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Planning, motivation provide foundation for fitness

GYM IN A BASKET: Keep your fitness tools together in an attractive basket and you’ll be ready to shape up during the TV commercials or a boring phone call. We fit a yoga mat, a set of 5-pound dumbbells, resistance bands and a weighted medicine ball in our basket, with room to spare for a journal to track your strength-training progress, and your daily food intake, too, if weight loss is one of your goals.

GYM IN A BASKET: Keep your fitness tools together in an attractive basket and you’ll be ready to shape up during the TV commercials or a boring phone call. We fit a yoga mat, a set of 5-pound dumbbells, resistance bands and a weighted medicine ball in our basket, with room to spare for a journal to track your strength-training progress, and your daily food intake, too, if weight loss is one of your goals.

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 This article includes information from Consumer Reports, Men's Health, Prevention magazine, Shape magazine,, and Ten Years Younger.

The kitchen makeover

Perhaps the biggest home improvement you can make when it comes to your health is a kitchen overhaul. Not new appliances and granite countertops, but the foods you keep on hand and how you prepare them.

That's the word from Dr. Steven Masley, whose Masley Optimal Health Center in St. Petersburg helps people of all fitness levels. He describes his plan in his book Ten Years Younger (Broadway Books, $14.95).

Good health starting at home, he said, is "a very good point, especially in regard to food. Why would you bring toxins into your home? You need to schedule your workouts and stop bringing junk into your home.''

By toxins, Masley means foods with high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated fats. While you're at it, root out excess butter and foods containing white flour and other refined carbohydrates.

Instead, fill your pantry and your body with fruits, vegetables, lean protein and dairy, whole grains and "good'' fats such as olive oil.

"Five fruits and veggies sounds like a lot, but it's really just a couple pieces a fruit, a nice salad and two cups of veggies. It's not that hard. And you need good recipes,'' added Masley, a trained chef whose book includes tasty, healthful recipes, even for chocolate desserts.

In addition to diet, cardio and strength training, another cornerstone of his rejuvenation program is relaxation. Times being what they are, it's essential to create a soothing place in your home you can call your own for a few minutes every day.

"Who doesn't look at their 401(k) these days and panic? But everybody needs to schedule 10 to 15 minutes a day for peace and calm. Meditation is great; so is a bath by candlelight,'' Masley said. "Stop and enjoy the sunset. Just do something that helps you feel peace and calm.''

For more on Masley Optimal Health

Center, go to

Working out around the house

For a serious fitness regimen, it's hard to beat the expertise, equipment and camaraderie you'll find at a good public gym. Deals abound at this time of year, so a membership may be more affordable than you think.

But if you can't or won't go to a gym — and can't afford an expensive home setup — it is still possible to get stronger at home with a few items widely available at discount stores, such as stability balls, medicine balls, dumbbells, yoga mats and resistance bands. St. Petersburg certified personal trainer Tera Guzman, who owns City Gym Athletic Club downtown, demonstrated some moves in a small condo at the historic Hotel Detroit to show that fitness fits in all spaces.

Need more help? Many trainers will come to your home and design a plan tailored to you. Look online for a trainer certified by a group such as the National Academy of Sports Medicine or the American Council on Exercise. If you go to a gym, observe and interview trainers to find one who's right for you. Magazines like Shape and Prevention, and Web sites like, may also be useful.

1Chair dips for upper body strength. Instead of fast-forwarding through the TV commercials, take an exercise break. Using a strong, straight-backed chair, grasp the front of the seat, plant your heels firmly, and push your body up and down for 8 to 12 repetitions. The farther away your heels are, the harder it gets. Make sure your chair doesn't slip away from you.

2Overhead tricepS extension. Who says you can't be a fit couch potato? Holding a dumbbell in each hand, raise arms above your head. Bend and straighten arms for 8 to 12 repetitions. Too easy? Try heavier weights. When you're done with the triceps, do curls for your biceps.

3Wall squats for leg strength. For beginners, a wall provides back support, letting you keep your body properly aligned. You'll find easier going on a wall with a smooth surface, such as glossy paint or tile. Start by standing upright, then slide down the wall until your thighs are parallel to the floor, making sure your knees don't go past your toes (this protects the knees). Slowly rise, keeping back against wall, to starting position; repeat 8 to 12 times. Increase the challenge by putting a stability ball between you and the wall. Then hold a dumbbell in each hand. Eventually, you won't need the wall.

4Lunges for leg strength. Lunges are great for building your body's biggest muscles. Placing your rear foot against the baseboard, as Guzman demonstrates, gives beginners added stability. Put your front leg far enough forward so you can drop your back knee down without your front knee getting in front of your toes. Rise up and repeat 8 to 12 times, then go to the other side. You'll be done by the time the pasta water comes to a boil.

5Crunches on the ball for a strong core. Stability balls require you to use your muscles differently, making them a great tool for strengthening your abs and back. With your feet flat on the floor, roll back on the ball so it supports your upper back. Using your abdominal muscles, slowly lift your body, keeping your arms in front of you, reaching to the sky. Slowly return to starting position and do as many as you can. Keep a journal so you can track your progress, a great motivator.

Planning, motivation provide foundation for fitness 01/02/09 [Last modified: Monday, January 5, 2009 4:17pm]
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