During the last year, do-it-yourself projects have been taken to the next level with millions of people creating their own fitness spaces to be able to safely work out in the comfort of their own homes. Meet a few Austinites who have each created their own (awesome) fitness oasis to get in a daily sweat.
Even before he started building, David Lee Nall had a pretty good idea of what items he wanted in his new home gym. Designed to be a large enough space to house two Porsche race cars and a functional fitness gym, Nall’s gym is fully equipped with all the gear one could need.
“I call it ‘Bars and Cars,’” he says.
Nall built his dream gym mostly by himself — putting in the flooring but hiring out contractors when needed. After completing the gym in just under 90 days, the 32-foot by 52-foot metal structure is now home to a Rogue Rig, wall balls, squat racks, benches, a full line of kettlebells, cardio equipment, gymnastics rings, ropes to climb and more.
While his new home gym is fully equipped, Nall’s space is missing one commonly-found gym item: mirrors.
“The functionality of it [the gym] — I think that should be more of the focus than the mirror, because then, sometimes, you could go down the wrong path and do whatever it takes to look a certain way, and that’s not always the healthiest choice,” Nall says.
Nall, who has spent time in the bodybuilding world and even been on stage at 3% body fat, says that now he’s motivated by functional fitness rather than aesthetics.
“I think my focus was always on everything that I needed to do to look a certain way, and then I changed and I started doing CrossFit and functional fitness. Now, I’m 45 years old, and I’m probably the healthiest I’ve ever been,” Nall says.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Jordan Silverman had already created his dream home gym in his garage — something he had been working to attain since childhood.
As an active Austinite with an equally active family, Silverman has filled his garage gym with various gear one wouldn’t typically find in a modern fitness space. With one son being a wrestler and the other a gymnast, Silverman owns a gymnastics mushroom for pommel horse, rings, jump ropes, a punching bag, grappling mats and a plethora of other sport-specific items.
“People come over and they look at my gym and they laugh — they think it’s great,” Silverman says.
In addition to workout equipment, Silverman has decked out his home gym with his own decor: medals and jiu jitsu belts to keep him motivated during workouts.
“I’ve got pictures of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Lee and Alexandra Carolyn and Dan Gable — all my heroes,” Silverman says.
When asked about advice for other Austinites looking to upgrade their fitness spaces, Silverman says to make it one’s own.
“Everyone’s got their own definition of a man cave,” Silverman says. “This is mine.”
For Elda and Joseph Negrete, music is a huge component of why they love their home gym.
“I feel there’s just more freedom, and it pumps you up the way you need to get pumped up a little better than you would at a facility,” Elda Negrete says.
With a home gym that’s been in the works for over 10 years, she says that it wasn’t until three years ago that she and her husband began to make larger investments into their garage gym.
While the duo scored many of their finds from Craigslist, Negrete says their pride and joy is the equipment they purchased from Texas Strength Systems, a Texas-based equipment company.
For those who are just beginning to create their own gym space, she recommends planning ahead to figuring out space, prior to getting materials. For the couple, the biggest challenge was making space available for their home gym before making the decision to build it in their home garage.
Negrete also suggests, in addition to having a good music system, to simply start out with dumbbells and a jump rope to get in both strength training and cardio if limited on space.
“There’s so much you can do with dumbbells — and they don’t have to be heavy dumbbells either,” she says.
Even just purchasing a pair of lightweight dumbbells can lead to a great workout, since one can easily manipulate movements for higher intensity, she says.
For the last 11 years, Shawn Martinez has been running an Austin-based company that provides fitness services to luxury apartments. Unfortunately, like many other fitness-focused companies, it got hit pretty badly when the pandemic hit.
As people pivoted their fitness to be functional in their own homes and spaces, Martinez pivoted his skills and connections in the fitness industry to venture into outfitting home gyms — and his new business quickly took off.
With his own home gym having been completed just a few months before the pandemic, Martinez says he recognized how much he valued his home gym and wanted to help others create their own, specialty fitness spaces.
For those getting started in their home fitness, Martinez recommends investing in quality products. While many manufacturers have created quick, inexpensive items to outfit a home gym from high demand, Martinez recommends sticking to commercial equipment that can withstand weather and rusting (if planned to be in a garage) and has a trusted warranty.
“You kind of get what you pay for,” Martinez says. “That’s why I pulled the trigger on getting stuff that’s a little more expensive. But you know, it’s going to last as long as I own them.”
Father to three kids, Martinez says he also wanted his home gym to be a normal space for his kids to foster their own fitness activities.
“They come in, they mess around. My 8-year-old works out; he doesn’t know any better,” he says, “and I love that this is just a very natural part of their lives, and I love this room in our house.”
In their home, the Vorachards have a media room and gym on the same level — an area they refer to as the “Zen Den.”
“We just kind of kept adding stuff to it, and it just became this amazing Zen space to go downstairs and just really pump it out,” MJ Vorachard says.
One item she says is a must-have in their Zen Den is a television.
“It keeps us down there working out if we put on a movie or football game or something, and we stay down there for a lot longer,” Vorachard says. “And it doesn’t really feel like working out — it just feels like, you know, you’re just doing an activity while your brain is somewhere else. I love that.”
