At-Home Workouts: Essential Items for a Home Gym (cont.)

At-Home Workout Item 3: Balance Equipment
What Is It: Equipment that challenges your balance while you perform other activities, such as lifting weights or doing crunches.
Benefits: Improves balance, strength in the "core" muscles of the trunk, muscle stamina, and posture. Also encourages better interaction between all muscle groups.
Choices -- $50-$150: Burst-resistant stability balls, soft foam exercise pads; wobble boards; gel-based balance beams. (Balls are sold by the height of the intended user, and range in size from 45 to 75 cm. Foam pads come in a variety of lengths, but are generally about the size of an exercise mat -- about 5 feet x 3 feet. Wobble boards and balance beams require about 20 square feet of space. )
Choices -- Under $30:Non-burst-resistant stability balls; disc pillows; balance dome.
Trainers' Recommendations: "I like stability balls and the foam pads. They are inexpensive, don't take a whole lot of room, and can provide a variety of workout options," says Bottesch. While she says both work best when used along with free weights or dumbbells, they can also be used to help increase the effectiveness of simple exercises such as crunches.

At-Home Workout Item 4: Flexibility Training Gear
What Is It: Equipment designed to help increase muscle flexibility, which in turn may help you to use other pieces of equipment more easily and safely.
Benefits: Better muscle tone; better functional fitness; reduced risk of injury.
Choices -- $200 and over: Pilates machine; stretch machine. (You'll need 35 to 50 square feet).
Choices -- $50 and under: Slant board; stretching bands; foam rollers; mat and towel (10 to 20 square feet).
Trainers' Recommendations: "I personally love the foam rollers -- 4- to 6-foot-long rolls of extremely dense foam that you can lie on or use under your legs or arms to help break up adhesions and allow underlying muscles tissue to stretch ... to a greater degree without hurting yourself," says Bottesch

At-Home Workout Item No. 5: Guidance
What Is It: Whether it comes from a personal trainer or a how-to DVD, instruction is an essential part of any beginner's home gym.
Benefits: Reduces the risk of injury; increases effectiveness of workouts; ensures better results.
Choices -- $100 per hour and up: While several sessions work best, experts say even just one hour with a personal trainer in your home gym can go a long way.
Choices -- $50 an hour and under: Many trainers run their own, fully equipped fitness studios, and charge less if you go to them. While they can't always duplicate the equipment you have at home, they can approximate. Another option: Ask several friends to chip in and offer to host the session at your home gym. Everyone can learn something -- even if they don't have a home gym.
Trainers' Recommendations: "Not only can a personal trainer help ensure you are doing your workouts correctly, they can also motivate you, help keep it interesting, [and] teach you new things to do with the equipment that you already own, which can ultimately help you stay with your program," says Bottesch.

6 More Tips for Creating the Perfect Home Gym

Here are few extra tips from Bottesch and ACE that can help you get the biggest bang for your fitness buck while creating your home gym.

  1. Quality matters. While you may not be able to afford the "top of the line" in gym equipment, buy the best you can afford.
  2. Prioritize your purchases. You're better off buying the best of a less expensive piece of equipment (like resistance bands) then buying a lower-end version of a pricey piece of equipment (like a multi-gym).
  3. Test it first. Test out each piece of equipment before you buy. Things to look for include not only quality, but also ease of use, adjustability, and ease of assembly.
  4. Inspect it. Check it out before you buy and after it arrives at your home. Factors to look for include safety, stability, service/warranty, overall design, and appropriate features. If weight or height is consideration, be certain to check whether there are any limitations.
  5. Consider others. Are you the only one using this equipment? If not, check to see how well the item can accommodate others of different heights, weights, and strength levels.
  6. Get a checkup. Before you plunk down your hard earned dollars for any equipment, see your doctor and get his or her OK on your new fitness program. Mention the type of equipment you want to purchase and discuss any medical precautions. If you have a chronic condition, such as heart disease or an orthopaedic concern, be certain to get your doctor's suggestions on the best and safest workouts for you.

Published January 29, 2008.

SOURCES: Jessica M. Bottesch MA,LAT, CSCS, co-owner, Empower Personal Training, Durham, N.C. Ben Quist, DPT, director, Form and Fitness Health Club and Rehabilitation Center, Milwaukee, Wis. American Council on Exercise web site: "Fit Facts: Hot To Design Your Own Home Gym." American College of Sports Medicine web site: "Selecting and Effectively Using A Personal Trainer."

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Last Editorial Review: 1/29/2008