Space: You need at least a 10-by-10-foot area with an 8-foot height clearance. (The base of most treadmills and elliptical machines puts...

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— Space: You need at least a 10-by-10-foot area with an 8-foot height clearance. (The base of most treadmills and elliptical machines puts the exerciser 6 to 18 inches off the ground.) “Remember that if you have a ceiling fan or overhead lights, you need a higher clearance,” said Richard Martinez, who manages Fitness Outlet Exercise Equipment in Sacramento, Calif. Be prepared to install additional electrical outlets if you plan to have more than one cardio machine.

— Flooring: Most experts recommend hard rubber flooring, though you can get away with carpet directly over concrete. Carpets with pads are too squishy and “lead to a wobble with the machines,” said Martinez.

Home Gym Design’s Ruth Tara said many clients prefer interlocking rubber tiles that people can install themselves ($3.49 per square foot at Wood flooring is not recommended because “it can crack when you drop a dumbbell on it,”she said.

— Mirrors: They’re not just for vanity. Experts say full-length mirrors help the exerciser stay balanced and work on form. Tara said the cost for a floor-to-ceiling mirror covering one wall usually is about $1,000. But Ashlee Gadd, a public-relations manager in Sacramento, and others pointed to a cheaper route: Buy several closet or apparel mirrors and simply put them together. Ikea sells full-length (77-3/8 inches) Hovet mirrors for $99.99.

— Lighting: If you’re working with existing light in a spare bedroom or den, Tara recommends installing a dimmer switch.

“If you’re doing some stretching or yoga, it’s mellow time,” she said. “Turn down the lights. But you need to make sure there’s enough light — you want it bright when you’re doing cardio or strength.”

Some people prefer to install fluorescent lighting because they find recessed lights distracting.

— Ventilation: Central air conditioning is the standard.

“But you can use a window air conditioner and then put an oscillating fan in front of it to spread the cool air around,” Tara said. “Some people don’t like having a fan blowing on them.”

— Entertainment: A TV is a must for long workouts on the treadmill, bike or elliptical machine, Tara said. Some high-end treadmills come with TVs embedded (more on that below), but many exercisers opt to mount one — with a DVD player for yoga videos — on a wall with brackets.

“The height needs to be of the average person,” Tara said. “Place the TV in front of the treadmill. The biggest problem I find is that people are tilting their heads right or left to look at the TV. … You multiply that by a half-hour, three or four times a week, and you’ll get a big neck ache.”

— Decor: No bland white walls, Tara said. “Do a mural, which would look beautiful opposite a mirror,”she said. “You just paint (the wall) a lively color. The ceiling doesn’t have to be white, either. Remember, you’re going to be on your back, lifting weights and looking up.”


— Cardiovascular: Treadmills remain the most popular cardio-workout option, but elliptical machines are gaining ground because they help the user avoid the joint-pounding of running (or walking) on a belt.

Standard-quality treadmills range from $1,000 to $7,000, with the high end featuring such options as iPod docking, USB outlets and even DVD players. One of the most popular high-end versions is the Landice L7 Club Executive Trainer (, which features built-in heart-rate monitors, personal workout data storage and built-in fitness programs. It retails for $4,895. Another top seller, with most of the same options, is the Precor 9.31 ($3,999 at

But Martinez of Fitness Outlet said many people who simply want to walk on treadmills don’t need such high-end machines. They can work out quite nicely on a fold-up model (which saves space) such as the Nordic Track Commercial 1750 ($1,499 at Martinez cautioned that some lower-end treadmills have weight limits.

Elliptical trainers, which simulate walking and running without the impact, also vary widely. One of the best (and priciest) is the Octane Q47ci ($4,699 at, which features automatically adjusted stride lengths from 18 to 26 inches, 1.8-inch pedal spacing to better replicate form and handlebars that converge — as well as standard preprogrammed workouts. On the lower end, Martinez recommends the Esprit EL 255 ($880 to $1,000 at most stores).

Gaining in popularity, particularly among older exercisers or those with back problems, are recumbent (seated) elliptical trainers such as the Octane Fitness Xride xR4c ($2,429).

Stationary bikes take up slightly less space in a home gym but don’t work as many muscle groups. As Consumer Reports recently opined, “With stationary bikes, you generally get what you pay for. More expensive machines have higher quality and come with a chest-strap heart-rate monitor, but less-expensive models can still offer a good workout.”One good buy is the Omega Fitness Co-BU130 ($480 at

For those seeking a plush ride, there’s the Platinum Club Series Recumbent Lifecycle from Life Fitness ( The 15-inch “Engage”console, which features all the programs and heart-rate calculators but also a TV and movie screen, sells for $5,499. The lower-tech “Achieve,”sans entertainment, goes for $3,499.

— Strength and resistance: Those accustomed to circuit training at health clubs will be drawn to so-called cable-and-pulley “universal machines,”all-in-one strength units. Experts say one of the best for midlevel exercisers is the Hoist V Express Gym ($1,899 at

Those who use free weights can mix and match from a variety of dumbbells and racks, and easily spend $1,000 or more, said Home Gym Design’s Tara. But those on a budget can purchase simple resistance bands (about $25) and get an adequate upper- and lower-body workout. (Check the Internet for a bevy of how-to videos.) Then again, you also can get a good core workout using a stability ball (about $25 at any sporting-goods store) or even body-weight exercises such as push-ups, planks and crunches (free).

— Flexibility: “All you really need for this,” Tara said, “is a yoga mat and, maybe, a video to guide you.”Mats range from $10 to $80, depending on thickness and pattern. But Tara said that in a pinch, you can get away with putting a thick towel on the floor.

“And you can check out a yoga video from the library for free,” she said.

Contact Sam McManis at