to you as you work out. And, if you have the space available, you may also want to use part of the room for relaxation. Consider placing a sofa or a couple of chairs in the room so it can be more functional.