In a sense, the pandemic changed Stacey Zelinski’s life for the better. Feeling she had become unmotivated and lethargic from being home all the time, she took matters into her own hands.
"I was fed up with not leaving the house," Zelinski said. "I said I have to do something."
She revamped and repainted a rarely used, in-home workout space, got new equipment and improved the lighting. "I wanted it to be fresh and clean and a place where I wanted to be as opposed to a place I was reluctantly skulking into," she said.
Unable to go to gyms during the pandemic, many Long Islanders, like Zelinski, chose to bring the gym home — creating or expanding workout spaces wherever they could find room.
"I’ve seen people put gyms in bedrooms, garages," said Josh York, founder and CEO of Plainview-based GYMGUYZ, an in-home personal training franchise company. "I’ve seen people redesign attics or take old playrooms and turn them into gyms."
As COVID restrictions ease and people begin heading back to traditional gyms — among the last businesses to reopen because they were considered high-risk environments — for some, home is where the workout is.
Here are some tips from residents and experts on how to set up or expand your workout space at home, and make the process enjoyable and rewarding.
Wake up, work out
A spare bedroom can be the perfect space to exercise. Jonathan and Giannina Gallagher designed one of five bedrooms in their new West Islip home to work as a gym. "When we created the plans, it was always a gym," Giannina said. "I like having the convenience of waking up, working out if I please, showering and getting my day going."
Zelinski, too, converted one of her three bedrooms in her ranch into a gym. "It made the most sense to put it in there," she said, noting she places a yoga mat on the floor for extra cushioning.
Buff up in the basement
After the pandemic hit, Leslie Tayne, of Melville, transformed part of her finished basement into a kind of "she cave," where she works out. "I created this space and made it my own," Tayne said. "It lets me be in my zone. I work out a lot. It’s my little getaway."
Tim Zelinski has a bench and weights in his basement, giving him a second workout space at home. Jonathan Gallagher works out in the basement with a punching bag. "When you box, you bounce around," he said. "It’s a better space and it’s out of the way."
Rev up the garage
Garages seem popular places to set up a home gym, York said. Garage gyms typically provide large spaces for equipment, often including weights. "In a garage, you get an industrial heater for the cold months," York said. "Some people reinsulate their garage." Garage floors are often concrete, able to sustain heavy loads, but floor matting protects equipment and increases comfort. Lay out equipment to make the most of the space. Good lighting helps create a more welcoming workout space.
Creating a workout
Many people simply start exercising at home and do random workouts on YouTube, but York said you may want to have a professional craft a workout customized to your goals. "I would say creating your own workout’s not a good idea," York said. "You want to make sure from the safety side you’re doing something in line with where you are as far as your body type, goals and what you’re looking to accomplish." Others do workouts from services such as Peloton.
On the clock
How long you work out, and when, should be a big part of your regimen.
Giannina Gallagher works out on her lunch break or after dinner on weekdays and early mornings on weekends. She typically does a half-hour cardio workout followed by 20 to 30 minutes of weight training.
Tayne exercises after her workday. "I can decompress," she said. "Sometimes I have a tremendous amount of energy. Other days I have less time or energy."
Jonathan Gallagher typically works out 20 minutes in the mornings six days a week at home, as well as at a boxing gym one weekday and once on weekends.
Heart of the matter
Cardiovascular exercise is an important part of many workouts. "I don’t like to run," Giannina Gallagher said. "I wanted something that is low-impact that I would enjoy doing." She uses a Peloton bike and sometimes walks outdoors.
Treadmills, jumping rope and jumping jacks also provide cardio workouts — but it’s up to you. "We decide on our own," Zelinski said. "Are we feeling like we need some strength or do we want to do some cardio?"
Worth the weight
York said resistance bands and medicine balls — weighted balls used for exercise — are popular, but dumbbells and free weights are common. Giannina Gallagher’s home gym includes a bike, BOSU ball for step-ups, crunches and arm workouts, as well as various weights. She added free weights from five to 40 pounds, a rack, bench and pulley system. "That machine allows us to work out different parts of the body with different exercises," Giannina Gallagher said.
While some residents prefer to exercise their muscles in isolation, Jonathan Gallagher usually works on a "whole group of muscles."
Hydrating is important for exercise. The Gallaghers keep a small fridge for their beverages in a closet in their home gym. "It’s the convenience factor of not having to leave the room if you need water," Giannina Gallagher said.
Tayne is possessive about her fridge. "That’s my water," she said. "It’s off limits to the house."
Don't overdo it
Tayne said it’s important not to overdo things. "There are a lot of ways to get hurt, especially if you’re doing home yoga," she said. "If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it." Working out at home, "you need to be mindful of your limitations," she said.
Don’t pick exercise routines randomly or do advanced yoga if you’ve never done it before, Tayne said. York recommends unplugging treadmills as a safety precaution, to prevent children from getting in and using them. "For the most part, if they have a lock on the door, that’s going to be sufficient," he said.
Phone use not smart
Zelinski’s workout space has a window that opens to a porch and some woods and Tayne’s basement also has a window. Many residents also have a television in their home gyms: Tayne uses a wall-mounted set to stream Peloton app classes. The news often plays on Gallagher’s TV screen in the background. Zelinski has a TV mounted near the floor, so she can stream floor exercises to the TV, as she follows along.
Not all technology is welcome, however. "I don’t bring my phone there," Tayne said. "I don’t want anything distracting me."
What’s in store
Some find nothing wrong with using their workout spaces for storage. Giannina Gallagher doesn’t want "to see clutter," so she keeps additional weights, shoes for bike riding and towels in a closet with shelves. Zelinski keeps towels, wristbands and sweatbands on shelves, along with a rack for sneakers and shoes with cleats for her bike.
No matter how well you equip and organize your home gym, it’s not much use if you don’t exercise. Zelinski said music in workouts and videos helps put you in the right frame of mind. "I look for something with the music that I like, to forget I’m exercising," she said. She also has a decorative cube with inspirational quotes such as "Keep going," "Exercise today," and "You can do this."
Tayne said the satisfaction of working out is her prize. "I’m very type A. Working out is part of my life," she said. "I always think about how I’ll feel when I’m done. I feel great when I’m done."
For Jonathan Gallagher, "the drive and motivation have to come from within," but working out helps him feel, sleep and eat better. "There’s a reward," he said.
York said working out takes a sense of accountability — which often comes from exercising together in a traditional gym. "You should have goals and resolutions on a weekly, quarterly, monthly basis," he said.
One way of keeping you on your toes is to have "an accountability partner," said Zelinski, who works out with a friend from Kentucky via Google Duo. "I don’t have the motivation to do it myself," she said. "I don’t want to let her down."
Jonathan Gallagher sees accountability as something that comes from within. "I’m driven by being better than myself yesterday," he said. "The accountability is an internal thing."