Many homeowners are still reluctant to work out in gyms as COVID-19 remains a threat. Here’s how they can outfit a space without spending a bundle.
Nora Crosthwaite home gym

©Jake Boyd Photos - Nora Crosthwaite

Key Takeaways:

  • You don’t need a dedicated, tricked-out space to get fit.
  • New exercise apps, a little floor space, and a few pieces of equipment can help get your clients moving.
  • Homeowners should keep essentials organized so the room can function for other uses.

In the 1980s and ‘90s, when houses were getting bigger and fancier with all sorts of specialty spaces—theaters with stadium seating, giant aquariums, rathskellers, and sports courts—some homeowners would bring in dozens of pieces of gym equipment, install cushioned flooring, line a wall with mirrors, and add a TV or sound system to create a home workout space that could rival a commercial fitness center.

That’s a costly investment, especially when some folks lose motivation and interest. Worst case scenario: Their treadmills and ellipticals machines become a clothing rack.

Then came the pandemic, and at its peak, six out of 10 members stopped going to their local gym. Two-thirds of those pursued a fitness routine on their own, according to a study by ClubIntel of 2,000 U.S. gyms.

Thanks to technology, there has been a huge uptick in Zoom and livestreamed workout options offered both by gyms that have designed hybrid in-person and online classes, as well as a host of entrepreneurs’ and manufacturers’ new exercise apps.

The Original STEP, barbell, dumbbell, MOSSA On Demand's Group Blas streaming


These make it easy to exercise at home and on the go and have inspired many homeowners to clear a room or space to do their jumping jacks, downward dogs, and bicycle rides—sometimes competing against strangers across the country or around the globe.

In fact, Houzz, the online home site, says since the beginning of the pandemic, it has seen a 156% increase in searches for home gyms.

But in this go-around, fitness experts say having a large, swanky space expensively outfitted with the latest cardio, weight training, and core-enhancing equipment is not essential.

Moreover, those items won’t guarantee added value to a house for resale except to those specifically looking for a finished workout room or an area where they can create one, says Linda Bright, a premier luxury specialist with Illustrated Properties in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. If the room’s over-the-top, and buyers have no interest, it could be the first thing dismantled, says real estate salesperson Barb St. Amant of Atlanta Fine Homes, Sotheby’s International Realty.

However, having a smaller, appointed space offers benefits for those interested, says Nora Crosthwaite, a salesperson with RE/MAX Precisions, who also owns the online staging company, Stagerie. In her Des Moines, Iowa market, Crosthwaite says homeowners like to fix up basements for this purpose in the area’s many ranch-style homes. Homeowners should be sure a basement is dry before investing in any remodel.

In the case of homes without a basement or a separate room, clients can use a multipurpose space where equipment can be organized, Bright says. “It gives potential buyers an idea of how they might use the room in different ways to show its flexibility, which is what many buyers are after, especially now when there is such low inventory,” she says.

All sorts of rooms offer this potential, including an oversized bathroom, sitting area off a bedroom, home office, walk-in closet, garage, accessory dwelling unit (ADU), or outdoor area in good weather, says Melissa Wirt, founder of Connexusliving, which brings amenities and fitness classes to multifamily communities through content from the company’s base in Murrells Inlet, S.C.. “What’s important,” she says, “is that a homeowner can enter a space or area and focus on the programming they choose rather than specific equipment.” 

What also helps make an indoor room suitable is good ventilation, natural or artificial lighting, a proper floor—rubber matting, luxury vinyl tile (LVT) planks, carpeting, or wood flooring with cushioning underneath, and a mirror to maintain proper form and alignment, depending on the activity, says Wirt. Any of these items should be easy to switch out to make the room function for another purpose. Ceiling height is also important, and why some basements shorter than 8’ won’t work, Crosthwaite says.

In setting up the room or area, homeowners should arrange items to be accessible. “They shouldn’t have to move the coffee table every time they work out,” says Cathy Spencer-Browning, vice president of programming and training at Atlanta-based MOSSA, which provides group fitness programs and MOSSA on Demand, including a range of classes via streaming for homeowners.

Minneapolis-based Wellbeats offers more than 900-plus classes in a range of exercises for close to 2,500 multifamily buildings and other wellness-minded businesses, says Tim Bowen, senior vice president of sales. “The digital world is meeting the need for knowledge and versatility in working out, not with equipment that replicates a gym but by offering people great instruction and a way to be both movement and mindfulness oriented,” he says. “Consumer behavior has changed. They may not race to a gym then to work, but if working from home they may want a break, even a one-minute breathing exercise.”

Establishing an exercise routine that appeals is critical, says Spencer-Browning. “The best workout to do at home is the one they’ll stick with because they enjoy it,” she says. They should ask: Am I a self-directed exerciser or prefer to be told exactly what to do? If they’re not sure, they should try out a few choices and if they like it, support it with a few accessories that help pursue it such as a mat for yoga, along with music, a TV, or candles, she says. “Otherwise, they won’t continue. This is why there are so many bikes for sale on eBay!” she says.

Wirt also suggests finding content with a trainer whose workouts appeal and offers new challenges to make exercising fun. “We can’t lose sight of the social aspect of feeling connected with people,” she says.

Hudson Valley, N.Y., fitness trainer Regan Szczepanowska, a former professional dancer, says it’s important that the trainer—whether virtual or a person they meet with live—has proper training, which can be checked by looking at their credentials such as from an organization like the American College of Sports Medicine or the National Association of Sports Medicine. “Then, they should make it part of their lifestyle to be diligent,” she says.

By making careful selections, a homeowner can meet all their workout needs, whether cardio, strength training, flexibility, mobility, or mindfulness.

Equipment Must-Haves

Once a homeowner decides what type of training to pursue at home, they’re better prepared to invest in the right machines and accessories rather than the other way around.

Fitness trainer and former professional dancer Regan Szczepanowska recommends a mix of routines for her own Hudson Valley, N.Y., clientele, whom she trains from a room in her home. Among the items she recommends for clients in their own home—whether they attend Zoom or streaming classes or use a fitness app—are a mat, resistance bands of different strengths, dumbbells of various weights, a stability or medicine ball, foam rollers, kettlebells of different weights, and a workout bench.

If you’re working out alone, you may also want a TV and sound system. If you like a treadmill, elliptical, or interactive bicycle, go for it, but know that it may take up space in your area and require periodic maintenance. Some can be folded up and don’t require much floor space.

Szczepanowska tries to pick equipment that has multiple uses, such as a squat rack that becomes a bench press or a cable pull that can be used to row.

MOSSA fitness expert Cathy Spencer-Browning’s favorite fitness tool is the ViPR Pro, which can be used for 30-minute workouts using her company’s MOSSA on Demand program.