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Home gyms muscle up for in-house work outs as opposed to public ones
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By Della De LaFuente

There's no monthly membership for a home gym, no lines for exercise machines or commute times to the local fitness center. For some homeowners it's making a lot of sense to stay in to work out.

People who want a private workout whenever they choose are bypassing the health club and bringing the gym into their homes. They're carving out a personalized fitness space for the same exercise programs offered at a lavish outside facility.

Real-estate developers and builders say homeowners increasingly are choosing to build in-home gyms as a must-have amenity, mainly to get and stay fit, but also to pump up the curb appeal of their property.

Roughly one-third of new and potential homebuyers cite a home exercise room as either essential or desirable, according to the National Association of Home Builders, a Washington D.C.-based industry trade group.

"The home gym is one of the top amenities that homeowners want to incorporate into their homes," said Gabe Pasquale, vice president and chief marketing officer of WCI Communities' Northeast region based in Valhalla, N.Y.

WCI Communities is a major developer of luxury residential communities and gated enclaves in six states. Properties such as its 52-acre development Legends at Half Hollow in Dix Hills, N.Y., feature semi-custom built homes, ranging in size from 4,000 to 6,000 square feet and valued between $1.5 million and $3.5 million, with design options such as home gyms, theater rooms and other specialty rooms.

Pasquale said today's active baby boomers see themselves "as being about 15 years younger (than their actual ages)," and they want their own space to work out at home.

"They might bring one or two of their favorite pieces of cardio equipment into their home - whether it's a treadmill, bike or a recumbent apparatus - to use every day," Pasquale said, adding, "but they'll likely also use the community fitness center or go to a health club a couple of times a week."

WCI began noticing the shifting evolution of luxury home design to a more lifestyle-driven floor plan in the 1990s, as the baby-boomer generation of homebuyers, especially those 50 and over, began demanding health-conscious amenities such as home gyms, spas and meditation rooms aimed at helping them live longer.

Some WCI residential developments and active adult communities offer new homebuyers pre-designed "flex" spaces, which could be used for a variety of different functions, one being a family gym. This is in addition to an onsite fitness center that can be used communally by residents, Pasquale said, noting, "A fitness center is an absolute necessity. It's not a desire or an option, it's a necessity."

In fact, consumers made significant strides to get in shape in 2006, with 25.7 million Americans, a nearly 30 percent increase from 19.8 million in 2000, working out in a home gym, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association in Washington, D.C. They use the term to describe either a designated specialty room or a space with a one or more exercise machines.

In addition, the trade group said manufacturers' sales of sporting-goods equipment, exercise equipment, sports apparel and footwear and recreational transport in the U.S. totaled $114.5 billion in 2006, a 7.6 percent jump over 2005.

Others in the fitness game, including some architects, designers, manufacturers and retailers of home-gym equipment, say the move to working out in the comfort and privacy of one's humble abode is being driven largely by time-strapped homeowners who want to work out when they choose.

"Some of the women (who are clients) are very busy but they are also very health-conscious so it's important that they exercise every day," said Trevor Abramson, partner in charge of design at Abramson Teiger Architects in Culver City, Calif. "Having a room there, right out of bed or near the bathroom, makes it a lot easier and more convenient."

And home gyms may provide a respite from the nightclub-scene mentality that's sometimes associated with the neighborhood health club. "The fitness-crazed baby boomers that in the 1980s were going to the health club to hook up and get married now are bringing the gym home for themselves and their families," WCI's Pasquale said.

Ninety percent of the custom homes designed by Abramson's firm in Southern California, Colorado and Canada include home gyms at the request of affluent clients. Many of these clients are entrepreneurs who fancy modern architectural homes - which, as Abramson points out, "tend to make a statement."

There have been a few over-the-top requests for mini televisions to be installed at every workout machine. One oversized exercise room on the second level of a home was tricked out with its own bathroom and shower facility, and stocked with 15 pieces of high-quality fitness equipment.

But Abramson said in-home gyms designed by his firm usually are about the size of a regular bedroom. Most have just a few pieces of fitness equipment. There might be a treadmill, or an elliptical trainer, or both, plus a multifunctional home-gym machine to work all parts of the body.

"We mostly do homes that have some sort of workout space that's either associated with the master suite or with an outdoor living environment, either near a pool or opening up into a garden," Abramson explained, adding: "It's still an important room and we try to find a spot where it has a view because it's spiritually uplifting to look out at something beautiful."

The 2006 American Institute of Architects Home Design Trends Survey cites exercise/fitness rooms in third place behind home offices (No. 1) and media/home theater rooms (No. 2) as the most popular special function rooms.