Buyers Guide To Home Exercise Equipment

Rather go home than go to the gym? Why not--you'll save gas, plus you can put that extra drive time to work on your own fitness routine!

So you want to work out at home? Good choice. You'll save time (and gas) by not driving to the gym, so you can get an even better workout. Here's why: if you spend the time you'd otherwise spend in the car on your workout, say, 15 minutes a day, that adds up to at least an extra hour per week of sweat, rather than sitting in your car. Plus, exercising at home means you'll (probably) be on your own. Which is great""you don't have to wait to use your favorite machine, and you won't stop to talk to your chatty workout buddies! Wow. See, you're already on your way to a higher level of fitness. Now, let's see what you want to get started.

You're probably considering setting up a home workout for one of two: One, to save money on gym fees, or two, because working out at home fits your schedule better than a gym schedule or exercise class. But what's more important is this: how does fitness equipment fit in your home or apartment?

When size matters

Let's say you've got the equivalent of a large closet-size space in which to exercise. Don't be so sure you're doomed to exercising solely in front of the television, plodding along to whatever exercise tap (or DVD) you plug in. Space-saving equipment to consider:

Free weights (bonus""you can hide them under the couch when company comes)

Jump ropes (test first to make sure your ceilings are high enough to support a good jump)

Exercise balance balls and exer-bands

Balance boards (great for building core strength)

Meet the Machines

Treadmills

Benefits: Easy, low- to high-impact, can vary pace and incline to increase workout



The width and length of the belt on which you'll run really matters. You'll find narrow belts on many treadmills, and you might be comfortable on them (especially if you're rather narrow yourself), but belts that are too narrow are annoying""kick one foot off the belt a bit and see what happens. You'll either fall or, on more advanced machines, you'll come to an abrupt halt as the belt stops (a safety measure). Find one that fits you just like you do a pair of shoes: try it on. Test the treadmill in the store, and not just with a half-hearted pace, but really step it up and keep it up for several minutes. That's the only way to know if you'll really be comfortable logging several miles a day.

Elliptical machines

Benefit: great cardio workout without impact (easy on the knees and ankles)

Surprisingly, in general, ellipticals are more stable than they appear. They are not the easiest equipment to assemble, however. If you're not handy with a screwdriver and really, really good at interpreting directions, consider buying one already assembled.

Bikes

Benefits: builds lower body strength, balance, low impact

Freestanding bikes offer the greatest workout potential, but if they're not comfortable to you, consider a recumbent stationary model. These have dropped in price considerably in the past five years, while increasing in durability. A bonus: many users find it easier to read while they work out when the bike seat has a back to it. You might, too.

Rowing Machines

Benefits: builds upper body strength plus cardio fitness; no impact

Less popular than treadmills or bikes, rowing machines nonetheless offer a great workout. IF you use them regularly. Because they are less in demand, perhaps, they don't offer quiet the selection that bikes and treadmills do. Still, it pays to shop around. If you're really in the market for a rowing machine, it pays to watch the classified advertisements and the second-hand sports shops. Like a lot of puppies, rowers often grow unwanted and unloved after being received as gifts at the holidays, or for birthdays. Two important notes about rowers: one, make sure the motion of the stroke is smooth""jerky motion is all too common in low-priced machines""and two, make sure the length of the stroke allows you to stretch your legs out completely. Too short a path will cause you to grow frustrated, and can also cause you to bruise your knees or over-compensate with your quads, reducing the effectiveness of the workout.

Weight benches

Benefit: burn calories, keep the muscle you have, build more

Perhaps the greatest discrepancy in exercise equipment is in the least "technically" advanced. Weight benches are difficult to buy because, in home equipment, fit, function, and overall quality varies greatly. Best advice is to think hard about what you want. Many home weight machines are limited to a few upper- and/or lower body exercises. If you want to combine butterflies with squats and curls, to avoid buyer's remorse, you'll have to resign yourself to some significant comparison shopping before you buy.

Variety is the spice of life (and exercise)

If your budget allows you to join a gym, and your house is large enough to accommodate several machines, you're in great shape""er, well, you could be. Assuming you'd spend $700- $1,000 annually on a nice club membership, theoretically, you could add a decent piece of equipment each year, quickly amassing your own "circuit" training room consisting of a stationary bike, elliptical or treadmill, bench and free weights. Remember, exercise is a healthy habit, not a healthy thing to do just once-in-a-while. So pick machines you enjoy using, switch from one to another occasionally, and when you get bored, remember, you can always go back to the gym for a quick "workout date" with a friend. Or better yet, ask a friend to work out in YOUR gym. She might be so impressed that she'll want to work out with you again!

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