Reinventing Your Pain Cave

Bike mounted to an indoor trainer
January 29, 2021

Dave Sheanin



For the 20 years we’ve lived in our current house, I’ve had a small but functional pain cave set up in a dark corner of the basement. Over the years, I’ve tinkered and added equipment but it has remained a small, unfinished space that I have logged many hours in--but I would never have called it “inviting”. Our garden-level basement is about one-third finished (with my home office) and the remaining two-thirds unfinished space was largely unorganized storage plus my little pain cave.

Enter Covid stay-at-home/safer-at-home orders and suddenly the whole family was skipping the gym and looking for home options for working out. There wasn’t much enthusiasm for my little space and we began making plans for an expanded workout area.

In early December, we purchased a cable/weight machine and I found some fun blue floor tiles on Amazon to put under it. This was to be the extent of the project but then my wife said, “It would be nice if we could do something to cover up the insulation”. What followed was the dictionary definition of mission creep! A two-week long project to clean out and partially finish a whole new pain cave in our basement.

I didn’t want to spend a ton of money and I definitely didn’t want to deal with having to pull permits so an actual finish was not in the plan. Instead, I designed and installed a more modular “partial” finish using galvanized roofing panels on most of the walls and soundboard/hardboard on the ceiling (and one wall). I left the concrete foundation walls and drain pipes exposed. The result is a space with a pretty industrial feel, but definitely highly functional and inviting. Thumbs up from the whole family!

The total cost of the project was just under $10 per square foot (not including the existing equipment--trainers, treadmill, Vasa bench, etc.). This is a fraction of the cost of a traditional basement finish.

A few tips from what I learned along the way.

  • Think beyond traditional building materials. Galvanized roofing panels (available at the home improvement store) are not terribly challenging to work with (they cut relatively easily with a good pair of tin snips and protective gloves) and look pretty good in a workout space. They can be attached with a few screws at the top and bottom. Way quicker, easier, and less expensive than drywall. Same with hardboard.
  • You can make “walls” by attaching hardboard, plywood, or other sheet material to the back of freestanding storage shelves. This is a very simple way to define/close in a space and gives you the flexibility to move the walls if needed.
  • There are many ways to make a space more appealing. For example, we added an LED strip light as an accent that does nothing to actually light up the space, but was inexpensive and looks cool. Our curtain rods are made from galvanized pipe fittings. This was definitely more expensive than buying a cheap curtain rod, but is a little touch that we really enjoy.
  • If we had done nothing but lay down foam/rubber floor tiles, it would have made a huge difference in the space. And flooring doesn’t have to be black. The blue interlocking tiles we chose really brighten up the whole space.
  • If you have a wall that is shared with finished space, invest in sound insulation. One wall of my space backs up to my home office and the extra $100 I spent on sound batting was definitely worth it!
  • Make sure you have some fans in your workout space. If you don’t have remote control fans, buy a remote control outlet switch (that is inexpensive and simply plugs into your outlet) so that you can turn your fan(s) on and off as needed while you’re on your trainer/treadmill.
  • When my wife starts a sentence with, “it would be nice if…”, I’m headed for a BIG project!

The original pain cave (in a different area of our basement than the new pain cave).


Coach Dave Sheanin's experience has shown him that athletes get the best results when they are both physically fit and technically excellent – yet it can be challenging to slow down enough to work on form. An impatient person can learn anything in a hurry, but they will learn incorrectly. As a swim coach the most common question he hears after a workout is “How many yards was that?”. His favorite answer is “Why does it matter?” Yes, volume certainly has it’s place in training, and so does intensity. But ultimately there is a point in all three disciplines where to get faster you need to improve your technique.

Coach Dave's Credentials Include:

  • USA Triathlon Certified Coach
  • Training Peaks Certified Coach

Coach Dave Sheanin is an advocate for aligning triathletes with their race goals. He believes that becoming “triathlon literate” is key to meeting your goals. Triathlon is indeed a lifestyle and like the other important areas of your life, knowledge is power. He encourages you to explore the nuances of the sport, be open to new ideas and ask questions – of yourself, of fellow swimmers, cyclists and runners, and of your coach.  

Coach Dave is a USA Triathlon and Training Peaks Certified Coach.  Coach Dave was honored by USA Triathlon with the Community Impact Award.

schedule a call