As a personal trainer in London for the last 12 years, I’ve trained clients in their lounge, their garage (a good place for ceiling mounted punch-bags), in their garden, in their apartment gym, and in the basement. The most amazing home-gym I’ve ever trained in was a huge basement conversion gym in Holland Park. A personal trainer’s paradise!
The sense of privacy was fantastic. We could play loud motivational workout music and the neighbours wouldn’t hear a thing. This client had a large range of gym equipment installed, including a full commercial-size cable-crossover machine with pull-up bars, a rack of chrome dumbbells, and a separate rack of barbells. One wall fully mirrored so the client could check his technique when he did the free-weights exercises. He had a Concept 2 rowing machine, and a heavy-duty commercial cross-trainer. Serious kit.
Basement conversions and extensions are a growing trend among the wealthy in London. In the last 4 years, Kensington & Chelsea Borough Council has granted over 800 planning applications for subterranean extensions. Other planning applications have become embroiled in legal battles, such as one in Kensington Palace Gardens, whose owner wants to build a full-size tennis court underground.
The most lavish basement extension plan I’ve seen is for a 4 storey basement in Knightsbridge SW7. It includes swimming pool, climbing wall, ping-pong room, and gym (among other things like staff quarters and luxury garage with car-lift). If this grandiose scheme comes to fruition, I’d love to be the personal trainer this owner hires to get the most out of his new facilities.
There are several companies in London who are at the forefront of basement gym construction. Estbury Basements are big in Wandsworth SW11 and also have several projects in Fulham SW6. Oxford & London Building Consultancy have created a fantastic chlorine-free basement swimming pool in Wimbledon SW19, and a double-layer basement with gym and swimming pool in Chelsea. Pure Basement Systems operates nationwide (mainly Leeds and Manchester) but has built a basement gym for a client in north London. And a company called London Basement has completed a luxury 158 square metre basement gym/swimming pool area, with a head height of 2.75 metres, giving a serious sense of space.
Advantages of a basement gym
Noise insulation, and privacy. The convenience of having a gym right at home, so it’s a real time-saver. And you can have as much heavy equipment as you like, as the floor is completely solid. And you can create all this extra space without having to move house, and without encroaching on your existing space. Most of my personal training clients have converted a spare bedroom or study into a gym, which cannibalises the existing space. A basement gym solves this problem.
Disadvantages of a basement gym
Cost is probably the main issue. It’s not cheap, if you want a decent space. Think of all that needs to be done. There’s the excavation, underpinning, structural reinforcement with steel beams and reinforced concrete to prevent your house sinking into the basement. Then there’s waterproofing, lighting, providing a means of escape, plumbing, heating, and ventilation to consider. Then you need appropriate flooring (thick rubberised flooring is ideal in gyms), and equipment. Make sure you have sufficient access space to physically move large pieces of gym equipment into the basement.
And consider safety issues like fire, and the potential need to call an ambulance if you have an accident or stroke (a land-line installed in the basement is a good idea, as mobile phones don’t always get a signal underground). It’s a huge and time-consuming undertaking. If you’re not experienced in working out with weights, particularly exercises like the barbell bench press and squat, don’t train alone, have someone to spot you, ideally a personal trainer. You don’t want to get injured alone in a basement, where no-one can hear you cry for help.
And for all basement gyms, particularly if you’re anywhere near the Thames, your architects and builders will need to mitigate flood risks. Flood-proofing a basement isn’t cheap.
Another potential problem is disruption to neighbours. Some high-profile basement extensions in Kensington Palace Gardens have led to legal wrangles, and the risk of structural damage to neighbouring properties has to be addressed. And apart from structural problems, there’s always the issue of noise nuisance, and dust nuisance from soil and rubble rising up on the angled conveyor belt into the skip out on the road. This raises another bone of contention, physical obstruction to neighbours caused by the conveyor belt, skip, and workmen’s vehicles.
There have been several horror-stories of basement extensions which have gone wrong. Make sure you hire the best professionals for the job. And don’t skimp on any aspect of your basement gym, or you might end up with a cramped, poky, claustrophobic, damp and depressing underground space that you don’t want to spend time in. If you’re going to do it, make sure your basement gym is large, with plenty of head-space, bright and well-ventilated, and well decorated and equipped. And while you’re at it, hire a decent personal trainer to help you get the most out of your workouts.
Dominic Londesborough is a personal trainer in London