Disclaimer: This post discusses weight gain and loss, body image, and other diet/fitness related issues so if you’re someone who is sensitive to this type of content just look at the photos or skip altogether.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post over on my blog about how 2020 was a rough year on my body but I was ready to get back in the game fitness-wise. This was in the first few days of the year when my dry January was in full swing, I was working out every morning, and I was eating really well…
Cut to the next week when an unprecedented wind storm whipped through my town, toppling tons of trees in my yard, smashing tons of houses, and cutting the power out for more than a week. I spent a few days in my freezing, internet-and-electricity-free house before giving up and heading to LA to house sit for a friend who was out of town. I came back a few days later and spent a few hours cleaning up the mess from living without power for a week (you’d be surprised how dirty your house gets when you can’t see anything because there aren’t any lights). A few hours later a blizzard started that ended up dumping 10’ feet of snow on my house, trapping me inside (at a certain point I just gave up shoveling because the snow was coming down faster than I could get rid of it and I was getting sick from being cold and wet for so many days on end).
The snowstorm drama ended when I dug a tunnel out from my garage, hiked down some snowmobile tracks with a bunch of bags on my back while my dog pulled me down the hill, and was picked up by two of my aunts who live an hour away to be taken to warm shelter and (GASP) internet access!
This story isn’t really all that relevant to what I want to talk about today – how to create a fun, functional gym that will actually make you want to workout. But it does have to do with a theme that I think is important when it comes to approaching fitness: giving yourself a break when you need to. What did I do when I was trapped in my cold house with no way to heat up food? I ate whatever garbage non-perishable food I had lying around that didn’t need to be heated up (Hello Goldfish crackers I bought for my nephew when he visited only to realize he was too fancy to eat Goldfish crackers!). With no water and no way to shower, my motivation to go lift weights in my gym diminished. And what do you do when the sun sets at 4:30 PM, your house is pitch black, and you have no cell phone service because the tower got knocked down? Drink wine and think about that past whilst snuggling your puppy, duh!
Needless to say, after the wind and snow storms that basically made survival my full-time job, working out and eating thoughtfully kinda went out the window (keep in mind the snow storm literally made it impossible for me to get out of my house for days and there wasn’t electricity or heat – my neighbors who have lived here for 30 years said nothing like it has happened in all their time here). But I think for a lot of us that’s what 2020 was. Every time we picked up the mess from the last disaster, another disaster came right along after it, making it hard for us to be as resilient, motivated, and healthy as we wanted to be. And this is why it’s so important to not only forgive ourselves for not necessarily being at our best at all times, but also celebrate ourselves for the resilience we showed in just getting through a truly awful time.
A lot of people found themselves feeling a lot less healthy by the end of 2020, and I know weight gain was a typical symptom. I have had my own fair share of body dysmorphic and self-esteem issues, so I want to be careful about how I phrase all of this. I’m not gonna frame the 30 pounds I gained as an inherently bad thing – I actually think I look fine and I’m more annoyed that my clothes don’t fit than I am about being thicker. For me, the real fitness crisis is how I feel. Tired, depressed, just literally weighed down. So in seeking out to remedy my 2020 health depression, I tried to start from a place of self-acceptance and approach wellness from a more encouraging, psychological perspective. And I wanted that sensibility to be reflected in my own home gym.
Fitness and weight gain have been something I have struggled with for a really long time. The first diet I ever went on was when I was 12. And since then I’ve had a rollercoaster of a relationship with my body, my physical appearance, and my body’s relentless desire to be overweight. As an adult, I have never not been on some sort of diet or extreme exercise regimen. And the one gift 2020 brought was that I fell completely off that wagon and it gave me some distance to actually think about what the most mindful approach to my own wellness should be.
The first thing I had to get over when starting to plan my gym was guilt. I think a lot of us have this thing where we feel guilty about spending time and money on things that seemingly will only benefit ourselves. I could also hear my parents’ voices in my ears saying things like “DO YOU REALLY NEED TO BUY THAT $1500 WEIGHT SET???” Like many people, my finances have been all over the place during Covid so spending a ton of money on a home gym felt a little scary. But my work, my entire business, and everything I make money on depends solely on my creativity, my personality, my leadership, and my energy. And ALL of those things depend on me being happy, healthy, and capable of being productive AF.
It’s impossible to be productive when you’re physically depressed because you’re eating poorly and not exercising enough. So while it felt irresponsible to spend thousands of dollars primping this room in my house, I knew I had to do it or I wouldn’t get out of my 2020 funk. And if I didn’t get out of my 2020 physical slump I wouldn’t get out of my 2020 professional slump.
