Home Gyms Muscle Up

The $3.4 billion home fitness industry is attracting more and more consumers who are tired of gym memberships and demanding a more personalized, convenient workout

The homes of Microsoft founder (MSFT) Bill Gates, Madonna, Tom Hanks, and Shaquille O' Neal all proudly display original works by an artist named Mark Harigian. But rather than oil-on-canvas paintings, this artist creates his masterpieces out of laser-cut stainless steel dumbbells, hand-fabricated weight pulleys, and embroidered-leather bench presses. Upon completing each one of his custom home gyms, Harigian&emdash;owner of Harigian Fitness and self-proclaimed "architect of anatomy"—provides his client with the original blueprints, autographed for authenticity.

That a home-gym designer like Harigian can become a star among the stars is evidence that the home-fitness market is appealing to more and more consumers. In the 15-year span between 1990 and 2005, the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Assn. estimates that the industry has grown from $990 million to a staggering $3.4 billion. The charge is being led by consumers who seek a workout that is more convenient, more personalized, and in many cases more affordable than a membership at the local gym.

The Market Beckons

Harigian first noticed the untapped market of home-gym design during his tenure as a personal trainer to the stars. His moneyed clients spent hundreds of thousands of dollars outfitting their kitchens, bedrooms, and living rooms with lavish amenities, but left their home gyms stark and simple. "When I went to a home, every room would be Architectural Digest-quality except the gym. That was the one room you didn't want to be in," he says.

Now Harigian is the go-to guy for high-style and high-function home fitness. His custom home gyms, which start from about $100,000, are aimed at creating a space that is aesthetically congruent with the rest of the house. The designs also must consider the client's personal-fitness needs.

Actor Scott Bakula, for example, required equipment which would help him recover from a knee injury. For the home gym of the famously oversized basketball star Shaquille O'Neal, Harigian custom-built larger weight and cardio systems which would accommodate his body.

Meeting the Demand

While Harigian serves only the very upper echelon of the home fitness market from his home base in Beverly Hills, bigger businesses are also hustling to answer demand for home gyms. Builders, architects, and designers of new homes in particular are noticing that buyers are increasingly interested in home fitness spaces.

"Most clients want to get a little cardio at home, but when they want a proper workout they go to a gym with a trainer," says Trevor Abramson of Abramson Teiger Architects in Culver City, Calif. He frequently gets requests for small exercise rooms which can house one or two cardio machines, located in close proximity to the master bedroom.

Alex Anamos of KAA Design Group in Los Angeles says that not only are traditional home gyms a near-requirement in every home his company plans, but that the anticipation for alternative exercise spaces like yoga rooms is growing as well. He describes these spaces, which are estimated to contribute about $60,000 to $70,000 to the total cost of high-end homes, as "sparse and minimalist with sumptuous finishes." Yoga rooms frequently feature sandstones, onyx decking, sea grass, radiant heating built into the flooring, and storage cabinets for mats.

Gyms For Commoners

New York-based Gym Source provides proof that professional home gyms are not only for the obscenely wealthy. About 45% of the company's business lies in designing complete home gyms, which usually run between $10,000 and $35,000. Chief Executive Officer Richard Miller says his company builds as many as six gyms around the country per day&emdash;a number that continually grows.

Gym Source offers free consultations to find out the client's workout preferences, budget, and the amount of space available for the gym. Then the company creates a complete 3D rendering of the proposed space. Miller recommends that his customers spend around $2,000 for each major piece of equipment they plan to include. The better the equipment, he says, "the more comfortable you will feel and the more you will use it," though his company also offers more affordable lines.

The home fitness industry is also beginning to incorporate various high-tech implements, turning many couch potatoes into avid exercisers (see BusinessWeek.com, 10/16/06, "Getting Fit Glued To The Tube").

Click here to see a roundup of super home gyms.

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