Whether you’re spending $100 or $1,000, here’s the equipment you need…

If you don’t like the idea of doling out big bucks every month to belong to a gym, there’s a much less expensive way to get yourself in shape in the convenience of your own home. By choosing the right pieces of exercise equipment, you can get great at-home workouts for a fraction of what you’d pay for a fancy gym membership.

For advice on the best exercise equipment for home workouts, Bottom Line/Health spoke to Carol Ewing Garber, PhD, one of the nation’s top exercise authorities and president-elect of the American College of Sports Medicine.

To get a well-rounded, boredom-fighting workout at home: Choose a variety of the pieces of exercise equipment listed in this article—all can be used regardless of your fitness level. These products, found to be effective through research and practical experience, are excellent choices to get the most bang-for-your-workout-buck…


  • Hand weights. Good for: Improving muscle strength, bone density and posture by targeting muscle groups in the upper body. Start with a few different weights to vary routines, and choose a brand with a Neoprene coating so your grip stays secure. Typical weight for women: 1, 2, 3 and 5 pounds…for men 2, 4 and 6 pounds. Example: Starting at $4.49 each at Target.com.
  • Resistance bands. Good for: Toning and shaping muscles. These brightly colored latex bands are simple to use with a little practice, although, unlike free weights, bands provide a limited amount of resistance. On the plus side, you can easily toss them into your suitcase for workouts when you are away from home. A Fitness Gear Power Band Kit (three bands for ultralight, light and medium resistance) is available for $17.99 at DicksSportingGoods.com.
  • Stability balls. Good for: Strengthening most muscle groups and improving balance. You can also add oomph to sit-ups if you do them while balancing on one of these large, inflatable balls. Available in various sizes to fit all heights, starting at $24.99 at Modells.com. For proper sizing, your torso and legs should form a 90-degree angle while sitting on the ball.
  • Exercise DVDs. Good for: Learning specific exercise routines, since you can watch DVDs at your own pace. Important: For safety, choose exercise DVDs that are appropriate for your fitness level (such as beginner or intermediate) and led by certified instructors (respected affiliations include the American College of Sports Medicine, ACSM.org…American Council on Exercise, ACEFitness.org…and National Strength and Conditioning Association, NSCA.com). DVDs start at $9.95. Good Web sites for exercise videos: ACEFitness.orgCollageVideo.com…and Merrithew.com. Helpful: Flat-sole, lace-up walking shoes or cross-training shoes are good choices for indoor workouts.
  • Floor mats. Good for: People who need padding while doing floor exercises. Every good fitness plan should include stretching. Having extra padding under your feet can make all the difference, particularly if you’re doing yoga or core exercises. A 68-by-24-inch rubberized mat is available for $24.99 at Modells.com.

UNDER $350

  • Stationary bicycles. Good for: Aerobic workouts that are low impact and easy on the knees and hips.

Good models start at $349 at NordicTrack.com. Features include a built-in fan and 20 levels of resistance. Front-mounted wheels make it easy to transport and store. Nordic-Track’s Recumbent Series, starting at $499, provides extra support for people with joint, neck and back issues. Whichever type you choose, test it at your local exercise equipment store first to make sure it suits your body type and workout needs.

UNDER $700

  • Treadmills. Good for: Aerobic workouts for those without joint issues (the steady “pounding” can be hard on knees and hips) who are looking to increase bone health (the weight-bearing aspect helps strengthen bone).

If your fitness needs are straightforward, there’s no need to spend a lot on a treadmill with lots of bells and whistles. Basic models, which tend to have a lower range of inclines and speeds than the pricier ones, usually work well for most recreational exercisers. The Lifespan TR200 Compact Treadmill folds up for easy storage, has 10 levels of incline and goes up to 8 mph. It costs $699.99 at Amazon.com. For runners, the TR1200i goes up to 11 mph and costs $999.99.

UNDER $1,000

  • Rowing machines. Good for: Combination cardio/muscle-toning workouts that are low impact.

WaterRower, WaterRower.com, offers several models under a grand that are lightweight, made of solid ash and aluminum and provide a fluid rowing motion. Also, Concept2’s Model D has a performance monitor and a quiet, smooth stroke, available for $900 at Concept2.com.

  • Elliptical machines. Good for: Aerobic workouts that are easier on the joints than treadmills, yet still provide weight-bearing exercise to build bone density. With an elliptical, the workout comes from pushing pedals and moving handlebars from a standing position.

For a well-priced, high-quality elliptical machine, Diamondback Fitness offers the 510Er with an LCD readout console, 16 levels of resistance and 20 workout programs, starting at $799 at DiamondbackFitness.com.

For elliptical machines that provide customized workouts and adjustable stride length at higher prices, consider the home ellipticals from PreCor, PreCor.com…and Life Fitness, LifeFitness.com.


Examples of budget-conscious at-home gyms that can be used for cardio, strength and balance training exercises…

For under $100: Get some hand weights…a good exercise video or two…a floor mat…and a stability ball.

For under $450: Get a set of resistance bands…hand weights…a floor mat…a stability ball…and a stationary bike.

For under $1,000: Get some hand weights…a floor mat…a stability ball…and an elliptical.

For under $1,800: Get hand weights…a floor mat…a stability ball…a treadmill…and a rowing machine.

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