Home gyms: Talk to fitness experts and conduct research before setting up

You've made the same New Year's resolution that you've made countless times before. But this year you've pledged to keep it. You're committed to staying fit, which means working out. But where and with whom?

For some, the thought of exercising in front of others is enough to keep them away from the gym. For others, the chore of going to a gym and establishing an exercise routine that will fit into their lifestyle is enough to make them put off the task completely.

If you fall into either of these categories or know that you suffer from multiple excuses, you might consider setting up a home gym. It's convenient. There are no onlookers, and you can exercise any time of the day or night. But before going shopping, it's best to talk to fitness experts and conduct research.

"First and foremost, you want to talk to your physician and get his or her approval to start an exercise plan," said Bruce Hailey, the manager of Fitness Resource.

After doing that, consider space limitations. How high are the ceilings? How strong are the floors? How much space will there be to move around? How many people will be using the gym? Before buying any equipment, measure the allotted space. And don't forget to measure the door to make sure the equipment will fit through it.

Also consider the attractiveness and effectiveness of the area. For example, if the gym is in a dark basement, you might not be as motivated to exercise as in a room flooded with light. Or, if the screened porch is your exercise haven, it will be too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. While on the subject of temperature, remember to keep the room slightly cooler than the rest of the house to keep from getting overheated when exercising.

There's also a noise factor to consider

"If you're putting your treadmill upstairs, you'll be able to hear the buzz of the motor and the noise of the treadmill downstairs," said Tim Kontos, strength and conditioning coach in the Virginia Commonwealth University athletics department. Also, many people like to work out to high-powered music, and that filters through the house as well.

Some people opt to buy a machine that combines workout stations.

"Some of the home gyms have to sit in the middle of the room," Hailey said. "Some can go beside the wall. Also, consider the fact that you may be adding other equipment."

Chris DeRoco, an account executive for the Duboy Agency, decided to purchase a home gym several months ago.

"I wanted it for the convenience," DeRoco said. "I have children at home and I didn't want to spend so much time away from them. So, instead of being away for two hours, I can exercise at home for 30 to 45 minutes."

DeRoco, a Richmond resident, had a difficult time finding the right spot for his Parabody Home Gym.

"I live in a row house and the only space that would accommodate the gym was my basement. It's a large, open area," he said.

While it may not be as convenient as having the equipment on the main floor, DeRoco says the basement has its advantages.

"Your workout space needs to be cooler and the basement is cooler all year round. I don't get overheated when I work out."

For DeRoco, who wanted to establish an exercise routine, the home gym works perfectly. "It's everything I need," he said.

After deciding on the gym's location, the next consideration is your exercise goal. Are you exercising to lose weight? Gain muscle? Stay healthy?

Here's where the adage "know thyself" comes in handy. What type of exercises do you enjoy? Do you like running or would you rather be rowing? Do you enjoy aerobics or lifting weights? Choose equipment you will use. The more comfortable you are with the equipment, the more you will use it and benefit from it.

After doing research and establishing goals, it's time to hunt for equipment. Fitness experts agree that a combination fitness plan aerobic conditioning, flexibility and strength training works best.

This is the easy component. It basically requires space and a mat to cushion the body from a hard floor or carpeting. Another necessary piece of equipment is a good pair of athletic shoes. When buying shoes, make sure they fit properly and feel comfortable to provide support against injury.

Some of the most popular equipment in this category includes treadmills, stair climbers, stationary bikes, elliptical trainers, rowers and ski machines. When purchasing this type of equipment, cost is always a concern.

"The most expensive equipment in this category are treadmills, followed by elliptical trainers and rowers," Kontos said. "For example, a rower is a fraction of the cost of a treadmill. If you like that type of machine, you will use it more than others."

Before purchasing any equipment, Kontos suggests going to a gym and trying it.

"Do a good workout on it," he said. "You don't want an expensive piece of equipment sitting around collecting dust."

Hailey agreed: "The most important thing is to try out the equipment yourself."

According to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, more calories are burned and the most benefits come from exercise machines that work the major muscle groups in the upper and lower body. The medical center suggests rowing machines, stair climbers, exercise bikes with moving handlebars and treadmills with an adjustable incline.

One final consideration: Make sure the equipment is easy to use to minimize the time spent setting it up or taking it down.

There is a wide array of strength equipment available, ranging from free weights with barbells and dumbbells to multi-station machines that utilize one weight stack instead.

"Multi-station gyms offer you 25 to 30 different exercises," said Doug Goad, fitness manager at Conte's Bicycle and Fitness.

Barbell sets that include a bench and rack are not as space-efficient as some other equipment, especially considering that Olympic barbells are 7 feet long. "You have to have space around them," Kontos said. "But the number of exercises you can do with a barbell set is limited only by your imagination."

Using a barbell set can be dangerous if exercising unsupervised. If the barbell is too heavy it can get stuck on your chest.

"I've heard horror stories," Kontos said. "On the other hand, if you train smart, barbells can be advantageous for you."

Dumbbell sets offer a variety of exercises and are less dangerous than barbells. If a dumbbell becomes too heavy, it can be dropped to the side.

Not everyone has the financial means to equip a home gym all at once, but you can start with one or two items and add to it. Some inexpensive items that offer benefits include workout videos, fitness balls, medicine balls (heavier and smaller than fitness balls), ankle and wrist weights and a jump rope.

With any equipment, always learn to use it properly before starting an exercise program. Check with a personal trainer or fitness expert to ensure that you are performing the exercises for maximum benefits and minimum injury.

Never purchase equipment for a home gym without researching price and quality and trying the machines.

Part of the research should concentrate on comparing warranties. "Ask if they include servicing," Kontos said. "Ask how much service will cost."

Purchasing used equipment can save money, but be careful. Check the equipment thoroughly and don't settle for anything that looks damaged or too worn. Check to see if the warranty has expired.

"The investment becomes part of your lifestyle," Hailey said. "You will be using the equipment every day or at least several days a week. You don't want to cut corners. There's a lot of junk out there. You want your equipment to be well made so you won't put yourself in jeopardy."

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