ST. PETERSBURG — When their work day is done, David Helms and Vicky Bennati come home and work out.
While others are plopping down on the sofa or popping open the pinot, the St. Petersburg couple might be revving their heart rates on their elliptical machine or stepper. The Vectra weight machine in the corner of their home gym can work just about every body part, but there also are a set of Bowflex adjustable dumbbells, a squat rack, an ab machine and a couple of benches to accommodate a variety of workouts.
"You have to have the ability to change it up, so you're not doing the same thing all the time,'' explained Helms, owner of Signature Built, a custom home builder that emphasizes wind-resistant technology.
This is the third home gym Helms has built for himself. It's in a building behind the couple's new home in the Pasadena area, which they moved into last summer. The gym feels larger than its 350 square feet because it has two glass walls. From one side, you can see the pool table in the next room where the couple's four sons, ages 10 to 17, might play while their parents are working out. The other glass wall looks into the garage, featuring a cherry red 1957 Porsche. Satellite TV and music in the gym help keep the workouts interesting.
Both longtime exercisers, the couple have gone to public gyms and used personal trainers, but now are confident designing their own programs. "I've always worked out,'' says Bennati, 37, whose well-toned frame underlines her point.
Bonus of the home gym? "The boys work out with us,'' she said. "It's good for them to see us working out. If we went to an outside gym, that wouldn't happen, since most gyms don't let kids in.''
Helms, 50, says he enjoys the gym, but "I don't push it. I'm just trying to push back the hands of time.
"It makes me feel good to be in here.''
This is the time of year when we are all bombarded with get-fit-quick schemes and gadgets, most of which will fade from view by Valentine's Day.
But if you have resolved to build healthier habits into your life in 2009, consider starting your "construction project'' right in your own home.
Whether it's a $4,000 Vectra staring at you, or you've simply found the perfect place to keep your gym bag organized and ready to go, it's tougher to forget your resolve when the evidence is all around.
From a high-end home gym to a set of resistance bands stowed beneath the sofa cushions to use during TV commercials, there are plenty of things you can do in your own home to make 2009 the year you get healthy. Here are some factors to consider before you buy so much as a dumbbell:
• Your fitness goals. If you have health issues, talk to your doctor. Once you get the green light, think carefully about your goals. Do you want to lose weight? Walk up the stairs without gasping for breath? Play soccer with the kids? Get back into your wardrobe? Once you have your priorities straight, consult a certified dietitian or a personal trainer, or look in the library or bookstore for a fitness plan that fits your life.
• How you'll meet those goals. Dr. Steven Masley, assistant clinical professor at the University of South Florida and president and medical director of the Masley Optimal Health Center in St. Petersburg, is the author of Ten Years Younger, a how-to book that takes a holistic approach to wellness, including clear plans for home exercisers. He has seen too many valiant fitness efforts get derailed by low expectations.
"The key is to push yourself," he says. "Today I did a fitness assessment of a man who goes to the gym every day. But he never pushes himself. If you do the same thing day after day, you won't improve. You need a mechanism to determine how hard you should be working.''
He advises that you get a professional fitness assessment and find out what your target heart rate should be. Invest in a heart rate monitor, and use it so your program doesn't stall. His book also explains how you can assess yourself — but to be safe, he said, get a friend to help.
"You have a monthly budget, and you should think of your health the same way,'' he said. "For instance, you might say you want to weigh this certain amount, and you want to be able to do 30 pushups, and you want to be able to run on the treadmill at 5 miles per hour for 30 minutes. Really pick your goals carefully. Make them tough but realistic.''
• Your space. You don't necessarily need a special room for your home gym, but if you have to haul a heavy coffee table out of the way every day to unroll your yoga mat, you could be setting yourself up to fail. If you'll only ride a stationary bike while watching TV, don't expect a miracle if you park the bike somewhere else. Wherever you exercise, consider light, ventilation and noise.
Helms says what makes their space work is the glass walls; otherwise, he'd feel closed in. Where is there good light and maybe even a pleasant view in your home? The garage may seem a good idea now, but you won't go there in a few months unless it's air conditioned.
• Your budget. Quality gym equipment is an investment, especially if you want to do cardio work indoors. Look at classified ads and used sporting goods stores for deals. Always try gear before you buy to make sure you can work hard enough to get your heart rate up; cheap treadmills, ellipticals and bikes often feel rickety. The February issue of Consumer Reports promises ratings of the latest models.
Strength training is essential for both men and women. Quality machines can make weight lifting with proper form easier, but they can be pricey and space-consuming.
Dumbbells and resistance bands are more affordable, and using your own body weight for exercises like pushups and lunges is cheapest of all. Look for a good book, magazine, video, Web site or personal trainer to show you the right moves. If you're a beginner, no need to buy 1- or 2-pound dumbbells; canned goods, bottles of water and bags of rice or dried beans work too — and you can eat or drink the contents when you've graduated to heavier weights.
• Your motivation. What will keep you going? Maybe a chart on the bathroom mirror showing your declining weight or increasing strength. Pictures of your ever-more-toned physique on the fridge might stop a snack attack. Hang those too-small jeans on the outside of the closet. Need more ideas? Just Google "fitness motivation tips'' and take your pick from among thousands.
Whatever you do, don't blame lack of time. President-elect Obama is a busy guy, yet he goes to a gym somewhere nearly every day, according to the Washington Post. When he toured the White House in November, President Bush, a famous cycling enthusiast, showed Obama the First Home Gym, and the men talked about exercise, Michelle Obama reported.
If the leaders of the free world can squeeze in a workout, maybe the rest of us can, too.
Contact Charlotte Sutton at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article includes information from Consumer Reports, Men's Health, Prevention magazine, Shape magazine, WebMD.com, SparkPeople.com and Ten Years Younger.