So, I approached designing my gym with one objective in mind: fun and positivity. I wanted my gym to feel silly, inviting, bright, colorful, and encouraging. Which brings me to the reason I brought all of you here today! My Ten Essentials for Your Home Gym. Keep in mind, I came up with these based on the person that I am and how I workout. Some of you may be more interested in yoga or cycling, or other forms of exercise than I am, so your gym might look super different. But for me, combining these essentials has made my gym a place I’m happy to spend time. Follow along why don’t you and see what they are!
Vibrant and Delicious Color
My first memories of gyms were the one at my high school, which looked more like a prison than an actual prison (concrete, rusted metal, no windows) and the little workout center in Yosemite, which was less depressing but had terrible, glaring fluorescent lights that made you question your will to live whenever you entered. So I knew I wanted my gym to be colorful, bright, and happy. I knew if I didn’t put it in a room that got a lot of sunlight I’d never want to go in there. Which is why I chose the smallest guest bedroom on the south (sunniest) side of my house. I realize it’s a huge luxury to have an entire random room in your house to turn into a gym. But I think these tips can be integrated into even the smallest of spaces, from a corner of your bedroom to the garage – the most important thing is putting some time and thought into making your workout space pretty so you’ll actually be excited to spend time in it.
As an awkward last-picked-for-the-team type kid, anything athletic always felt alienating and over my head somehow. And that kinda permeated into my adult life until I started going to gyms on my own accord and trying things out. I am by no means a “Fitspo” expert or anything, but I grew to enjoy working out once I got over the alienation caused by years and years of childhood trauma. I imagine some people might feel the same entering a gym, a space where muscle and traditional heteronormative masculinity are the norm. I wanted my gym to kind of feel like the antithesis of the typical intimidating gym. So I painted it a color traditionally associated with femininity and gayness, PINK!
Fun & Movement
One of my go-to’s, when I’m trying to give a space a sense of importance and movement, is paint. This is probably because I studied painting in school, but also because it’s such an easy way to make your house look so much different, more vibrant, and more interesting without spending too much. I decided to create a sense of movement in the room by hand stenciling half-circles on the wall, framing out the windows, and giving the ceiling a nice rush of pink. One of my favorite color palettes is pink mixed with beige and ivory, so I combined those three colors to make a room that essentially looks like an ice cream cone. A delicious, sweet ice cream cone.
A Good “Hook”
The way I’ve motivated myself to stay in shape as an adult has predominantly been going to a gym in LA. I don’t know why, but I’ve always found it motivating to be around tons of other people doing the same thing as me. Like in college I couldn’t study in my dorm room, only at the library. So not having that public space to workout in anymore was an absolute disaster for me. I couldn’t get myself to workout regardless of how much workout equipment I installed first for my little LA apartment’s guest room, then the living room, then eventually the backyard. What was missing from my workout regime was that communal energy and I wasn’t sure how I was going to get myself to want to exercise without it.
But then a random business trip sparked an idea. I had to fly to New York (my first time on a plane post-covid) to shoot something for HGTV. And at my hotel room, I was reminded of something I always love doing when I’m staying in hotels: watching The Today Show. To me, laying in your hotel room and watching a cheery morning news show for hours and hours is the ultimate decadence, mostly because if I was at home I’d be screaming at myself “YOU SHOULD BE WORKING!”
But, what if I could use this vacation decadence to trick myself into working out? So I decided to install a TV in the gym and make working out and watching The Today Show my morning routine. It feels like I’m doing something bad, like a treat, but really I’m also motivating myself to get back to health.
I actually think the TV trick is a pretty good one. I splurged on the Frame TV because I’ve been eyeing it for years and love it aside from the fact you have to buy the frame color you want (you don’t get to choose, it just comes black and if you don’t want black you have to pay $200 for a cover). But I think this trick could definitely work for other people. Like maybe your wife hates “Bridgerton” and you can use your workout time to watch that alone? Or maybe you just buy a good wireless speaker and listen to your favorite podcast (I like “Why Won’t You Date Me?,” “Left Right & Center,” and “Fresh Air”). If TV or podcasts aren’t your thing, I’m sure you can do some digging to see if there’s any “hook” you could use to get yourself into your gym. This might take some time (it did for me) but if you truly think about things you love it can help you think of ways to motivate yourself. After a lifetime of dieting and obsessive exercising, I’m kinda over it. So it was really key for me to fill in the motivational piece to make sure I would actually workout. The struggle (to find motivation) is real!
