Nestled deep within the sprawling grounds of a La Jolla estate — past the tennis courts, past the pool, past a winding road and fruit trees — lies a concrete structure that looks like a slice of Swiss cheese.
But it’s not an abstract sculpture. It’s highly functional and equipped with all the exercise equipment a fitness junkie could dream of – a rope for climbing, rings for acrobatics, a horizontal bar for pull-ups, steps for aerobics or lunges, and a platform for handstands. Here Ed Rosen trains almost every day with his two sons in their 20s.
A lot of people have home gyms, maybe a treadmill or stationary bike and some free weights lying around. Especially during Covid-19, people moved their workout space to their homes and for some even kept it there when gyms reopened. But a select few have taken the concept of home fitness to a whole new level.
Rosen’s backyard gym in La Jolla.
“It’s a multi-generational playground for the 0-150 age group,” says Ryan Rosen, the son who designed the training area. “I love watching my grandma climb or crawl right there under that hole a four-year-old carved as a secret door.”
The fact that it looks like a playground, with bright colors, little crevices to crawl through, and corners to hide in, is part of the point, Ryan says. In fact, it replaced an old jungle gym that had languished on the property since the Rose boys were kids.
Covid lockdowns also inspired Leland Ferguson, whose Rancho Peñasquitos estate includes a sloping canyon wall. He bought the place in 2018 and immediately thought of adding a ninja obstacle course for his kids to use.
Leland Ferguson’s climbing wall in his backyard in Rancho Peñasquitos.
Then he started rock climbing and when Covid closed the climbing gyms he decided to build his own. “I built a 12-foot climbing wall in my backyard right next to the ninja course,” he said.
From then on, the practice room grew. After Ferguson completed a Tough Mudder race, he added two walls—a 12-foot and a 14-foot—to practice climbing over. Then he added a golf driving range and putting green. Next, build a deck with a climbing wall underneath to practice climbing upside down.
Ferguson estimates that over the course of three years he spent 100 days working on his space and spent around $3,000 because he gets most of the material for free.
“I’ve reclaimed wood that people gave away, like old patio covers and stuff like that,” he says. “So basically I built my structures for next to nothing just because I learned to be really imaginative.”
Now there are those who set up a home gym or buy a peloton or treadmill and barely use it. Ferguson is not one of those people. He uses his gear all the time, although he has also returned to climbing gyms during his lunch breaks.
The trick, he says, is not to build something in the hope that you’ll start using it, but to figure out what exercise you love and then make room to do that type of exercise.
“I used to climb anyway, and when the gyms are closed I still want to climb, so the only way to climb would be to either go outside and find some rocks or build my own structure,” he says . “Of course, if you love to cook, you will find a way to cook.
But if you don’t like cooking, I can’t just build you a $100,000 kitchen and expect you to make a great soufflé. It’s not going to happen. So I just built stuff that I knew I would use. And because I love doing it in the first place, I’m going to use it.
And easy access to the equipment helps him exercise more.
“I’m 51 now and I climb with guys in their teens and 20s and 30s and I can keep up with them,” he says. “So this is just proof that when you’re simply making your house a place of activity, there’s no choice but to just kick back on the couch, watch TV and drink Cutwaters.”
For Ed, a self-confessed fitness addict, he would work out the same amount whether or not he had the equipment at his home in La Jolla. But, he says, the space on his property helps him be more efficient. And the equipment was built specifically for his fitness needs. He’s always trying new exercises instead of just lifting weights or doing the same cardio routines.
“I know that going to the gym is a chore for a lot of people, isn’t it intimidating, or they don’t know what to do. But for us it is such a pleasure to come down here and train.”
– Ryan Rosen
“The key is to confuse the body — use the machines in all sorts of ways, whether it’s lifting on rings or high bars, skinning cats and doing sweaters, using strength and balance,” he says.
Ed plays sports from skiing to tennis to pickleball and says five years ago he realized that in order to compete at a higher level he needed to switch to a gymnastics-based workout. “To do these things at age 61,” he hypothesizes, “you have to train laterally; otherwise you will get hurt.”
But when Covid hit the gyms closed, so Ed’s son Ryan offered to design the gym at home. Ryan was also aiming for a Masters in Architecture and used the project to start his company, Friendly Futures, with which he hopes to design more practice spaces.
“I want to create spaces that bring people together. I want to create spaces that encourage us to move and encourage us to play,” says Ryan. “We wanted to have these bright colors and bright shapes to get people to come together. We want adults to have permission to crawl, hang, crouch, leap, jump, hop, lie down, whatever the verb that comes up is.”
The structure at his parents’ house is made of concrete with steel bars and took three months to put together. He estimates that it cost between $40,000 and $60,000 to build. One of the best parts, Ryan says, is that a home fitness setup means he and his family work out together regularly and incorporate exercise into their family routine. It also means exercising doesn’t feel like a chore.
“I know that for many people, going to the gym is a chore, intimidating, or doesn’t know what to do. But for us it’s such a pleasure to come here and train,” he says.
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