Who says you need a gym membership to get (and stay!) in shape? You can reap many of the same fat-burning, body-toning benefits by working out in your own home, especially if you have some inexpensive exercise equipment at the ready. Here’s some gear we recommend for enhancing an at-home workout. You can find this equipment at sporting goods stores or online:
Yoga Mat: A yoga mat is handy for floor-based exercises because it provides support for your body and offers better traction than a towel. Learn some basic moves from a yoga or Pilates DVD, then (weather permitting) take your mat outside for a workout on your deck or patio, backyard, or better yet the beach. We recommend that you purchase a yoga mat made with thick memory foam to help protect your knees and joints and give you support and grip when you perform certain moves. If you’re looking for a mat that will help you do general core-strengthening exercises, try Pilates-style mats, which are thicker than yoga mats and have extra width and length. For about $30, you can find a quality yoga mat.
Resistance Band: For well under $20, you can purchase a durable exercise band and use it for a variety of toning and sculpting movements. The type we like is about 5 feet long, has a handle on each end, and is made of a stretchy, flexible material that lets you create resistance from various directions. A resistance band can help strengthen your thighs, legs, arms, and core. Use one to perform biceps curls, thigh-shapers, leg lifts, and even crunches. A resistance band is light and travel-friendly, so you can easily pack one for trips. We recommend purchasing resistance bands with tubing because they are made with more durable material and come with soft-cushioned foam handles for a comfortable grip. Other types of resistance bands may require you to tie knots to hold them or to buy the handles separately.
Hand Weights: Three- to five-pound hand weights, available for about $20, are generally a good starting point if you’re new to lifting weights — and you can always increase the weight as you get fitter. Ideally choose a weight that allows you to do 8 to 12 reps of the exercise you choose and look for weights that are coated with a nonslip material for a comfortable grip. Hand weights can help strengthen and tone your arms, and they’re space-efficient, so you can store them in a bin or drawer at home or in a desk drawer at your office for mini workouts. Use hand weights to strengthen your core in the following exercise: Lying on a yoga mat on your back with your arms over your head and your feet together straight in front of you on the floor, hold one weight in each hand, palms up, and bring your hands together. Tightening your core muscles to protect your back, gradually raise your upper body as you lift the weights over your head and through your body toward your feet. With your core muscles tight, slowly lower yourself back down. Repeat as many times as you can without straining.
Stability Ball: Stability balls, also known as exercise or balance balls, are inflatable balls that are used for core-strengthening exercises; sitting on them can also help you improve your posture. Finding the right size stability ball depends on what kind of exercise you want to do. Generally they come small, medium, and large, with instructions for proper inflation. Look for a burst-proof ball made with durable rubber material so it won’t collapse while you’re exercising. A stability ball can be used to do a variety of exercises, including bicep curls, leg circles, crunches, push-ups, and wall squats. You can get the thigh-firming power of a leg curl machine you’d find at the gym by doing our corkscrew leg exercises with a stability ball: Lie on your back on a yoga mat with your arms pressed into the floor at your sides, palms facing down, and your chest relaxed. Bend your knees and hold a medium stability ball between your knees and ankles, squeezing it tightly. Lift the ball as high as you can with straight legs. Continuing to keep your legs straight, and continuing to squeeze the ball tightly, circle your legs in a slow, controlled manner, as you keep your core muscles tight. Do three sets of eight reps, as you circle your legs in each direction. The more the ball is filled, the more challenging the exercise will be, so as you get fitter be sure to keep the ball as full as possible for the best results.