I was finally going to the gym daily when the pandemic hit and shut everything. Before long, I started to gain the “quarantine fifteen” that has plagued those of us attempting to eat stress away. Something had to be done, quickly. So I pushed aside the coffee table and rolled out a mat, but this less-than-ideal space has me rethinking a home gym.
Home fitness equipment has improved in terms of technology and ergonomics. “Competition is expanding options and lowering prices,” says Justin Koscak, the founder/owner of Custom Home Gyms Canada. He’s seen skyrocketing demand for his services in the Toronto area since last spring. “Manufacturers are designing for home spaces with a squat rack, for instance, that wall-mounts and folds away on itself.”
The many options available can make it challenging to know what to get. “Start by determining your overall goal,” Koscak advises. “Is it to build muscle or just stay fit?”
Women now recognize the importance of weight training in conjunction with cardio and stretch workouts, so equipment preferences tend to relate to people’s age, physical health and fitness ambitions rather than whether they’re male or female, he says. “For instance, rowing equipment can be tougher to use for some older people who might prefer an elliptical machine that’s gentler on joints. Either can ultimately lead to good fitness.”
Establishing a budget is essential. “I try to buy Canadian for the quality and lower shipping costs that can become substantial,” Koscak says.
Unless they’re well-insulated and heated, most Canadian garages are too cold for wintertime workouts. “Keep in mind that metal barbells retain the cold,” Koscak cautions. “However, garage gyms are a viable option for Canadians if they are properly finished. I have worked and continue to work with my clients on building both basement and garage gyms.”
Creating a good shell is wise. Koscak recommends a plywood platform with a rubberized covering to create a level surface if the basement or garage floor slants for drainage. “The platform can be levelled by adding thin pieces of wood (shims) under one side to account for slanting,” he says. “Ideally, you also want good lighting, mirrors, ambient sound and a smart TV to entice you to use the space, and soundproofing if it’s a man cave or teen space.”
Reena Sotropa, the principal designer at In House Design Group in Calgary, devised a clever yoga studio/guest bedroom as optimal flex space. “I wanted to give my empty-nester clients a reason to go into every room of their redesigned home,” Sotropa says.
Customized millwork was key to bolting a large mirror (above) to a Murphy bed so its frame could be used to lower the bed. Otherwise, most folks don’t realize the bed’s there.
“The ceiling wallpaper is pretty to see when lying on the bed or on a mat,” she says. “A woollen carpet makes the room cozier for guests, and provides some knee cushioning.”
Customized cabinetry is used to store clothing and equipment. “We also reinforced the window bench to store weights,” Sotropa adds.
The designer recommends using walk-in closets to roll away today’s smaller treadmills and stationary bikes. “Our client also has a flat screen for her guests to watch TV and for her to play exercise DVDs.”
Some homeowners are taking exercise space into account when planning new construction. Denise Ashmore, the principal designer at Project 22 Design in Vancouver, created a basement gym space for children who never miss an American Ninja Warrior episode. “The rings and pull-handles along the reinforced ceiling beam give this active family an outlet when the weather isn’t great,” Ashmore says. “The modular carpeting absorbs sound and can be removed to clean.”
Ashmore says that bodyweight-resistant straps are becoming popular for home workouts, but cautions about proper installation. “You need a stud-finder and secure anchors.”
Expert engineers had to be called to secure the open space and “floating” bedroom cubes in a winning design by Montreal architecture firm naturehumaine.
“The property owner wanted a fun apartment for her two kids in their 20s,” says Stéphane Rasselet, the principal architect. “Her son was really into fitness, so they asked for gymnastic rings.”
Sections of the building’s second and third floor were opened to provide swinging space that is naturally brightened with skylights. “Adjustable straps can raise or lower the rings,” Rasselet says, adding that the chin-up bar was simply reinforced with plywood bolted to wall studs.
No worries if you don’t have such a generous mom. Montreal fitness instructor Jennifer Arditi reassures us that we can effectively start working out with little space and next-to-no equipment. “If you have a mat, a chair, and some light weights, you’re good to go,” she says.
Arditi launched Gear Up for Fitness online with her business partner Kelly Dodds last May in response to the closing of gyms. She now has about 15 instructors and upwards of 500 members for the virtual classes. “When we started out, no one could go shopping for equipment, so we suggested soup cans as weights,” she recalls.
Arditi notes the increasing popularity of yoga, Pilates, Tabata, HIIT (high-intensity interval training) and other exercises that make use of body weight so there’s no need for equipment other than yoga blocks or an elastic band. “There tends to be less injury with body-weight exercises because we can adjust more easily,” she says.
While gym-goers are eager to return to post-pandemic normalcy, Arditi believes that home fitness is here to stay. “People will continue to both work and work out at home more often because they realize how much time it saves,” she says.
Ashmore says that many are welcoming the convenience, especially with online connectivity. “Look at the popularity of Peloton classes,” she says. “And there’s often a wait for those bikes.”
Reflecting on his own weight-loss journey, Koscak says he would have liked the privacy and flexibility of his own home gym “instead of being uncomfortable at a regular gym.
“As people discover the efficiency and comfort, they’ll continue to invest in their home equipment,” he adds.
And that means there’ll be no excuse for not exercising. •
Originally published in the Winter 2020 issue.
Custom Home Gyms Canada
In House Design Group
Project 22 Design
Gear Up for Fitness