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Rule No. 2: Choose the Right Equipment

Your muscles don't know the difference between a $2,500 machine and a $25 resistance band. So you don't have to spend a lot to get a lot of results. All you have to do is challenge your muscles.

"The really nice part about that is if you are on a tight budget, you don't have to feel you are getting a compromised weight training workout," Bryant says. "You can accomplish your goals without spending a lot of money."

Whether you're using hand weights, barbells, or resistance bands, Ryan says, look for whatever size allows you to do 12 to 16 repetitions. If you can't, they're too heavy.

But if you can do more than 15 with good form, then the weight load is probably not quite challenging enough, Bryant says. "So look for something a bit heavier, or add on more resistance."

Rule No. 3: Don't Go It Alone

How you do the exercises can be as important as which ones you do. That's why having even one session with a personal trainer can get your weight training program going in the right direction.

"This is particularly true if you are working with dumbbells," Schroeder says. "It's important to have someone overseeing you at least the first few times so you can achieve the correct form and function."

If that's not possible, he says, the next best thing is using strength-training machines. These work well for beginners because they force your body into the correct position.

"It's still a good idea to have someone watching over you the first few times," Schroeder says, "to make sure the machine is adjusted correctly for your weight and size. But generally, the machines help keep your body in line."

If your time or your money budget is extra-tight, Bryant says, pick up a weight training DVD from a well-known trainer. Or visit web sites like the one run by the American Council on Exercise (acefitness.com) to get tips on technique.

"You can find pictures that show the starting and ending positions for weight lifting and tips for keeping your body properly aligned during the activity," Bryant says. "It's definitely worth your while to spend your first weight-training session learning the proper technique and form."

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