Quality Weights and/or Equipment
This was a must for me but I don’t think it would necessarily be for everyone. I don’t know if it’s still like this, but I found it impossible to find decent weights when I was designing my gym (everyone seems to installing home gyms these days so they’re sold out all over the place). Everyone’s different, but I will say you should think about the type of workout you like to do and not feel guilty spending some money on making it possible. There are obviously a million things you can do with free weights (and I’ve been learning more and more by using YouTube) so for me it was important to have a set. And for my eyeballs it was important that that set matched and was easy to organize.
This one seems stupid but it’s not. There’s a reason fancy private gyms have mirrors everywhere. Firstly, they bounce light all over the place and make the room feel airier. And as I’ve already said I love lots of natural light in my workout space. Which means you should too! Because I am the one writing this post and you are the one reading it!
Mirrors are also obviously helpful in making sure your posture and form are correct. I can’t tell you how many times the little voice in my head has said “You’re doing it! You’re doing it RIGHT!” only to look in the mirror and realize I am doing it totally wrong. You have to be able to see yourself to know if you’re using correct form. I have used these Ikea mirrors about seven thousand times and while I wish the frame was another color they are undoubtedly the best bang for your buck when it comes to a huge ass mirror that only costs $129. I thought about spraying these white or another color but was worried I’d end up spending too much time on a small detail I wouldn’t really appreciate later.
Eye Candy (Art)
One of my favorite things about going to an actual gym with actual human beings in it is staring at hot gay guys in athleisure doing sweaty things together. But with no sweaty hot gays (except myself?) to look at, I found myself worried there wouldn’t be anything to feast my eyes on should The Today Show enter into a commercial break or should Hoda enter into a tangent I didn’t personally find interesting (impossible!). So I decided my gym was gonna need some art. Clearly, I need constant stimulation in order to do literally anything.
No matter how beautifully decorated they are, there never seems to be any art in even the fanciest of private health clubs. And since I wanted my gym to be fun, silly, and welcoming I decided to use some of my more playful art in here. I asked myself “why can’t every wall in here be a gallery wall?” and when I couldn’t think of a good answer I decided to just put art all over the place. I also wanted to make sure I was integrating the fancy Frame TV I bought into the room and capitalizing on its ability to look like a pretty piece of art instead of a giant black box on the wall.
I had to swap the flooring out in this room because the dated ’90s carpet was hurting my eyeballs (though it was super comfy to walk on tbh). But I wanted something to protect the floor from me constantly dropping heavy things on it, insulate for sound in case I had guests (what are “guests” and when will they come back?), and be nice and easy on my joints (because I want my muscles to be swole, not my knees!). The solution was relatively inexpensive and easy. I installed these interlocking foam tiles from Amazon in a few hours. Basically, you just cut them to size and tape them down with carpet tape. I have had to maintain them a bit as they tend to warp depending on how warm it is, but they function pretty well and cost about $150 which seems not bad for flooring an entire room.
All people are different, but I’m super sensitive to the lighting wherever I am. Bad lighting can destroy my mood and potentially my entire life depending on what day it is. I like things to be bright, especially when I work out. Good lighting, along with the views out my windows, gives me energy to keep going. One of the reasons I moved to the woods was to experience all four seasons again. Believe it or not, after 13 years in LA I really missed winter and snow. Life gets boring when it’s sunny every day for years on end. But living in a place with weather also means living in a place where it’s often cloudy and overcast. So I not only wanted a room with ample natural light, I also wanted to make sure if it was gloomy outside I’d have enough lighting to keep it bright and cozy in my gym.
I repurposed an “orb-lando” (DIY wire light fixture) I’d crafted as a prop for my book and added a few lamps on surfaces around the room. I even replaced the existing boob light with a simple, modern flush-mount I found on Amazon. Amazon has actually been a pretty great resource for inexpensive lighting as I’ve been slowly trying to swap out all the dated fixtures in the house. The fixture I chose is LED and cost less than $30. I don’t LOVE the temperature of the light. It’s a bit bluer than I tend to prefer. But the other lighting in the room is super warm so it kind of balances out.
I’ve been installing fixtures all over the house which has been an adventure because A) I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing and B) The breaker box is labeled in a very confusing and mysterious way – I thought my dryer didn’t work for two months and hired an electrician to come out and tell me that it did work it was just labeled as “microwave” on the panel. Probably by the time I’m done replacing all this lighting I’ll be a certified electrician because there’s still so many ugly fixtures to get rid of. But, lighting is one of the most important elements in any home. Especially if it’s in a gym with a bunch of mirrors – you want to see yourself in the most flattering light possible.
