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At-Home Workouts: 5 Essential Items for a Home Gym

Experts name their picks for the fitness equipment you need to build a home gym.

Top 5 Items You Need for At-Home Workouts continued...

At-Home Workout Item 2: Strength Training Gear

What Is It: Equipment designed to strengthen muscles.

Benefits: Body shaping; weight loss; functional fitness, including the strength to do everyday tasks with greater ease; for women, reducing the risk of osteoporosis.

Choices -- $500 and over: All-in-one multi-gym; adjustable weight training bench; adjustable barbells; suspension resistance trainer. (Allow 35-50 square feet per item).

Choices: $100 and under: Hand weights (free weights); low end bench; resistance bands. (Allow 20 to 30 square feet).

Trainers' Recommendations: ACE experts recommend "all-in-one" gyms because they reduce the risk of injury in an unsupervised setting. But Quist believes resistance bands are also a safe and economical way to build muscle strength. "By purchasing a few different resistances, from easier to harder, you can get a total body workout for under $50," he says. If you have a few more dollars to spend, his choice is a suspension trainer -- sort of super resistance bands that allow you to use your own body weight to condition muscles. Quist and Bottesch also recommend hand weights in three graduating sizes, like 5, 8, and 10 pounds. To increase their effectiveness, Quist recommends using them while sitting on a stability ball (see next item). 

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).

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