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In-Your-Face Fitness: The joys of a home gym

There are no membership fees in the man cave, and no machines either, just the occasional spousal interruption.

December 19, 2011|By James S. Fell, Special to the Los Angeles Times
(Danae Fell )

My wife is worried I'm going to become a shut-in surrounded by a dozen or so cats — though in my case the cats would have names like Schwarzenegger and Thor.

This is because my home gym recently evolved from "not that good" to "almost awesome," so why would I want to keep paying for a gym membership just for the sake of leaving the house and getting social interaction?

I used to think home gyms were a bad idea. After all, studies show that exercise adherence is lowest for people who do it at home, alone. I still think most home gyms gather dust. The percentage of Americans who get even minimal exercise is pathetic. People need all the motivational help they can get, which for most involves getting out of the house around other people.

But in my case, after 18 years of being a gym lover I think this exercise thing is going to stick. So perhaps I can make the transition from being in a crowd of smelly people and blasting my iPod to drown out the gym's lousy music to relocating to my basement, only having to smell myself and getting to be my own DJ.

My wife and I had some discussions about my plan — above-room-temperature discussions. I won't relive them here. Let's just say we're still married and leave it at that.

She took issue with my laying claim to half the basement with large metal contraptions and feared I'd become a recluse whose only activities were working out and chuckling to myself while writing silly sentences. Even after she finally relented to my redecorating scheme, she said she did not want me to give up my gym membership.

I'm not concerned, however. I have clients to talk to. And grocery store clerks. Surely that's enough social interaction to keep the cat farm at bay. And just think: If I ditch that mortgage-payment-sized gym membership, I can invest in more cool stuff for the man cave.

Thirteen years of stuffed animals and Lego is enough. It's Daddy's turn to rule the bottom floor.

What is in the man cave, you ask? None of that fancy Hammer Strength/Cybex/Life Fitness stuff like at my not-at-home gym: I'm old school, and I've never had much use for machines. I prefer multi-joint movements using free weights, functional exercises that build muscle size and strength and enhance overall physical performance.

Here's what I have:

•A used, paint-chipped, professional-grade squat cage: This is a big metal contraption that allows you to do squats with a heavy bar across your upper back. It also works for doing barbell bench presses and has a variety of grips at the top for chin-ups and pull-ups. It may be old and ugly, but it was forged in the fires of Mt. Doom and designed to withstand a nuclear blast.

•A 45-pound Olympic bar with 375 pounds of plates. The cage has built-in racks for storing plates.

•A multi-position bench that has a leg attachment for doing quadriceps extensions and hamstring curls.

•A whole bunch of dumbbells. Some of them are heavy.

•A TRX suspension trainer. This device (which I hope is securely fastened to my ceiling) is a pair of adjustable straps with handles that allows for a variety of cool exercises using body weight.

•A "Wavemaster" free-standing punching bag. This was a Christmas gift I got for my wife many years ago. And no, it wasn't a gag gift. She has a black belt in karate and likes it.

•A thick rubber mat so that putting down the weights doesn't crack the foundation of my house.

All of the above cost close to what you would pay for a popular "weightlifting" contraption sold via infomercials. I just need some even larger, near-hernia-inducing dumbbells, some exercise bands for doing midsection twists and a couple of medicine balls and kettle bells, and I'll never need to step into another gym again.

The question is, will I still want to?

Over the years, I've worked out in about 40 different gyms across five countries and on two cruise ships. I used to really feed off the energy, and I liked the access to top-notch equipment. (One thing I seem to finally have outgrown is my adolescent desire to lift heavy things in proximity to spandex-clad females.)

I've done home workouts before, both alone and with my kids, but they were never complete because I only had half the required equipment.

And so it was with much excitement that I prepared for my first "real" basement workout.

I cracked an English brown ale and put in Rush's "2112" CD and cranked it loud. Don't try this at home.

Then my wife came downstairs, deciding it was the perfect time to rearrange things in the adjoining spare bedroom or something. I don't want to say she harshed up my groove, but she harshed up my groove.

"This is Rush?" she asked, in reference to the classic 1976 album. I answered affirmatively and she said, "Wow. It's … awful."

A while later, she interrupted my workout again because she needed help moving something, and I did it wrong, and the groove was further harshed.

A few days later, while she was safely out of the house doctoring people at work and the kids were at school, I decided to try again. This time I skipped the beer. The music selection was Florence and the Machine followed by Arcade Fire.

(On a side note, iPods are lame. There is nothing like pumping iron while blasting your own music on T. rex-sized speakers loud enough to make "For sale" signs start popping up around the neighborhood.)

I think it was one of the greatest workouts of my life.

I can't say for certain that I'll give up my gym membership when it comes due this spring. But I'm seriously considering it.

Here, kitty, kitty.

Fell is a certified strength and conditioning specialist in Calgary, Canada.

james@bodyforwife.com

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