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A Little Coaching on Setting Up A Home Gym

By Elissa Leibowitz
Special to the Washington Post
Thursday, February 11, 1999; Page T15

Tim Bishop, the Baltimore Orioles' strength and conditioning coach, works out with some of the most conditioned athletes around. He has access to top gyms, exercising with professional baseball players at Oriole Park at Camden Yards and at a training facility owned by Cal Ripken. But during the off-season two or three times a week, Bishop works out at home.

On those days, Bishop, 34, hops out of bed around 8 a.m., pulls on a pair of shorts and a T-shirt, eats a light breakfast and heads to the basement of the Baltimore town house he shares with his wife, Amy. Taking up most of the space in the basement is a gym setup. Though better than average, the equipment is not as elaborate as you might expect and more welcome than he ever anticipated.

"You don't have to get in your car and go somewhere," says Bishop. "You can roll out of bed and not even worry about combing your hair."

His gym--painted beige and decorated with an ESPN banner, team photos of the Orioles, other sports memorabilia and a lone Ansel Adams poster--consists of a Universal-style machine for strength training, nine pairs of dumbbells ranging in weight from 10 pounds to 70 pounds, two benches (one for lifting weights and one for leg work), a Stairmaster, a treadmill and a rowing machine. Heavy-duty black rubber tiles that interlock like puzzle pieces protect the mauve carpet from the heavy equipment and from wear and tear.

Bishop spent just $800 for this array of equipment. The rowing machine was a thank-you gift from Orioles outfielder Brady Anderson. The strength-training equipment was purchased for next-to-nothing from a friend of a friend who simply wanted the metal monolith out of his home. And Bishop traded a stationary bicycle he seldom used to get the stepper.

People who don't make a profession of fitness aren't likely to need all the equipment Bishop owns. He says novices should start with one piece of equipment, like a bicycle or a stepper, to get the heart pumping. Then, work up to a few sets of dumbbells. From there, consider more weights for strength training, and different cardio-machines, like a rowing machine, for variety.

"What I tell most people is not to neglect the most important muscle, the heart," Bishop says. "Start with some kind of cardiovascular piece, like a stationary bicycle."

He recommends a bicycle over a treadmill because he would rather see people walking or running outside to get "some sunshine and fresh air."

Bishop says the biggest mistake people make is thinking they need to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to buy elaborate equipment. Don't spend a lot on new equipment, especially if you're unsure what equipment you want and like, he advises. Better to spend $200 on a used stationary bicycle than $2,000 on a new one if you're not sure how you'll like using it.

Bishop suggests checking newspaper classified ads and consignment shops that specialize in fitness machines for good used equipment. He shops at the Fitness Trading Co. in Cockeysville, Md., north of Baltimore. More likely than not, he says, used equipment is barely used.

"You look in any newspaper and there's so much used fitness equipment. People get it as gifts, and then they end up unloading it at a fraction of its cost."

Take the same precautions in buying used gym gear as you do purchasing a used car, Bishop says. Research the equipment and have an idea what you're looking for. Visit a local gym and see what kinds of machines they use. And when it comes time to inspect a possible purchase, take along a friend who knows workout equipment.

Bishop's home gym takes up about 300 square feet, but "you can have a very functional gym in half this space," he says. Or less.

If space is an issue, consider carving out just a corner of a room for a stationary bicycle or a treadmill. Some pieces of equipment even fold up for storing under a bed or in a closet.

"It depends on your priorities," he says. If you'd rather use a room for a big-screen TV or a surround-sound home movie theater, it will be harder to make room for fitness equipment.

Bishop is looking for more room. He and his wife are planning to move in the fall, and a larger space for the gym is a priority.

Amy Bishop, 28, a nurse at St. Joseph's Hospital in Towson, Md., uses the equipment more than her husband does, especially during the baseball season when he is on the road. She works out in the morning before work or gets on the treadmill as soon as she gets home.

The convenience is as important to her as it is to her husband.

"I work out more now than before, when I went to the gym," she says.

Elissa Leibowitz works in The Post's Sports department.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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