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Home gyms on the rise

More people purchasing own exercise equipment

ATLANTA , Georgia (AP) --The days of long waits for sweaty machines are losing their appeal faster than a New Year's resolution. Is it any wonder more people are opting to work out at home?

Many are buying their own exercise equipment, driven partly by affordable prices and the notion -- sometimes unrealistic -- that the sight of a new cross-trainer will get them moving.

Americans spent about $4.3 billion on exercise equipment in 2002 -- up more than 11 percent from the previous year, which saw almost $3.9 billion in sales, according to the National Sporting Goods Association.

Home equipment has appealed to all ages, although older, more affluent people tend to purchase the more elaborate pieces, said NGSA spokesman Larry Weindruch. Treadmills, the most popular equipment category, are the biggest hit with 45- to 64-year-olds, who were responsible for 44 percent of that $2.5 billion market in 2002.

The rising popularity of home gyms seems to fit in well with an increasingly on-the-go culture, said Cedric Bryant, chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise.

"There's the ever-growing message for how important it is for people to find some time to exercise on a regular basis," he said. "I think the convenience of home offers people a very time-efficient solution."

Tom Krattenmaker, 43, of Yardley , Pennsylvania , prefers using his own treadmill and Bowflex machine -- which offers exercises from resistance training to rowing -- despite having free access to a fitness center at Swarthmore College , where he works.

"It's a hassle to do it (work out) at a public gym," he said. "Sometimes you have to wait to get on the machine you want."

Bryant added that exercise equipment has also become more affordable in recent years, making balance balls and free weights staples of many homes today.

Collecting dust?

But when it comes to bigger buys, home gyms may not be for everyone.

The wasteland of exercise equipment is vast, with the all-too-familiar site of rowing machines collecting dust in the basement and stair climbers doubling as coat racks.

Health club fans say public gyms give people an essential ingredient for their workout -- motivation.

"They can have the best gym in the world at home but if they don't have self-discipline to use it, then it doesn't do any good," said Leigh Crews, president of Dynalife Inc., a Rome, Georgia-based fitness education company.

Crews said she's worked with dozens of clients who started off excited about their shiny new equipment, only to drop off within a few months.

"It would be interesting to see how many people who purchase home gym equipment now would report if they still use it 18 months from now," she said.

Motivation to stay active has never been a problem for 41-year-old Sherry Fine and her husband, who've built a 15-station home gym complete with a bench press, treadmill, step machine and two abdominal exercisers.

"I like the health benefits, and I like the way I look when I workout, and I think that motivates me," she said.

The $12,000 investment for her Tulsa, Oklahoma, home has paid dividends, said Fine, a stay-at-home mom who appreciates being able to divide her workout throughout her day while caring for a 6-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter.

Starting out slowly

The most successful home workouts happen with people who already have a strong understanding of proper training methods, said Salim Nadir, a fitness director at an Atlanta gym who also works with clients in their homes.

Less experienced people tend to limit their workout with an incomplete gym or look for quick fixes on infomercials, said Nadir, who tells clients to be ready to spend at least $2,500 to $5,000 if they want to build a well-rounded, quality home gym.

Bryant said the contraptions featured on late-night infomercials touting dramatic weight loss results or rock-hard abs may sound tempting, but many tend to be "overpromising and underdelivering."

"Many of the infomercials make claims that really promise the impossible, and I think people's expectations are so high that once they get the equipment ... they become very disappointed and disillusioned," he said.

For the novice interested in building a home gym, Bryant recommends starting with equipment that simulates "natural, real-life activities," such as treadmills, stair climbers and exercise bikes. The simplicity of these pieces make them likely to be safer and used more often, he said.

As people begin to feel more comfortable with basic equipment, it may be time to consider making bigger investments.

Fine said building her home gym took research and advice from personal trainers after years exercising in health clubs.

"I would buy it in baby steps," she said. "I do think people go out and buy a lot of things they don't use because they don't know what they want."

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Copyright 2002   EXCUSERCISE    Updated 4/21/04   Contact: drbruce@EXCUSERCISE.com