Create a Home Workout Space
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Create a Home Workout Space

by Beth Hagman

Each year, thousands of people invest in home exercise equipment, much of it quite expensive - treadmills, stationary bikes, stair climbers, elliptical trainers. In 1998, Americans spent $5.5 billion on home workout machines, and that number climbs every year.

For many, the wallet gets the best workout. Equipment is often too bulky to leave out, yet heavy and tough to take out of storage and set up for daily workouts. One solution is to choose a single, relatively compact machine, such as a stationary bike or stair climber, and leave it set up in a corner of your bedroom.

The problem with this is that you're not going to get a complete workout using a single piece of equipment. For a balanced fitness program, you need to cover all the bases - cardiovascular, weight training, stretching and resistance work.

Where to Work Out

Many people prefer the convenience of working out at home - it's cheaper in the long run, there's no time spent commuting to the gym, you don't need childcare, you can work out whenever you want, you never have to wait for somebody else to finish and you can choose your own music/television show to work out to.

So why do so few of us stick with it?

-Boredom from lack of exercise variety

-Lack of motivation, exacerbated by isolation and lack of feedback

-Poor ventilation and/or poor lighting.

You can resolve these problems by broadening your workout scope - complimenting your home workouts with a good gym or Y program, taking a weekly exercise class (swimming, dancing or boxing are good for a change of pace) or working with a personal trainer. Any of these will provide the social aspect that can make working out more fun.

You can also set goals and develop a plan to reach them, which can resolve the motivation problem.

Good light - preferably natural light - can elevate your mood, adding to the sense of well-being you get from working out. Good ventilation is essential when doing indoor cardiovascular training, and an air purifier will help you avoid the problems inherent in breathing heavily around pets, plants and dust.

Setting up a convenient, well-ventilated and well-lit workout space in your home can solve the rest, leaving you with no excuses at all.

What Do You Want to Do?

The top five ways people get and stay fit are:

1. Training with free weights

2. Treadmill walking or jogging

3. Fitness walking

4. Running /jogging

5. Stationary bicycle workouts.

Your choices will be dictated by where you live and your personal interests. For cardiovascular training, you can invest in a treadmill or stationary bike, or you can run, powerwalk, swim or bicycle outdoors. When the weather turns bad, you can jump rope, run in place or work out to a tae bo or aerobics video.

Outdoor exercise gives you the the option of varying your route, speed and distance to keep it interesting. Many of the new exercise machines also give you options for varying the difficulty and speed of your workout, and some even offer the illusion of varying routes with videoscreens.

You need to do weight workouts three days a week for best results. In this case, more is not better. Use your weight workouts to break up the monotony of cardiovascular training.

For strength training, you'll want free weights, dumbbells or wrist and ankle weights in the 3-5 pound or 8-10 pound range. Hold off on more complicated equipment or a weight bench until you've established a regular workout habit.

Other simple in-home equipment you'll be able to gradually add to your mini-gym includes:

-An exercise mat for stretching, abdominal work, Pilates and yoga

-Resistance bands (keep the instruction manual handy)

-A mirror, so you can watch your form while exercising

-A heart rate monitor, which will give you the feedback you need to be sure you're exercising efficiently.

A good selection of music (look for stuff with a solid beat) and videos (a variety of styles) is a good idea, too. They can provide the change of pace you'll sometimes need to keep going.

Setting Up

How much will it cost to create a mini-gym in your home? About half the price of joining a no-frills gym for a year. You might have to get creative with space, moving things around a bit, consolidating your storage. A corner of your bedroom, an unused breakfast nook, even a little apartment balcony can become your personal gym. A spare bedroom gives you a lot more maneuvering room - and allows you privacy - but few of us can afford quite that much space. Just make the most of what you've got.

The amount of space you need will depend on the equipment you choose, but you must set aside permanent usage space for your workouts. Don't pretend that you'll be willing to drag your equipment out and put it away after every workout. Just plan to leave it in place where it's convenient and comfortable to use. Allow some closet space for stowing small stuff like weights and bands or step boards.

Get Help

Perhaps your best accessory for a home-based workout is a personal trainer. Having one help you set up your workout space, help you choose your equipment and show you how to use it properly for a balanced workout is the best investment you can make. Check the phone book for American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) accredited trainers, or check online.

If you can't afford a regular workout session in your home with your trainer, set up periodic sessions every couple of months so you can get feedback, workout updates and advice.

With or without a trainer, you will need to set goals to keep you on track. Start small, setting short-term, achievable goals. When you reach a goal, up the ante a bit and set another. Post your current goal on the wall in your workout space. Reward yourself when you reach a goal - preferably with upgrades in workout wear, a better heart rate monitor, new running shoes or a coveted new piece of equipment (not food!).

Don't save your workouts for the weekend. Plan to work out every day - strength workouts (weight training and resistance work) three days a week, cardiovascular workouts four days a week, stretching every day. Try to do it the same time every day, too. After awhile, you'll remember to say, "I can't make it until 7 p.m. I work out between 5 and 6."

Make a real effort not to miss a workout for a solid month - and you'll have developed a fitness habit that will help you get through the days you're tired or have the blahs and don't feel like putting on your running shoes.

Once you start to see and feel results, you'll become even more dedicated to your at-home fitness program. Then it's time to go shopping for that one fabulous piece of equipment that you've always wanted.

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