Step up to exercise at home, in private

December 04, 1993|By Stacey BeattieStacey Beattie | Stacey BeattieStacey Beattie,Knight-Ridder News Service

Liz McGinness says she first got serious about exercise nine years ago while pregnant with her first child. She bought a membership in a health club and made a weekly routine of biking, walking and stair-stepping.

But after her baby was born, getting herself and her baby ready for the trip to the gym was soon overwhelming.

"It became a two- or three-hour ordeal," she says. "It wasn't really practical in terms of maintaining a pretty rigid routine."

Then she and her husband bought their first exercise machine, a stationary bike, and began working out in their Wichita, Kan., home.

Today, Ms. McGinness, 34, a school psychologist, simply walks into the den at 5:45 a.m. to exercise before going to work. Her two small children can sleep while she completes her 30 minutes on the stair-stepper.

The McGinnesses, and many like them, share a preference for sweating in private.

"What we're seeing is a lot of people went to health clubs, got hooked on quality equipment and for various reasons -- they now have children, it's harder to get out, time constraints, difficult to get to health clubs -- want the same quality equipment at home as they're accustomed to using at a health club," says Scott Miles, owner and operator of Mid-States Fitness Equipment in Wichita. "Some people prefer to work out without anyone bothering them . . . it doesn't matter what they wear or what they look like."

Sales of home exercise equipment continue to rise, and in 1991 )) became "numero uno in sporting goods," nudging aside major categories like hunting and golf equipment, says Mike May, spokesman for the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association in North Palm Beach, Fla.

And home builders are accommodating the trend. It's not uncommon for an exercise room to be part of the design in a new home. According to a March report by the National Association of Home Builders, exercise rooms are one of the most popular additions to single-family homes.

Mike Brown, 41, an obstetrician and gynecologist, has about a dozen exercise machines in the 25-by-35-foot exercise room he had built into the basement of his home two years ago. "The Brown gym" -- as it's referred to by friends -- comes complete with a rubber floor and a full-length mirror along one wall.

"Because of my schedule, I can't always make it to an outside gym," Dr. Brown says, "so this gives me the flexibility to do it while I'm at home."

He says he, his wife and four children, use the gym almost every day.

Nickey and David Sharpe have several exercise machines and free weights in their basement that share space with a pool table and television. The room is a time-saving alternative to driving to exercise at a health club, they say.

Even people who regularly exercise at health clubs often buy home-exercise equipment, Mr. Miles says.

"We find certain people do require the motivation of going to a health club," he says. "[They] buy certain pieces of equipment such as a treadmill or stair climber -- since those are what they have to wait in line for -- and continue going to the club for aerobics or workout machines."

Despite its appeal, exercise equipment has been known to find its way to a garage sale or to sit unused in some closet.

"Basically, what we've done is go through several pieces of equipment," says Ms. McGinness, whose machine of choice right now is the stair-stepper. "Right now the treadmill is gathering dust."

THE WELL-EQUIPPED SHOPPER

Here are some tips for choosing home exercise equipment:

* Try before you buy. Test machines at a health club, or buy with a clear understanding of return and exchange privileges. Visit stores wearing your workout clothes and give your favorite a serious trial. If you're bored in the store, that's a clue.

* Make sure you can control the workload, such as the number of pounds or revolutions per minute. If you can't repeat a workload exactly from session to session, you miss the incentive of competing with yourself and recording your progress.

* Balance your activity between aerobics, the non-stop activity for heart and lungs, and resistance exercise, which builds muscles. Only a few machines let you do both effectively. You're smarter to buy a good machine that does one thing well and take a simplified approach to the other activity. For example, combine a good-quality weight machine with fitness walking; or buy inexpensive hand weights to go with a high-quality treadmill, stair climber or cycle.

* As your physical condition improves with exercise, you may find your equipment does not provide as much challenge as you need. Some sporting goods stores allow you to trade in old machines for new, so check the store's policy.

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