COVID-19 may have closed gyms for most of 2020, but it didn’t keep the world from working out.
Like everything else, from takeout meals to cocktails to-go, we adapted to continue to enjoy the activities that made us feel “normal.”
In lieu of throwing our gym bags over our shoulders and firing up a treadmill at the gym, we turned to home-based alternatives. From March to October 2020, health and fitness equipment revenue more than doubled, skyrocketing to $2.3 billion, according to data from market research firm NPD. Treadmill sales increased 135 percent, and stationary bike sales almost tripled, with ever-popular Peloton reporting $1.8 billion in 2020 revenue.
“We certainly want the world to get back to normal, just like everyone else,” Peloton chief membership officer Brad Olson told The Washington Post. “We do believe that the pandemic has compelled consumers to re-evaluate their fitness routines and many have discovered that the best, most connected workout can actually be experienced at home.”
The reflective-glass digital Mirror and wall-mounted strength-training Tonal both exceeded sales expectations with soaring numbers.
Are home gyms here to stay?
Are home workouts the “new normal”? While North Carolina gyms are able to operate at 30 percent capacity under the current regulations, masks are required, and more people are turning to home-based alternatives. It’s expected that 59 percent of Americans don’t plan to renew their gym memberships post-pandemic, according to a TD Ameritrade survey.
While a home gym could save you money on a membership, it may come at a high initial investment. Peloton’s least expensive model begins at $1,895, not inclusive of the app, which adds on $39.99 each month — if you want the full version that tracks your metrics. Even if you do decide to splurge on the bike, delivery times range from 8 to 10 weeks. Similarly, a Mirror home gym will cost $1,495 plus the monthly $39 membership, and Tonal starts at $2,995 and increases by $495 for Smart Accessories.
Apple Fitness+, which first debuted in Dec. 2020, joined the home-based fitness community as well. It offers a similar experience to the Peloton app, but runs only $9.99/mo, or $79.99/year. The app integrates with the Apple Watch to track metrics and offers options such as cycling, running, dance, yoga, HIIT, strength training and more.
High prices and soaring demand may make it seem impossible to set up a home gym space, but getting started is easier than you’d think.
Spinning, rock climbing, hot yoga — all at home.
When rumors began to swirl that COVID-19 would likely close down businesses, including gyms, I immediately began to think about what I could gather to create a makeshift gym until the uncertainty dissipated (and here we are).
I set out a yoga mat and a few dumbbells in the garage, then began looking into home gym equipment. Of course, the Peloton price tag was high — and delivery times far in the future — so I chose a less expensive option: the Bowflex C9 spin bike. Almost a year later, the garage gym has become my norm, and I’m glad I invested up front to create a space free from the stress of the pandemic.
Charlottean Auston Keel also turned to at-home alternatives for his workout of choice — rock climbing. When gyms closed, he spent his lunch breaks crafting blueprints, using a ruler to draw small-scale models on paper to estimate the size and wood cuts for an at-home climbing wall. When the blueprint was finished, he reached out to friends Stephen Collado and Josh Bishop, who were competent in woodworking, for help.
At the time, wood prices were lower, and Keel decided to use non-pressure-treated wood, as it fell within his price range.
“We decided to use the highest quality plywood to ensure smooth surfaces and structural integrity, so that boosted the cost a bit, but it turned out to be a solid call,” Keel said.
After four hours at Lowe’s Home Improvement, Keel and his friends had loaded a pickup and a car with the materials. Now, he and his friends have a fully-functioning rock wall in a garage.
“Having a home gym training wall within walking distance is motivating. You get the freedom and privacy of your home, but the training and accessibility of hyper-focused training sessions without distraction,” Keel said. “We were all finding that in a quick 1-2 hour training session on the wall, we could get a lot done.”
While building a climbing wall from scratch is already a huge feat, here’s the most impressive part: Keel considers a 1-2 hour training session “quick” and, therefore, is living proof that rock walls will build athletic endurance.
Keel cites size and variety as the biggest differences between his home gym and Inner Peaks, where he previously trained.
