News / 

Exercise Buffs Eschew Trips to Fitness Center

Save Story

Estimated read time: 7-8 minutes

This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

"The Shack" is a fitness haven masquerading as a tool shed.

For hours each day, Frank "Kojak" Smith vanishes into the small structure in his back yard. Friends --- including several Gwinnett County police officers --- often stop by and join him in his playhouse of iron.

They leave sweaty and aching.

"I get away from the house and get out there and entertain myself," said Smith, 62, a former DeKalb County police officer who runs his own private security service.

Smith has been amassing an impressive collection of weights, exercise machines and fitness equipment for decades. Now, others are catching up to what Smith has known for years.

"Convenience, that's the No. 1 thing," Smith said. "I can do it without being supervised, organized or anything else. Nobody likes to be told what to do. It makes me feel healthy, and it makes me feel young."

The home gym craze has never been stronger. Throughout Gwinnett County, homeowners are cleaning out basements and spare rooms to make space for dumbbells, punching bags, treadmills and stair climbers.

These assemblies range from basic, but effective, to grand and stylish, with home theaters and decorative themes.

"When we found this house and saw this room, it was the first thing we did," said Lawanna St. Clair of Lilburn.

St. Clair and her husband, Barry, met and married four years ago while each was grieving a deceased spouse.

Their relationship bloomed over grueling workouts, and the effort paid off: Lawanna St. Clair is 52 and her husband is 58, but each looks about a decade younger.

Their arsenal is impressive.

Racks of dumbbells. A multipurpose weight stack. A weight bench. A stair climber. Two exercise bikes. A treadmill.

The 700-square-foot "Greek spa" theme they envisioned for the room is carried into white columns and a shower room that is bathed in sunlight.

In total, the setup cost nearly $40,000. A parade of people often stop by to use the equipment.

"It's pretty complete and meets all of our needs," she said.

Howard Gross was looking for more than a site to pound his pecs. He wanted an all-around place to play.

"I sort of built a toy room for guys," he said. "The real reason is I wanted a gym at home."

His Suwanee basement evolved into a musical and muscular respite. In addition to the heap of exercise equipment --- free weights, a sit-up bench, a treadmill, medicine balls and a boxing bag --- there's a stage for him to play the guitar. Not to mention the requisite TV, DVD player and karaoke machine.

He spared no expense to purchase equipment that could take some punishment. 

"I didn't want stuff you see at Sears," he said. "I wanted it so that if I used it a lot, it didn't break." ``` In crafting the gym, Gross consulted an expert. His personal trainer, Edward Gilbert, offered advice on how to craft a space with the most practical equipment.

"It's very efficient," Gilbert said. "We can do anything we can do in a gym two or three times its size. We've got mirrors, ballet barres, punching bags." 

The success registers on the scale. Gross has lost 70 pounds since he began his fitness quest, 40 of those since he began his weekly training sessions. The activity that currently piques his interest: boxing.

"I really, really like that a lot," Gross said. "I hate lifting weights. I really hate it. But as long as I have some heavy duty rock 'n' roll music playing, I'm fine."

Newfound fitness fanatics such as Gross may be the exception. For every home gym that reeks of sweat and hard labor, there's a Bowflex sitting in someone's bedroom doubling as a coat hanger.

Exercise equipment, while almost always well intentioned, often becomes little more than expensive and heavy clutter.

The key to keeping the iron and inclines relevant, experts say, is to have a focus --- and find equipment and a program that won't become a chore.

"I ask basic screening questions: What are your goals? How much space do you have?" said Marcus Martin, manager of Fitness Gallery in Duluth and a personal trainer. "At that point, I assess what they need. But there are so many ways, from a simple bench and a set of dumbbells to a multistation gym."

Prices vary, obviously, but it doesn't have to cost a lot to start a home gym. A multistation machine can be purchased for as low as $1,500 at Fitness Gallery. A bench and a set of adjustable dumbbells, which can be just as effective at building muscle, can cost half that price.

"You're selling the concept more than the equipment," he said. "You can have the best equipment in the world, but if your mind's not set on it, it will be ineffective."

What makes Gross' setup so effective, Gilbert said, is that instead of a dungeon of dread, the basement is a place he wants to spend time.

"This one fits Howard's personality," he said. "If it doesn't, I don't think you're going to want to do it. A stereo system and a television works wonders."

As shiny and slick as Gross' setup is, others like a more hard-core approach.

Peter Rozboril's Lilburn basement is unfinished and raw. Air duct conduit hangs above. The tons of steel reflect the industrial atmosphere. 

A weightlifter since high school, he once built his own custom equipment in shop class. His home gym reminds him of the dank and intense spaces where he once lifted. And he loves it. "This is my high school dream come true," Rozboril said. "It's not all fancy and chrome. It's just a lot of nice equipment, fairly well-placed."

"A lot" is a modest statement. Among the devices at his disposal: a seated calf-raise, a Roman chair, a chin-up/dip apparatus, a vertical leg press, three weight racks, two complete Olympic weight sets, dumbbells, pulldowns, a cage rack and various benches. Whew. 

Convenience is a big part of this arrangement. Rozboril, 40, a fourth-grade teacher at Knight Elementary School in Lilburn, also is working on completing his master's degree. Thanks to his ever-growing inventory of equipment, he hasn't belonged to a gym since he moved to the Atlanta area 15 years ago.

"One reason I like having a home gym is the commute downstairs," he said. "Watching the people sweating all over the machines at the gym . . . you don't have to worry about other people's bodily fluids."

Photos of physiques that inspire him are posted on the wall. Included is a photo of a high school friend who now suffers from Hodgkin's disease and no longer can exercise. It's a personal motivator.

Among the scads of gym equipment is a piece he actually constructed as a teen.

"It looks kind of like a curling bar, but the angles are much more severe," he said.

A black belt in aikido, he's eyeing more stuff for his collection. Rozboril's next problem, though, isn't getting new equipment, it's keeping it. His girlfriend is eager to move into his house, but he's making sure his weights stay in place.

"I told her, 'You can have the main bedroom, the other rooms, the kitchen; I need my office, my closet and my weight room,' " he said. 

"The Shack" isn't going anywhere. 

The years of hard home labor are evident by the mere shadow Smith casts. A commanding 6-foot-2, his shoulders cast a shadow, and he can bench press a hefty 300 pounds. "The Shack" is surprisingly well-appointed. Part home gym, part 16-year-old's bedroom, the walls are papered with pinups of bathing beauties from Catherine Bell ("JAG"), Lucy Lawless ("Xena") and Shania Twain to his favorite, Celine Dion.

He slips in a Celine Dion concert DVD as he hoists the iron, not exactly what one would expect from such a burly presence. He makes no apologies, and it might be ill-advised to ask. 

"Everyone likes a certain entertainment," Smith said. 

The equipment is classic. Free weights. Original Nautilus machines with the old bicycle-style chains. Pec deck. A multistation machine and a leg press. "I like real weights . . . period," he said. "I like machines if they have real weights on them."

A wall-unit air conditioner keeps the atmosphere icy. He heads out with a gallon of water every afternoon and emerges --- energized --- sometimes hours later.

Expect to see Smith heading in and out of "The Shack" for decades to come.

"I can't stand to be old," he said. "It keeps me in good shape, and it motivates myself. I want to stay in as good a shape as I can as long as I can."

Copyright 2003 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Most recent News stories


Get informative articles and interesting stories delivered to your inbox weekly. Subscribe to the Trending 5.
By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

KSL Weather Forecast