A home gym is designed to fit perfectly with a local family


Every morning, while their daughters Philly and Ella are still asleep, Mel and Tim Johnson start the day on their own terms.

In the lower level of their custom home in Sun Prairie, the couple trains in their home gymnastics and streams a workout routine from Beachbody, the fitness company that Mel Johnson trains. Mel Johnson, who also works with marketing at a software company, often trains with her teammates – virtually – and shares clips on social media afterwards to help inspire her online community.

“Instead of the day running me, I run the day when I train in the morning and follow my routine,” she says.

The gym, like the rest of the new 4,400-square-foot home built by Acker Builders, is tailored for an active family that prioritizes fitness and wellness.

And the space is both functional and hopeful. At just over 200 square feet, the home gym is large enough to fit a television and a streamlined console, a collection of weights and ribbons, and a large Gorilla mat. A MYX II bike stands in a corner.

The couple chose luxurious vinyl planks for the flooring and decorated the main wall with a geometric print wallpaper from DesignWell Interiors in Waunakee. On another wall hangs a “Resilient Spirit” sign that Tim Johnson gave his wife for Christmas, as it is the name of her coaching staff.

But perhaps the most important design choice in the room was the decision to drop the floor 2 feet. “We really wanted to have a good height in the gym so our burpees are never hindered,” Mel Johnson explains.

Although the convenience of working out at home cannot be overstated, the couple says the intent behind the workout is the same as for working out in any gym.

“The most important thing is mindset,” she says. “It’s nice to have a dedicated space, but I have not always had that. For so long, I got so many other rooms to function as my exercise room: carpeted basement, porch, hotel rooms, driveways, living room in apartments. “

A home gym is designed to fit perfectly with a local family

Photo by Nikki Hansen

The home gym also flexes to suit other needs. It becomes a theater for the girls when they take their beanbags with them to watch a favorite movie, or an escape route when a friendly fight breaks out. But parents appreciate that their daughters know this is a place to focus on health.

“It’s cool to have the gym here because the girls see us work out,” says Tim Johnson. “It’s a habit thing, it’s a modeling thing. We want them to know it’s OK to take time for themselves.”

Because wellness is such a pillar in the Johnson family’s life, it was one of their priorities when they designed their house, which they moved into in April last year. It was translated into comfortable and functional spaces, including a screened porch with double French doors to combine indoor and outdoor living. Thoughtful details such as a wooden hood in the kitchen, beams in the bedroom and shiplap in Mel Johnson’s home office give a “modern farmhouse meets cozy mountain home” atmosphere.

The accommodation is also special because the family did not actually expect to live in the area.

The Johnson family had built a new home in Waunakee in 2016 with no intention of moving – until Tim Johnson was offered the chance to work in the German office of Merck KGaA, the science and technology firm he has been with for years.

The couple put their house on the market in January 2020, visited Germany in February to find an apartment, came home and sent all their belongings out on a freight container that left on March 9th.

“Then everything shut down,” Mel Johnson says, referring to the pandemic. “We had 10 days of clothes and nothing else.”

Their plans to fly to Germany on April 2 were postponed until July and then indefinitely. The family stayed with Tim Johnson’s parents while they waited in limbo until they finally decided not to move. And when they discovered a quiet plot in Sun Prairie, they chose to build again.

It was a trying experience, she says, but she and her husband tried to look at it as a fresh start. And fortunately, they had a strong foundation built on fitness and a mindset to help them get through the challenges.

And she’s reminded of that every time she walks into her gym and sees her “Resilient Spirit” sign. Her team’s motto is “No mud, no lotus,” a nod to how a lotus grows up through the mud to the water surface and continues even when it can not see what is ahead.

“This gym – and our house – is my lotus,” she says.

mel johnson on the bike

Photo by Nikki Hansen

Mels morning routine:

I usually wake up between 5:15 and 5:30, depending on my workout. I get dressed and go downstairs. After taking our dog Louie out and feeding him, it’s tomorrow’s diary and reflection time. I love “The Daily Stoic” by Ryan Holiday and The Daily Journal by Spirit Daughter. This morning routine keeps me grounded. At 05.45 I make my drink before training ready and dance to a favorite tune. Movement is energy! I usually have a couple of girls on my Beachbody team who also tag me in their workout dance parties, which is motivating. Then, downstairs to the gym to work out at. 6. After my workout, I grab my recovery drink and share some clips of my workout in the hopes that it will inspire someone to move their body. This also makes me responsible. If I do not train, I get people to contact me on Instagram and ask if I’m okay!

Follow Mel’s fitness journey on Instagram at @meljohnsonsfitlife.

Build it up

When it comes to building a gym for the home, Mel Johnson’s advice is to start small.

“You need your determination, you need a plan, and you need a few weights or ties,” she says. She has seen many people place emphasis on equipment more than mindset, only to lose interest after a few weeks.

Johnson suggests starting with a high quality mat and a pair of 5-, 10- or 15-pound dumbbells. As you get stronger, you can add heavier weights. And since different routines, programs and forms of training arouse your interest, you can invest in new equipment.

That way, Johnson says, your gym will evolve with you.

Katie Vaughn is a Madison-based art, home and travel writer.

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