These items can transform even the area between your TV and coffee table into a fully functional gym. Stash them in a closet or a bin under the bed when you’ve finished your workout.
“Tubes are a compact alternative to weights,” says Brooke Marrone, a personal trainer in New York City, so you can use them for full-body strength training. They come in different resistance levels. For about $30, you can get a set containing weights that are light (for when you’re just starting), medium (for upper- and lower-body work), and heavy (for more intense lower-body training). Tip: Look for padded handles to ensure proper grip, which will help you to maintain good form.
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Inexpensive (about $8) and lightweight, a jump rope is one of the easiest tools for high-intensity cardio. “ Jump for 30 seconds or more in between sets of upper- and lower-body resistance work,” says Marrone. Bonus: Circuit training burns extra calories.
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The slightly sticky surface keeps you stable during stretching and core-strengthening moves, such as planks. “If you’re slipping on a carpet, you end up gripping with the wrong muscles to stay balanced,” says Marrone, and this can lead to injury. Mats start at about $15.
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If you need a motivation boost or are looking for new routines, try a workout DVD ($10 to $30 each). “You get to exercise with a top trainer for 30 to 60 minutes right in your home,” says Marrone. You can also expand your repertoire of moves (and hit more muscles) if you check out a new DVD every week or two. Marrone’s favorites include Physique 57 and The Biggest Loser Workout for cardio and interval-training exercises, as well as offerings from trainers Tracy Anderson and Gunnar Peterson. Browse online or in bookstores, or hit up your local library.
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For Big Spaces
Outfitting a larger home gym can be costly on the front end (more than $2,000), but if you have room and cash to spare, you’ll save money over time. (Bye-bye, monthly dues.)
Or treadmill. Or any other piece of cardio equipment you like to use. (Compliance is half the battle!) Head to a specialty fitness store, like Gym Source, where you can pick your perfect model—important, since you’ll be spending a chunk of change. (Gym-quality treadmills start at about $2,500.) Whichever piece you choose, be sure it has a sturdy steel frame and can be adjusted (seat height, incline, and so on) to maximize comfort. Extras, like a heart-rate display, are nice but not necessary.
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Set of Dumbbells
“Dumbbells give your workouts variety,” says Rachel Cosgrove, author of The Female Body Breakthrough ($22, amazon.com). And they can also challenge your muscles more than gym machines do because you have to stabilize yourself to lift them. Start with a basic range—say, a set of 5-, 8-, 10-, and 15-pound dumbbells (sets cost about $5 per pound). Increase the weight as you get stronger.
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To get even more mileage out of your dumbbells, invest in an adjustable weight bench (about $125). “By lying on the bench to do exercises like chest presses and flyes, you’ll have a greater range of motion and get a better workout than you could lying on the floor,” says Amber O’Neal, a personal trainer in Atlanta. Desirable add-on features include a rack below to store weights, a barbell, and a leg-curl attachment.
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For improving balance, flexibility, and strength while working multiple muscle groups, this blow-up wonder (about $25) can’t be beat. “Your core is engaged with every exercise you do on it,” says O’Neal, including crunches, biceps curls, and incline push-ups. A 65-centimenter ball is right for most people; go with 55 if you’re short, 75 if you’re very tall.