Designing a Family Fitness Room

Creating a family fitness room makes it easier than ever to stick to your workout -- and it's a great place for the kids to hang, too.

For most families, the key to fitness can be summed up in one word: convenience. Few things are more convenient than having all the essentials of a fitness club right in your basement.

But when Better Homes & Gardens set about developing the ideal family fitness room, convenience was only one of our considerations. The room had to work as part of a home and as a part of the lives of the family using it.

"If you're going to commit a space in your home to fitness and exercise, you have to make it inviting and motivating," says Eric Rothman of HammerSmith, the Atlanta design/build renovation firm we chose to help bring this family fitness room to life. "You can't just set up a weight bench and your old treadmill down in a dark corner of the basement and call it good. Like any other room in your home, it should be warm and welcoming. You should want to spend time there. And you have to make it so there's something for everyone: yourself, your spouse, and even the youngest children."

Rothman's plan has a distinct family-room feel: Half the room is furnished with a cushioned bench, sofa, coffee table, and shelving for books or a home theater. The other half is an open space with a corner for free weights and bench, and floor room for a treadmill or stair climber.

The design called for recessed lighting and cherry trim to add a note of warmth throughout. Durable, self-adhesive carpet squares help cushion floor exercises. Blinds offer privacy while one person is working out and others are watching TV. Conversely, keeping the blinds up allows exercisers to watch TV or even incorporate exercise videos into the workout. Putting mirrored panels on the back wall not only reflects light and gives the room a more open feel, but also has a practical function.

"Being able to see yourself when performing strength-training exercises helps you check your posture as you work out for better results and less risk of injury," says Jeff Bell, certified strength and conditioning specialist and co-owner of Spectrum Wellness fitness center in Manhattan, who contributed numerous ideas to our room's fitness scheme.

And for the kids, the centerpiece of the room is a wild, wavy climbing wall.

"Not only do climbing walls create an interesting design element, but the kids love them," says Rothman. "These walls are better than a jungle gym. And the holds are movable so, as the kids grow or get bored with one layout, you can mix it around and make it more challenging." That kind of flexible design is essential to ensuring kids make exercise a lifelong habit. Variation keeps families committed to exercise and improves fitness because it encourages working out different muscle groups in different ways, adds Bell.

There are other practical considerations to the family fitness room. Safety aside, exercisers should be able to secure or stow gear that little ones could hurt themselves on. When everyone is done using the room, there should be a place to put everything. That's why our room has plenty of storage possibilities and space for everyone to exercise.

In addition to a closet with ample shelving and drawers for each person's towel and exercise clothes, the bench on the room's opposite side is open at the back with slanted shelves for dumbbells or other equipment. The space behind the climbing wall could also serve to store equipment when you need more floor space for aerobics or the next time the kids want to roll out the mats to do a little tumbling.

--Additional reporting by Myatt Murphy.

Originally published in Better Homes & Gardens magazine, April 2004.


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