“It’s virtually impossible to replicate an entire climbing gym in a private home unless you’ve got a couple hundred thousand laying around your house to spend,” Keel said. “My advice would be to price out material and really focus on the things that occupy most of your workout time and build your home gym around those things. We decided to pick the aspect of climbing that we needed to train the most and went from there.”
In addition to garage gyms, you can also get creative with extra space in your home. CharlotteFive editor Melissa Oyler is an avid yogi, so she turned her guest room into a dreamy hot yoga space for less than $200 out of pocket, including the cost of a warm-mist humidifier. She used two space heaters that she already owned and added an old television (hooked up to an Apple TV). She can use AirPlay to display Zoom yoga classes, giving the illusion that her friends are in the studio with her.
She added in a few items she already owned: a handstand trainer, two yoga mats, half blocks, a bolster, a yoga blanket and some prayer flags — a gift from a friend she practiced with in person, pre-pandemic.
Now, the space is strung with tapestries and market lights, Oyler’s final splurge (around $100) toward the perfect ambiance for an at-home workout. One of the tapestries is hung in the center of the room and it serves as a room divider — bedroom furniture on one side, yoga studio on the other.
“I wasted most of 2020 trying to do hot yoga in my living room in front of the fireplace,” she said. “I couldn’t get hot enough to sweat, and it’s because the ceilings were too high. The guest room is one of the smallest spaces in the house, which means it takes very little time to heat. The humidifier is, hands-down, my best quarantine purchase. Unintended bonus: My succulents are thriving, too.”
Setting up: Evaluate your space.
“I think one of the biggest discoveries for a lot of people during the pandemic is that you don’t need a lot of space to create a home gym,” F45 trainer Ezra Leak said. “The amount of space needed is really dependent upon the type of workouts you’re doing and if there’s equipment involved.”
Leak said that for strength training and workouts that incorporate jumping or dynamic movements, you won’t need to worry about limited space.
“A great way to ‘create’ a good workout space is to remove furniture, especially in the living room. Clear the space of any potential distractions that could take away from your workout. If you have an option for a space that gets natural lighting, go for it. Balconies tend to be a great option for workout space,” Leak said.
When the COVID-19 pandemic started, personal trainer RO Young remembers having to be proactive and come up with a plan to keep his clients motivated. He trained at the park and the parking deck at his complex, which he said was a big adjustment, but made it work and enjoyed the change.
“If you live in an apartment or a small house, don’t be afraid to move furniture around or go outside. Some of my best workouts have been in my bathroom, running in place to the tempo of a favorite song, and doing dumbbell curls and push-ups on the bathroom sink. Be creative,” Young said.
Taylor Calamese, owner of Charlotte FIT, recommends choosing somewhere in your living space where you won’t be distracted.
“Choose options where you’ll be able to get your alone time, particularly in today’s time where most people have their families at home with them,” Calamese said. “Garages are always good, because they’re tucked off. Basements are good. I would choose the room in the house where you can get the most alone time for at least a dedicated 30 minutes, and where you’ll enjoy showing up.”
Calamese suggests, if possible, to avoid putting your home gym space near your workspace.
“Keep your home gym separate from other aspects of your life. Because if you’re constantly seeing and hearing pinging, you’re not going to finish workouts, or it will bring a level of stress that the workouts are supposed to alleviate,” she said. “Find a space where you feel the most free or relaxed in your home.”
Space, check. Now for the equipment.
If you plan to do more than bodyweight workouts in your space, Charlotte trainers recommend starting with a small amount of versatile equipment that can be used for both cardio and strength training.
“If you’re going to start a home gym, the main essentials you’ll need are dumbbells, a flat bench, yoga mat, jump rope, resistance bands and a mirror,” Young said.
Leak also recommended a yoga mat along with dumbbells or a kettlebell. A set of 10-pound dumbbells can go a long way, especially when coupled with a kettlebell, Calamese said. If you have the budget/space for more than one set, consider one set for light/medium weight exercises and one for heavier lifting.
With people across the country creating home gym spaces, you may find it difficult to find some of the more popular dumbbell weights right away.
“If you don’t have access to dumbbells, grab a set of adjustable resistance bands,” Leak said. “I like the tube bands with handles. They are extremely easy to use and don’t take up a lot of space.”
Above all, keep it simple.
