When the Gym Is Totally Yours, There's No One Hogging the Gear

By Vicky Hallett
Tuesday, January 27, 2009

No word on Punxsutawney Phil's plans for next week. There is, however, a strong chance the famous groundhog will poke his head out of his burrow, decide it's still winter and go back to bed, much like a lot of us do during our daily debate over whether to go to the gym.

But even though staying inside is allowed, it's time to toss off the covers and figure out how to get a fitness routine cooking. Turns out that if you're having trouble with the recipe, you can even have it delivered. Yes, like pizza. "I just open the door, and she's there," marvels Kim Romary, who moved her personal training sessions from McLean's STS Fitness (http://www.stsfit.com, $89 to $95 an hour) to her house after having ACL replacement surgery.

Besides getting to wear clothes with holes to workouts, the 49-year-old quickly discovered other benefits to the house calls, such as never having an audience for tough exercises or waiting for her turn on a piece of equipment.

Not that her trainer needs much stuff to be effective. "What's important is being creative," explains Michael Lin, co-owner of Verve Health & Fitness (http://www.vervehealthandfitness.com), which handles a lot of in-home training for busy clients willing to cover the extra cost for the convenience. With an inflatable stability ball and resistance bands, Lin is armed with everything necessary for a grueling workout.

Plus, you can improvise with the furnishings you've got: Stairs can be used to help with push-ups (they're easier the higher your body is elevated) or jumped up on one leg; the couch back can become a makeshift barre for ballet-inspired exercises and the edge of a bed can come in handy for triceps dips. Linda Rudd, owner of STS, has taken one client into the kitchen for certain moves: "She can balance against the counter."

If beside the pantry doesn't seem like the ideal spot for sweating, call exercise physiologist RogerYasin (http://www.ryfitness.com), who offers home-gym design services for $150 an hour. He has transformed his Arlington basement from a "dungeoneous" den into a brightly lit personal health club with hardwood floors, mirrored walls and just about any toy you might want to have in your exercise rotation (speed ladders, cones, medicine balls, kettlebells, a self-spotting machine, etc.).

Clients can use it almost like a science lab: Yasin has them experiment with everything to decide what they like and what fits their needs. Then he'll help them figure out what they should buy based on budget and space, set it up and demonstrate how to use it. That way they're free to keep up the exercise routine on their own, and the cost of all this can be much cheaper than membership fees at a gym. (Yasin's clients are also welcome to continue training with him at his place.)

His tiniest gym project? A walk-in closet in a condo in Georgetown. The basis is a bench that can be used for weights, as a step or as an anchor for resistance bands. "I designed a whole workout around it," he says.

The hardest part of developing a small home gym is integrating cardio training. Treadmills and the like are pricey investments that tend to take up serious space, and cheap, portable options (such as jump ropes) are often a problem indoors, especially in apartments. Rudd often gets around the issue by taking a series of strength-building exercises, including such classics as squats and lunges, and stringing them together in a circuit. Try them with no breaks at a rapid clip and your heart'll be pumping in no time. Yasin favors kickboxing, as the swift, controlled arm and leg movements don't take up much room but require a lot of energy.

Jenn Tung, co-owner of Goddess Fitness in Bethesda (http://www.goddessfitness.com), has another idea: a stripper pole. She started out in the fitness business teaching at people's homes with a single portable pole, and she still has it in her apartment to practice fancy spins and keep her muscles toned. How else would she stay prepared to lead pole dance aerobics classes? "It's like having any other exercise equipment around," Tung says. "As cardio, [pole dancing] is as strenuous as any kind of dance. As for strength, you're holding your weight in your arms and legs." And, of course, it handles traditional exercises, too. Think single leg squats and stretches.

No matter how perfectly you deck out your gym, home workouts aren't for everyone. "If you're looking for lat pulldowns and leg presses, and you don't have those machines, that's difficult," Rudd cautions.

Lin, who has a gym in his house, says he's much more likely to exercise at Verve to get a boost from other people's energy and to take advantage of the expanded options. "As you get stronger, at a gym you have a variety of weights: 8, 10, 12. Most people will go up in five-pound increments at home," he explains.

Without someone knocking on your door, you might lack the motivation to go downstairs, let alone start on a set of bicycle crunches. And if there's a spouse or kids around, along with a ringing telephone, even the most well-intentioned exercisers may never actually get around to the planned routine.

Which is why, Phil, we're hoping your forecast calls for an early spring -- and some encouragement to get our butts out of our burrows.


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