Since I wanted my gym to be pretty and organized, I added some shelving I’d had leftover from a project I did at my parents’ house years ago. To be honest, most of the stuff in this room (aside from the equipment) was leftover from something else because I was trying not to spend too much. These pretty shelves are from Rejuvenation and I love them along with the pretty brass brackets. But I didn’t necessarily want to see all the wellness accouterments I’ve collected over the years so I added some simple white bins from Ikea to hide things in. The more you research different workouts the more stuff you’ll accumulate. For example, I just bought these bands for glute exercises and they’re great, I just don’t want to look at them all the time. When creating a composed, organized gym storage is essential. This is doubly important if your gym is integrated into a corner of your bedroom or another room in your house.
Not all storage has to be hidden away. I’ve been experimenting with making different things out of dowels lately. So I cut a few down to make a storage system for all the accessories that go with my pull-down system (this is a set of pulleys attached to the ceiling, mostly used for chest and shoulder exercises). To make these, I cut down a 1.25” dowel to 5” rods, sanded it down, and attached it to the wall with a double-ended screw. I like that they bring in pretty blonde wood and make the pull-down handles and bars into a little gallery wall while keeping them easily accessible. I used the same 1.25” dowel to make a mobility stick (bar you use to do different arm/shoulder stretches) and added it to the wall next to the TV as a fun little accent that’s also a super practical way to store it.
I know this is super cheesy, but no post about gyms or working out would be complete without the reminder that none of this is going to work if you don’t begin your wellness journey from a celebratory, self-love perspective.
I was talking to a friend the other day about how stupid the ’90s were. I’ve been watching Dawson’s Creek, which I’d never seen before, and I never knew how racist, homophobic, and slut shamey it was. I also just watched the New York Times Britney Spears documentary and it reminded me what a weird time the late ’90s were. The public wanted Britney to dress like a sexy baby, but also be a virgin. The number of “legit” news reporters who asked her about her virginity is shocking. And it wasn’t just her, it was Jessica Simpson and literally every other visible woman back then. I’d hope that if that question were asked now the response would be NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS YOU CREEP. What a gross time. I remember even being a teenager in the ’90s feeling like I was somehow living in the past.
The ’90s were also stupid because of how rigid the standards for bodies, especially womens’ bodies were. The super skinny heroin chic look must have given half (if not all) the women my age complexes about their bodies. I’m a guy and it even rubbed off on me. And my impression was that things were better now. We have beautiful people like Lizzo around letting us know that there are a million ways to be gorgeous. But I think if you actually look at Instagram, TikTok, and everywhere else there’s still a lot of the same content asking us to hate ourselves.
For me as a gay man, I feel constantly inundated by THOTy gay influencers with perfect bodies. Consciously or subconsciously I always end up comparing myself to them. Which is one reason I don’t spend lots of time looking at Instagram and TikTok. When I sense that my scrolling is starting to elicit dark feelings, I shut the app down and do something else. On Instagram, sex definitely sells and it still feels like even though we have made strides in inclusion, the same old traditionally “hot bodied” people tend to get more traction, gain more followers, and procure the most lucrative brand deals.
And I’m not a woman but it’s clear the same kind of please-hate-your-body bullshit is being hurled their way. For example, you’ll see brands celebrating “curvy” women, but the curvy women they’re celebrating have a very specific type of curviness that’s often only possible via plastic surgery (huge breasts, tiny waist, big butt). You’re not really celebrating body diversity if you’re only celebrating one very specific version of “curvy.” We still have so far to go in terms of figuring out how to accept and celebrate diverse bodies.
For me, starting from a place of self-acceptance with my own body has helped me make working out, which formerly felt more like a punishment, into something I had positive associations with. Instead of feeling “I need to look like that” or “this is a punishment for eating ___” I’m more concentrated on “I’m doing this to feel better and be stronger.” Expressing positive thoughts about your body is not only a way of helping yourself feel better, it’s also a way of boosting up everyone around you. This is especially important if your body doesn’t fit into the traditional mold of what has been recognized as beautiful. Loving your body gives the people around you permission and encouragement to do the same.
Okay that’s it. I love your body. And I think it’s worth taking some time to think about ways to make it healthier and stronger. And (especially now in Covid times) creating a space for that in your home is the best way to do that. Goodbye!
*Photos and Design by Orlando Soria