Home Training

Creating the perfect home gym is no sweat- with a little help from the pros.

In the ongoing battle between "the fitness craze" and "the fattening of America," homeowners are taking it upon themselves to embrace the former by making it — quite literally — a part of their home. While entertainment centers, kitchens, and bathrooms may get the glamour shots in design magazines, workout rooms have become a new canvas for interior designers.

Three years ago, Cheri Ganong decided to make her home her office. A personal trainer for 30 years — and the choreographer for 10 national-champion dance teams at the University of Memphis — Ganong needed a little more than a computer and Internet connection to make this transition. How could she replicate the fitness environment she'd come to know during her days at The Racquet Club of Memphis and Jewish Community Center?

"What people want in a gym," explains Ganong, "I had to provide in my home. Many of my clients are advanced, so I couldn't get away with just a few free weights. There's nothing you can do in a gym that you can't do here."

With the help of builder Drew Renshaw — Ganong's brother-in-law — a carport was transformed into a workout room in merely five months, at a total cost of approximately $60,000 (almost half of that for the equipment). The centerpiece of Ganong's domestic fitness center is a multipurpose Vectra system (cost: $10,000) that will exercise every muscle group from triceps to hamstrings. Surrounding the Vectra are eight other machines, including three cardio systems, and a set of free weights. (Ganong recommends, in order, a treadmill, Stairmaster, stationary bike, and elliptical machine for cardiovascular training.) Among her favorite machines is a Gravitron by Nautilus, essentially a pull-up machine that utilizes various weights to help the exercise and maximize performance. "If you have 15 minutes to work out," says Ganong, "the best things you can do are pull-ups, push-ups, and sit-ups."

The room — no more than 700 square feet — gains an aesthetic expansion thanks to a wall of mirrors, a feature Ganong incorporated not so much for her clients' vanity but as a teaching aid. "People don't want to look at themselves [exercising]," she says. "But I tell them they need to look at themselves. Technique is important, and it kills me to see people trying to work out and doing it wrong."

The most pleasant visual touch, however, is the picture window Ganong recently had cut to allow a view of her tranquil backyard pool. "We had the pool redone just last summer," she explains. "It was a disaster: stagnant water, mosquitoes. But I have some clients who'd like to do some training in the water. Before this window, the only view was the driveway. I'm in here 13 hours a day, so this helps."

In addition to visual considerations, designer Biggs Powell stresses the importance of acoustics for anyone planning a home gym. Powell is currently designing an upstairs workout room that is directly above a client's den. When possible, find an area of your house — as Ganong did – that divides itself from common living areas. Powell will heavily pad the upstairs room to keep the equipment from being a distraction when used. And while drapery is sometimes used to fancify exercise rooms, Powell leans toward the simplicity of blinds, simply to block extreme sunlight.

Ganong schedules no more than three or four clients at a time, so her room never feels crowded despite the plethora of exercise options available. "I want this to be a relaxed environment," stresses Ganong.

As for the cost of equipment, it's more expensive than push-ups, but much less than the medical bills exercising can chase away. Pearl Harper, manager of Super Store Exercise Equipment, describes elliptical machines that range from $900 to $6,000 (depending on the machine's weight capacity and technical add-ons). Free weights (dumbbells and barbells) can be purchased by the pound (59 cents per pound for cast iron at Super Store, $1 per pound for rubber-coated weights). Harper recommends selectorized — or adjustable — free weights to homeowners with space considerations. A set ranging from 2.5 pounds to 52.5 pounds can be had for $399.

With a vaulted ceiling, overhead fans, air conditioning, and yes, a television, Ganong has managed to create a fully functioning training facility that feels, well, comfortable. She summarizes this unique feature of her home with words that have inspired developers from Manhattan to Memphis: "You can put a lot into a little area." 

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