“If you’re just starting out, or trying to get into a routine, less is more. Don’t invest in a lot of equipment, but start with a few things and then add on as you progress and figure out what you like,” Leak said. “Try to avoid making your workout space too comfortable. Remember, that space is meant to be where you sweat and grind, so you want to feel motivated when you look at it.”
I have weights. What about cardio?
“One of the great things about cardio workouts is they don’t require any equipment to be effective,” Leak said. “As long as you’re able to move, you can get your heart rate up and burn calories with bodyweight movements.”
Leak recommends jumping jacks, mountain climbers, speed skaters and burpees. He cites jump ropes as one of his favorite inexpensive pieces of cardio equipment and that you can also use a single kettlebell for a variety of cardio exercises.
“While treadmills, ellipticals and Pelotons are great for cardio, they can be expensive and take up too much space,” Young said. “I encourage my clients to do jump rope, jumping jacks or a combined exercise that I came up with called ‘Trios.’ Trios are a combination of weighted jumping jacks, burpees and mountain climbers. This exercise builds muscle and burns fat. My clients hate them, but they work.”
Have the space for a piece of cardio equipment?
“I think you should always have one big piece of cardio equipment, particularly a treadmill, because walking is just healthy in general,” Calamese said. “Now that it’s getting cold, you can always go walk, because it’s not contingent on the weather. Pick your one big thing that the rest of the gym will sit around as far as cardio equipment.”
Treadmill not calling your name? Consider a bike. Sure, the Peloton seems like a great idea until you see the price tag. Sunny offers bike options beginning under $500, and both the Schwinn IC4 and Bowflex C6 ring in under $1,000 (Note: These are the same bike, just with different branding). Plus, you can integrate them with the Peloton digital app on your own device, which only runs $12.99/month.
You can also look into places that sell fitness equipment at lower prices than the high-end retailers. Davis Fitness Equipment offers cardio, strength training and benches at reduced prices, and Carolina Fitness Equipment offers both new and used cardio machines. Like many other gym equipment providers, inventory is subject to change, so call ahead to confirm what’s available.
Staying motivated at home
While setting up a home gym is fun, the novelty may wear off with lack of group support or the atmosphere of a traditional gym. Here are three tips to make the most of your new space:
(1) Plan ahead.
“Make a schedule for your workouts and establish a routine,” Leak said.
He recommends using a calendar, planner or mobile phone to make a schedule. If you’re using your phone, set reminders and alarms for your workout times.
“The more consistent you are with the specific days and times for your workout, the more likely you are to stick to it,” Leak said.
He also suggests setting up your workout space the night before and laying out your workout clothes so you can see them.
(2) Get an accountability partner.
“Bring somebody on board with you,” Calamese said. “Coordinate your schedules where every day at a certain time, you’ll work out together virtually. Enlist somebody to always check in with you.”
Calamese recommends syncing up fitness trackers so that you can check each other’s progress.
“The biggest thing when it comes to motivation and accountability with goals is to just tell somebody else,” Calamese said.
Leak suggests enrolling in virtual group workouts. “Virtual group workouts are a great option for individuals that prefer the group setting but need the extra push,” he said. “There are a lot of really good group workouts available via apps and some fitness studios are still offering to stream live and virtual workouts.
Not sure where to get started? Calamese offers virtual classes through Charlotte FIT.
(3) Remember why you set up the gym in the first place.
“Motivation to work out is different for everyone,” Young said. “That’s one thing that I always ask my clients when they start training with me. ‘What is your motivation?’ It could be an upcoming vacation to Tulum, a bride to be, losing ‘pandemic’ weight, having just given birth and wanting to get back to a pre-pregnancy body or the #1 motivation … being single. I tell my clients to use whatever motivates them most, no matter what it is.”
Aside from working out, your gym is also your space to relax and re-center during the day.
“Don’t make it just about exercise,” Calamese said. “If you don’t have any other peace and quiet during the day, that is your dedicated space and time for yourself.”
She recommends listening to your favorite podcasts, music or audiobooks.
“Tie exercise to something else that you enjoy and that you wouldn’t normally get time to do.”
Whether you’re laying out a mat and dumbbells in an apartment or setting up equipment in the garage, your home gym is what you make it.
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