After finishing out the room in 2017, MJ Vorachard and her husband, Jared, scoured Facebook Marketplace and other groups to find some key items they wanted to include in their home gym.
“We outfitted that room with mostly used items, and we were able to get some nicer, high-end, quality items for a lot less, because we found them on Lakeway Swap or Buy & Sell in Steiner,” Vorachard says.
In addition to a punching bag Vorachard’s husband has had since youth, the couple has accumulated a stationary bike, squat rack and a BowFlex Max Trainer among others.
“I think that would be a huge tip I would tell people, because you can get more bang for your buck and you can really outfit your gym nicely,” Vorachard says. “And it doesn’t have to be like, you know, top of the line; if it’s heavy and it works, then it’s doing its job.”
Situated in the backyard of Sarah Leahy’s home is the equivalent to an adult jungle gym. Fully equipped with a rig, squat rack, climbing rope and more, Leahy’s home fitness space is sure to pack in a good workout.
“When the pandemic started and the gyms closed, my husband and I were a little bit lost without having access to barbell training,” Leahy says. “And you know, the stock was so low of everything.”
Leahy says the couple lucked out when, after time on the waitlist, Fringe Sport had outdoor rigs come back in stock. Once their concrete slab was poured in the corner of their backyard, they were ready for the professional installation.
“We managed to get our hands on one, and slowly but surely, we kind of pieced it together. And then, Texas Garage Gym Builders came out and did the install for us. So, we’ve just been kind of adding to it,” Leahy says.
Their outdoor rig is fully equipped with a climbing rope, two squat stations, a dip bar, pull-up stations and more.
After moving to Austin from Minneapolis, Leahy says the couple wanted to take advantage of Texas’ warmer weather with an outdoor fitness space — hence the outdoor rig.
“We had talked about doing an enclosed gym initially, but then once we got down here and kind of got a feel for the beautiful weather, we were like, ‘Let’s just have an outside gym — keep it simple,’” Leahy says. “So, we started building and then once COVID hit, we kind of accelerated the process.”
For Austinites beginning the process of creating their own fitness space, Leahy recommends making sure all equipment is installed properly to make sure everything is secure prior to use, for safety reasons.
In addition, Leahy says a big trap many get stuck in when assembling their own gym at home is the idea to get everything all at once.
“I think that if you don’t have a large budget for a gym and you’re looking just for an efficient way to work out your total body, kettlebells are always a really good way to start,” Leahy says. “You can just get a couple at a time for whatever level you’re at and really get a full-body workout that combines strength and cardio, and they don’t take up much space.”
For Brent and Kelly Walker, working out with others, even virtually, has helped play into their success in keeping up their fitness.
“I think that’s it — finding an accountabili-buddy,” Kelly explains. During COVID-19, she schedules virtual rides with a friend in Colorado every Tuesday morning.
Brent Walker also found an accountabili-buddy with one of his friends where they started competing for the highest daily step count. After a while, his competitive nature got him up to 10-12 miles a day, and with the increase in activity, Walker says he started to see weight begin to melt off. Then, he and Kelly decided to build their own fitness space in the comfort of their garage. Now, Walker is training for his first Ironman.
“If the pandemic would never have happened, we would have never built the gym. I wouldn’t be 45 pounds down or thinking about ever doing an Ironman. I thought those guys were crazy to do something like that a year ago and here I am — can’t wait to do one,” Brent says.
For Kelly, mindset is a huge factor that plays into a workout.
“I like the idea of leaving my home and going somewhere. It could be running Town Lake or boxing downtown. It’s just the idea of my own time that’s really sacred for me to be able to do that,” Walker says. “So, for me being in the garage, outside of the house, it’s a little play on my psyche, I think, because I am technically leaving my home.”
In the Walker’s home gym, motivation is also key for a good workout. Upon walking into their gym, the couple says they have a special wakeup phrase for their Alexa device: “Alexa, we’re here to kick ass.”
Following the phrase, everything in the room is programmed to turn on.
“So, right there, from walking in the door, you know you’re there to do something. You’re not there just to kind of move weights around — you’re there to actually work and get it done,” Brent says.
After getting into fitness around the age of 19, Jarett Hulse took his passion for fitness to the next level in a unique way by collecting items from the fitness world’s past. Twenty years later, Hulse has a significant collection of special finds including fitness magazines, books and photos, some of which line the walls in his garage.
With collectible items dating back to the 1600s, Hulse has quite an assortment of workout equipment. From an old cannonball that’s now a functional kettlebell to strongman Milo barbells with globes on either end, Hulse’s three-car garage is now half-museum, half-gym.
“I just started doing it when I was a teenager and loved it and got into the history of it, and so it’s just a big hobby I have,” Hulse says.
Not only does he collect, but Hulse and his family also use the aged equipment.
On occasion, his two sons, Jameson (7) and Jack (5), will accompany Hulse and his wife in their garage for a workout. The boys even have their own child-size barbells — one of which was made in the 70s.
Of all of his items, Hulse says one of his favorites is a globe barbell that was once owned by 20th-century strongman and bodybuilder Siegmund Klein.
When the pandemic began, the Hulse family invited their friends to use their garage gym when their gyms had closed. Hulse says the couple would leave out disinfectant spray and wave to their friends from their window.
“I thought that was cool that we gave quite a few people a place to work out safely,” Hulse says.