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Original Issue


It started innocuously with visions of my buying a jump rope and jumping faster and more feverishly than Muhammad Ali ever did while training for a title fight. I didn't know it then, but I was exhibiting one of the early symptoms of Home Gym Syndrome: the impulse to buy exercise equipment destined to fall quickly into disuse. I never imagined what a powerful affliction HGS could become.

When I arrived home with my new rope, I realized there was no place to jump without harming the carpet or lassoing a piece of furniture. And my ceilings were too low. There were also problems with using the backyard, one of which was my desire to spare the neighbors the sight of a middle-aged woman falling on her face. So I hung the rope on a doorknob, where its handles rattled noisily every time I opened and closed the door.

HGS struck again with the purchase of a complete set of dumbbells. I promptly pulled a shoulder muscle using them and deposited them in a corner of the bedroom. I promised myself I would get back to them soon.

Next I began to have obsessive thoughts about buying a stationary bicycle. I persuaded my husband that he would get a great deal of use out of one also. At the time I didn't know that HGS could be spread from one family member to another. So we bought a bike, and I stopped using it within the first month. My husband, still in the early stages of HGS, continued to pedal away on it, and for a while I kidded myself into thinking the bicycle had not been a completely wasted purchase.

Then I bought a "professional-grade" exercise mat, which was immediately shoved under the Ping-Pong table in the basement. A trampoline came next, but because of the low ceilings, it could only be used outdoors, which of course it never was. The neighbors again.

Soon I became consumed with the idea of a motorized treadmill. This was a big-money item, a sure sign that my condition was getting more acute. The treadmill was great—until it broke down and had to be taken to the shop. It came back two weeks later, only to break down again. We panicked about what to do. Since HGS sufferers never go back to using a previously abandoned piece of equipment, something new had to be bought. The answer: a rowing machine, the kind with all the electronic gadgetry, of course. A weakness for digital readouts is widely recognized as another telltale sign of advancing HGS.

My husband and I began arguing about the tension controls on the rower. It was too much of a bother to change the setting each time one of us used the machine, so we bought another one. The literature on HGS is filled with cases of duplicate equipment purchases. Soon we found reasons for not liking the rowers, and began looking at Nautilus machines, which still beckon even though we have neither the money nor the room for them. We are valiantly fighting the familiar urge to buy, but we may be doomed.

Do you run a risk of being stricken by HGS, too? Here are some warning signs:

1. Do you have a basement? Studies show that people with basements are most likely to purchase unneeded exercise equipment. There is even a theory that basements exist only to accommodate HGS victims. Nine out of 10 sports equipment graveyards are in basements.

2. Did you recently buy a Ping-Pong table, the top of which is now used only for storage?

3. Did you buy a lifetime spa membership three years ago that you've used exactly twice so far?

4. Do you have practically new jogging shoes somewhere in the back of a closet?

5. Do you buy all the latest bestsellers on exercise and never read them? Do you own exercise records and tapes you've never played?

6. Do you find yourself leafing through bodybuilding magazines at bookstores?

7. Do you harbor delusions about the physical nature of things? Do you think that exercise will transform you from 5'2" and stocky to 5'9" and statuesque?

If you answered yes to three or more of the above questions, you are a likely candidate for contracting HGS. You should do all in your power to stave off the ailment, because once you come down with it, it may be too late. While spontaneous recoveries have been known to occur, you can't count on them.