The Home Gym: A New Gathering Hub

Help buyers and sellers evaluate their home fitness needs with this guide to workout space design.

May 30, 2013

Sure, home gyms are great for avoiding driving to a club and paying membership fees. But there’s another motivation behind the transformation of basements, garages, and spare bedrooms into home fitness centers: They’ve become a way to gather family members for healthy activity that everyone can enjoy.

Atlanta businessman and avid cyclist Steve Cesinger remodeled his home’s basement so that his family of four can exercise together. Thanks to stays at upscale hotels with gyms, he knew what he wanted to include. He hired design firm HammerSmith in nearby Decatur, Ga., for the remodel, arranging equipment in distinct areas for cardio, weights, yoga, and boxing, as well as creating a place for a sauna, massage, and shower. Designer Eric Rothman aligned equipment with wall mirrors to maintain good posture, and flat-screen TVs were wall-mounted in several locations to help exercisers vary their routines. Because of the basement location, Rothman provided sufficient and evenly spaced lighting that cuts glare and doesn’t create too much heat.

Such renovations can act as a magnet to attract buyers, says salesperson Stephanie Mallios with Towne Realty Group in Short Hills, N.J. “I recently showed a home with a huge gym in a basement with mirrors, professional equipment, big-screen TV, and sound system, and the home owner was finishing a session with a personal trainer. My buyer was very impressed and considered it a huge positive,” she says.

Yet, fancy gyms aren’t a magic bullet for all buyers. Not everyone wants a space designated to this purpose, says salesperson Barb St. Amant, ABR, of Harry Norman, REALTORS®, in Atlanta. “Some may be excited seeing a gym, but others aren’t. In our area, there are many inexpensive opportunities for places to work out,” she says.

The key to the perfect balance is helping buyers and sellers understand what’s most important to meet their workout goals and the space and budget limitations. Here’s what the professionals advise.  

Be honest about the level of interest. This is the first rule of thumb: Home owners should invest in equipment that will encourage getting started and staying motivated. If home owners are committed to working out regularly and think they’ll stay with a routine, it makes more sense to set aside a room or large area and equip it adequately. But if they’re not sure and may only exercise sporadically, they should start small in a room that can serve a variety of uses.

Set up a gym in the right spot. Out of sight can become out of mind, says Matt Elsesser, national training manager for Life Fitness, a manufacturer based in Schiller Park, Ill. A basement can offer more space than a spare bedroom, but if the bedroom will be more attractive because it’s above ground and has more natural light, that acts as a stronger lure, he says.

Home owners also need to leave sufficient circulation room, says Rothman of HammerSmith. Yet, even a small apartment can host some equipment if it’s arranged properly. Fitness expert Liz Neporent, author of Thin in Ten (Sunrise River Press, 2012) and emeritus board member of The American Council on Exercise, placed a treadmill behind a sofa in her New York apartment so that it faces a TV but isn’t visible when someone enters the room.

Focus on a three-dimensional approach.

  1. Cardiovascular workouts, which increase blood flow and lung capacity, can be achieved with numerous items such as an elliptical cross trainer, treadmill, or stationary bicycle. Consider equipment with built-in tracking options and a TV, or at least an outlet for an iPhone or iPad and headset. If home owners have no room or funds for those items, a staircase in a house or apartment building can provide a good workout, says Eugene Reynolds, a trainer with Equinox in New York. It’s most important that home owners figure out what they like to do, so they’ll keep doing it, he says.
  2. Strength or resistance training, to build muscles, can also be done with numerous items such as elastic bands, dumbbells, and kettlebells. All are inexpensive and can be stashed easily; bands can be purchased for $12 to $16, while an exercise ball can cost anywhere from $40 to under $100, says Alycia Kluegl, exercise physiologist and owner of Empower your Body in New York.
  3. Flexibility training, to improve the range of motion, can be done with a simple mat, jump rope, or medicine ball. Techniques and routines can be learned in just a few sessions with a personal trainer or by purchasing exercise videos. “There are hundreds [of videos] to consider from experts such as Richard Simmons and Jillian Michaels,” says Neporent.

Add in upgrades and frills as space and dollars permit:

  • Different pieces of equipment from each category will help vary routines.
  • Wall-mounted mirrors aid in checking positioning.
  • A wall-mounted TV, if there isn’t one built into equipment or the home owner doesn’t have a workout buddy.
  • Exercise apps can be downloaded onto iPhones and some Android platforms to provide workouts such as Life Fitness’s LFconnect, which syncs with specific Life Fitness cardio equipment to provide preset workouts and track results.
  • Heart-rate monitors allow home owners to keep tabs on exertion levels.
  • Occasional or regular sessions with a certified trainer will help improve skills and accountability.
  • Wood and cork floors and skid-proof and electrostatic mats stay cleaner and won’t absorb sweat as much as carpeting does, while padding can add bounce and cut noise transfer.
  • A bathroom, or at least a shower close by, is a big bonus.
  • A tack board with photos and sayings will serve as greater inspiration and motivation.

Remind home owners not to forget to…

  • Invest in footwear that’s safe rather than just trendy and decorative, says Kluegl.
  • Buy the best equipment in their budget. Specialty sports stores with knowledgeable salespeople are a good place to start, says Neporent.
  • Check that any workout area on a second or third story can support the weight of heavy equipment.
  • Be sure the room or area offers sufficient head room—at least 7’8”—and the higher the better, says Rothman.
Barbara Ballinger

Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling, including The Kitchen Bible: Designing the Perfect Culinary Space (Images Publishing, 2014). Barbara’s most recent book is The Garden Bible: Designing Your Perfect Outdoor Space, co-authored with Michael Glassman (Images, 2015).


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