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Homes shape up as fitness centers

Baby boomers are creating workout rooms with state-of-the-art equipment. The advantages: no drive time and no crowds.

January 10, 2005|Tom Dunkel Baltimore Sun | Baltimore Sun

Home is where the heart is. It's also where you'll increasingly find a gym to work that heart, along with abs, lats and every other body part that can benefit from regular exercise.

According to the National Sporting Goods Assn., home-gym equipment racked up $4.7 billion in sales in 2003.

Treadmills are the runaway favorite purchase, with annual sales topping $2.5 billion. But many people don't stop there. They build fully appointed, and occasionally regal, workout rooms complete with a stationary bike, stair climber and rower, and multi-station exercise machines, free weights, medicine balls, mirrored walls, televisions and more.

"It would not be unusual to see someone deck out a home facility for $15,000 to $20,000," says Ron Arp, spokesman for the Nautilus Group Inc. in Vancouver, Wash., adding that "as a company we are trying to move fitness out of the garage and into the family room."

What Arp means is that today companies such as Nautilus design high-end exercise machines that are easy on the eyes and almost can be thought of as calorie-burning pieces of furniture.

There are, however, homeowners who prefer heavy-duty, commercial-grade hardware, which doesn't come cheap, either.

Jason Hadeed, co-owner of Elite Athlete Training Systems in Rockville, Md., trains clients and helps outfit home gyms. He has a few customers who insisted on buying the same brand treadmill used by the Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens football teams, even though they cost about $12,000 apiece.

(Another client with deeper pockets, Hadeed says, chose to fulfill his fitness dreams by building a replica of the Washington Wizards' practice basketball court.)

The urge to splurge is something Hadeed cautions against, however. "I'm a big advocate of keeping it simple," he says.

Hadeed often suggests starting with a basic set of dumbbells and weights, then gradually adding more elaborate equipment as the need arises.

A common mistake is to go on a start-up-gym buying spree. That's how many a Bowflex winds up turning into an expensive coat rack. Buyer beware: The resale market is notoriously weak.

"Equipment depreciates very quickly," says Hadeed. "It's like a car."

Jay Barnett, a 42-year-old dermatologist from Potomac, Md., who employs Hadeed as his personal trainer, underwent a lifestyle change thanks to the addition of a home gym. The tab came to about $3,500.

"I wanted to keep the cost down," says Barnett, who admits he had reservations about his commitment to shaping up.

On the other hand, he knew his only chance of getting into an exercise routine would be if it entailed traveling no farther than the basement: "The convenience for me is important," he explains. "I'm working all the time. I don't have time to go to a gym."

Since he was a kid, Barnett has been more interested in books than biceps. Although there's a health club next to his office, he stopped in only about once a week.

His wife, Debra, is more athletically inclined. Seven years ago, concerned about her husband's inactivity and family history of heart disease, she bought him a session with a personal trainer who makes house calls. Jay got hooked, enough to start buying his own equipment.

He has since added 15 pounds of muscle and works out at home three times a week with Hadeed. Debra, 47, uses the basement gym but also takes low-impact aerobic classes, partly for the sociability factor.

"It meets my need for having people around me to motivate me," she says.

The risks of working out at home include boredom and the tendency not to push oneself. There's also the distraction potential of children, ringing telephones and bags of potato chips in the kitchen.

Those blessed with the requisite self-discipline can save more than the drive time to and from a health club; they can also avoid the aggravation that comes with going to the gym during peak hours.

Bill Schultheis would hit his health club in Bel Air, Md., at 5:30 a.m. three days a week to avoid waiting in line for machines. When he and his wife recently moved to Whiteford, Md., they decided to drop their club memberships in favor of a do-it-yourself home gym.

The couple found a store that carries the identical Life Fitness equipment they used at their club. Schultheis, 57, says he spent $6,500 on a recumbent bike, elliptical trainer, multi-station cable machine and other items. He's thinking of adding a rowing machine.

Spared the expense of club dues, he figures his investment should pay for itself in about five years.

"It was really a no-brainer for us," says Schultheis. "I was amazed how affordable the professional home equipment is."

The market is largely being driven by baby boomers like Schultheis. For example, a National Sporting Goods Assn. survey showed that about 40% of all treadmills are sold to people between the ages of 45 and 64.

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