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Controlled Fitness

Vases tremble, windows rattle, floors shake. Nearby residents, yearning for quiet, hear little but the rhythmic pounding.

Mayling Lane sweats it out every night. Too busy to go the gym and deal with parking in congested San Francisco, the 59-year-old businesswoman has found a solution: her living room, turned aerobics studio. There, determined to stay in shape, Lane works out nightly.

Lane isn't alone. Staying home is an increasingly popular option in the world of fitness, pushing sales of home exercise equipment to record highs, says Mike May, the director of communications of the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association in Palm Beach, Fla. Sales of fitness videos aren't far behind.

And with public health officials fretting about the overwhelming -- near epidemic -- numbers of Americans who are obese and sedentary, or who relegate regular exercise to the back burner, using fitness videos can provide a convenient way to get the heart pumping and the muscles contracting.

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But, as Lane admits, acclimating to the home gym can have some obstacles. For one, she says, having to choose between the VCR, the bed, and the other alluring comforts of home can sometimes be difficult. Perhaps videos are a lesser substitute for the vibrant, exciting atmosphere of a real gym and the encouragement of a live instructor or trainer. But with a little experience and the following tips, working out at home can work for almost anyone.

  • Watch the instructor. They do the moves correctly, says Susan Hitzmann, M.S, a New York-based exercise physiologist and instructor in Crunch Fitness' "Boot Camp Training" video.
  • Don't push yourself to the point of injury. Most videos offer modified, easier versions of high-impact and strenuous moves, so follow them when necessary, especially when first starting an exercise program or if you haven't exercised in a while. If there's no alternate, lower-impact sequence, create your own. And remember, pain is a good indicator that you might be overdoing it -- or doing it wrong.
  • Take precautions.Your living room wasn't necessarily built to accommodate grapevines, mambas, kicks, and punches. Look around and make sure you have enough space to take a large step forward, backward, and sideways without running into anything, Hitzmann says. And just being at home doesn't mean you can go barefoot. Wear sneakers, unless you're doing yoga.
  • Don't forget to cross-train. If you only own one tape, however good it may be, you'll limit the body parts you exercise and find yourself eventually getting bored. Hitzmann recommends doing one day of cardiovascular work, one day of yoga or stretch, and then one day of weight training alone or a training video that combines cardiovascular exercise and weight training. The latter -- such as "Boot Camp Training" -- can be ideal for those short on time, because they provide combined training in just half an hour.
  • Keep your eyes on the prize. Staying motivated can be a problem whether you're a home or gym rat. The home type, however, could have the advantage. Researchers have found that women who own home exercise equipment lost more body fat than women who don't have the same luxury. Published in an October issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association last year, the study revealed that women who exercise at home were also more likely to work out regularly, stick to their program long-term, and keep the pounds off.

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