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Creating a Home Gym

It's convenient to work out in your own home. In fact, having a physical activity routine that's not dependent on getting to a health club can help you stick with an exercise program.

"When it comes to exercising regularly, convenience is a huge factor," says Brad Schoenfeld, a personal trainer in Scarsdale, N.Y., and author of Sculpting Her Body Perfect. "For many, a home gym works better than an actual gym because they don't have to travel to it."

Still, just because you're at home doesn't mean you can wing it. If you're going to take the time and effort to exercise, you want to do it right so you can maximize results and minimize the chance of injury.

With this in mind, Mr. Schoenfeld offers these tips for setting up a home gym -- and yourself -- for long-term fitness success.

Define your goals

To establish a home gym, you'll need equipment. But before you spend a penny, you need to define your exercise goals. Are you trying to lose weight? Get stronger? Be more flexible? All three? You'll also need to establish a budget and determine how much room you have to work out. Using these parameters, as well as factoring in the activities you enjoy most, can help you purchase the right equipment and devise a program you'll want to do repeatedly.

"As the basis of your exercise program, you need to work all the major muscles of your body," says Mr. Schoenfeld. "The equipment you select can be as simple as an exercise ball or an exercise video or as complete as a home weight station that provides full circuit training." Overall, Mr. Schoenfeld considers a set of dumbbells and a weight bench essential equipment for every home gym because using them develops muscle mass, which can help boost metabolism and reduce the risk for osteoporosis.

"You can get an incredible workout with these essential components, which cost less than $100," he says.

But if you can spend more, something like a Bowflex Home Gym, which sells for $1,600 to $2,000 depending on the model, is an option that can work well for an all-around strength-training workout. But equipment like this is complicated and may result in less use over time.

For the cardiovascular component, your home routine can be as simple as jogging in your neighborhood or as elaborate as investing in a treadmill or stair climber/stepper. It pays to spend the bulk of your budget on the piece of equipment you think you'll use the most, keeping your fitness goals in mind.

Before buying equipment, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends shopping around for the best price. Read up on the equipment you're interested in. You might visit a fitness center to see what equipment is used. Don't forget about warranties and return policies.

Types of equipment

  • Treadmill. A treadmill is excellent for improving your cardiovascular fitness, the ACSM says. Make sure you have the space for a treadmill, including space to walk around it. The treadmill belt should be long enough to fit your stride.

  • Stair stepper or stair climber. This machine is a good alternative to running, but the workouts are often tough and demanding, the ACSM says. Look for one that offers a variety of workouts so you won't get bored.

  • Stationary cycle. The cycle is a good machine for people who are overweight or who have low back pain, because the workout is low impact, the ACSM says. To burn more calories, look for a cycle that exercises legs and arms at the same time.

  • Rowing machine. This is another low-impact machine, but one that works out the entire body -- arms, legs, abs and back. You should look for a machine with a flywheel or waterwheel to provide resistance, the ACSM says.

  • Recumbent bicycles and elliptical trainers.  These are particularly good for cardio workouts.