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Mark Andrew set up a home gym in the corner of his downtown Vancouver condo to stay fit during and after the pandemic.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Mark Andrew has always made fitness a priority.

“I’m not a workout nut, but I really have tried to focus on [fitness],” says Mr. Andrew, senior vice-president at Tapestry, the seniors’ living division of Concert Properties Ltd. “I was told once that ‘motion is lotion.’ If you get up in the morning and you do a 45-minute spin class, you’re going to feel better.”

He was a regular at spin and other workout classes, but when the pandemic hit and gyms closed, the 65-year-old needed a new plan to keep moving.

Mr. Andrew lives with his wife in a two-bedroom condo in downtown Vancouver, where space is at a premium. He started doing a bit of sunrise yoga on their balcony, but felt that wasn’t enough of a workout on its own, so he carved out a corner of the dining room and started investing in equipment: first a spin bike, then mats, progressively heavier weights and even a small set of kettlebells.

Mr. Andrew is among a plethora of people investing in home workout equipment since the pandemic hit. A recent Business Research Company report estimates the global home fitness equipment market grew 40 per cent year-over-year in 2020 to US$9.49-billion – a massive spike driven largely by social distancing and stay-at-home measures. Exercise equipment and content company Peloton Interactive Inc. is one example, recently reporting revenue for its quarter ended March 31 rose 141 per cent year-over-year to US$1.26-billion.

While many fitness lovers (and even some haters) are expected to return to the gym when the pandemic passes, those who made big investments in workout equipment over the past year are expected to stick with it and maybe even add to their home set-ups.

That’s definitely the case for Wes Ashton, director of growth strategy at Harbourfront Wealth Management in Vancouver, who bought a Peloton bike for his family in early January, 2020, just before the pandemic started – something he was very happy about two months later when gyms shuttered and he had no choice but to work out at home.

Mr. Ashton admits he misses working out alongside his gym friends, but he still plans to use his Peloton after the pandemic.

“It’s incredibly flexible,” he says. “Having the ability to just walk down a couple flights of stairs, and you’re on a bike for half an hour or 45 minutes [is] certainly appealing.”

'We're all going to get older, but how we do it is a choice,' says Mr. Andrew.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Suggestions to pump up your home gym

There are plenty of high-tech and high-end pieces of equipment and online subscriptions that people can splurge on for their home set-ups.

Personal trainer Aldo Frixione, co-owner of Toronto’s Fit Squad Training, says his clients have been investing heavily in their home gyms over the past year, including in some intense pieces of equipment such as tractor tires and sledgehammers for strongman-style training.

“They just beat that thing up,” he says. “Strongman-style training is sometimes very rewarding because there’s something very primal about just using brute strength.”

Strength training is important for all genders, especially as we get older, he continues. It can help protect the spine, slows bone loss and boosts muscle strength. But that doesn’t mean someone starting to build a home gym from scratch needs a tractor tire of their own. Instead, Mr. Frixione recommends investing in the basics: weights, including kettlebells and dumbbells that range from five to 100 pounds, an adjustable bench that can sit flat, incline or decline and a multipurpose squat rack.

“If you’re working out on your own, you want a full squat rack that will have the safety pins and anything you would need to self-spot,” he says.

He also suggests investing in a trap bar (sometimes called a hex bar), which is a dumbbell with handles that can be loaded with weight plates.

“It’s one of the safest ways to load up a deadlift,” he says. “Especially if mobility is a restriction.”

When it comes to cardio, “any machine will do,” Mr. Frixione says. “So, choose something that you actually enjoy.”

If that’s a treadmill, he recommends a curved option, because their concave shape causes less impact on users’ knees than flat versions. He’s also a fan of rowers, which can also help improve posture since using it works the back muscles. (Bonus: you can find very cool wooden versions of both if you want to add a high-design aesthetic to what’s usually a quite utilitarian space.)

Or, splash out on something super high-tech. A growing number of machines approximate the feeling of being in a class, including various brands of smart bikes, rowers, treadmills and mirrors that fitness buffs can use to stream aerobic classes or work with a personal trainer from home.

There’s also a slew of new companies in this space that don’t yet ship to Canada, including FightCamp, which allows users to learn how to box using an in-home boxing bag and smart boxing gloves, Tempo, an AI-enabled free weight machine, and Tonal, an AI-enabled resistance weight machine that’s about the size of a TV and can offer 200 pounds of resistance.

Don’t forget about creature comforts. A speaker system means you can work out to your favourite high-energy songs without worrying about your Air Pods falling out mid-lift, while high-quality mats, resistance bands and foam blocks are a must for post-exercise stretch sessions.

How to stay motivated with at-home workouts

But the most important thing, according to Mr. Frixione, is staying motivated. And for that, home gym users need to set goals around performance and skill – not appearance.

“You can wake up looking a little bit bloated, which might be a little bit discouraging. But there’s something very rewarding that nobody can take away, and it’s your ability to do stuff,” he says.

Goals can be as obvious as increasing the number of pull-ups you can do or the amount of weight you can squat, or as subtle as improving your posture. The important thing, Mr. Frixione says, is to work toward something.

That’s exactly what Mr. Ashton is doing. He’s 46, years away from retirement, but he knows staying active now will pay off down the road. “I think maintaining your health is critical whether you’re currently retired or approaching this stage of your life,” he says. “Being pro-active and staying healthy is just as important as planning for the next vacation. Retirement becomes pretty difficult without your health.”

Mr. Andrew agrees: “We’re all going to get older, but how we do it is a choice,” he says.

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