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Exercise gear that's on the cheap
The current economic climate -- not to mention fears of the H1N1 flu -- may drive some fitness buffs to skip the gym this fall and stay home to sweat.
In that case, gear may be in order. We asked three personal trainers to recommend their favorite pieces of inexpensive exercise apparatus ($25 or less), plus workouts to go with them.
Some trainers went way below budget and offered up unconventional gear such as soup cans and water bottles. Not only are such items inexpensive, they're easily obtained (of crucial importance when traveling). One word of caution: Objects such as soup cans can be difficult to work with at first because they're not as evenly weighted as dumbbells and may be harder to grip. Move the weights slowly and practice with them before starting to exercise.
Assistant personal training manager at Crunch in West Hollywood
I use unconventional things like soup cans because a lot of my clients travel or they're stay-at-home moms and can't always get to the gym. This way they can exercise at home or on the road, and these exercises are also something people can do in conjunction with what they do at the gym. Also, there is a fun element to it.
If you have small hands, Campbell's soup cans are pretty small, and Progresso cans are larger. You can go down the soup aisle at the grocery store and find something that suits your needs. I like soup cans because the fluid moving inside adds a bit of instability that challenges your auxiliary muscle groups and your core a little more, unlike a dumbbell, which has a centered weight.
To do jumping jacks with the soup cans, start with your feet together and hold a can of soup in each hand at about shoulder level with arms bent. Jump into an inverted "V" position with the legs open, and press the arms up over the head with the elbows near the ears, as if doing a shoulder press. Don't swing the arms overhead. Jump back to the first position with feet together, and lower the arms to shoulder height. Repeat, and make this a timed exercise -- start with 30 seconds and add more time as you get stronger. This is a good cardiovascular exercise that targets the leg muscles and also the upper body, including the shoulders, triceps and back.
A good full-body exercise is the squat-curl-press. Start with feet hip-width apart, toes pointed slightly outward. Hold a can of soup in each hand down by your side. Squat, and as you come up, do a bicep curl. Then press the arms up over the head into a shoulder press. Keep the knees slightly soft -- you don't ever want to lock them. As you drop back down to a squat bring the arms down, do a reverse curl, and then place the arms down by your sides.
Do two to three sets of 12 to 15 reps. This targets the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps and the core, as well as the biceps, shoulders and triceps. You can incorporate both of these exercises into a circuit, which will increase the heart rate.
Trainer and owner of West Coast Strength & Conditioning in West Hollywood
I like the exercise ball because of the versatility it offers. You can literally work every muscle group on it.
One of my favorite exercises to do is a push-up, and there are many variations you can do. Start by planting your hands on the ground in a typical push-up position, with hands below the shoulders. Keep your dominant foot on the ground for support and bring the other leg on top of the ball. Once you're stable, bring the other leg onto the ball.
The more you roll your legs back onto the ball, the easier the push-up is going to be, so beginners can start with their thighs on the ball or adjust accordingly. Bend the arms and do a push-up, making sure the hips don't drop down, which will put an additional strain on the back. Do three sets of 20 to 25 reps. As you improve, you can roll forward, so you're not as supported by the ball. This targets the chest, shoulders, triceps, lats and core.
If these start to get easy, try a more advanced move: Put your hands between the top and the side of the ball, not directly on top, and your feet on the floor in push-up position, about shoulder-width apart. Instead of the legs trying to stabilize you, all the work is in the torso. If that move is too difficult, try placing the ball against a wall or in a corner which will make the ball more stable and give you foundation for doing the exercise correctly.
Two good books that include more exercises with the stability ball are by Mark Verstegen: "The Core Performance: The Revolutionary Workout Program to Transform Your Body and Your Life," and "Core Performance Essentials: The Revolutionary Nutrition and Exercise Plan Adapted for Everyday Use." Another good book about using the stability ball is "Strength Ball Training" by Lorne Goldenberg and Peter Twist.
You can also use plastic water bottles to do strength training. I like the Smartwater bottles because they're thinner and cylindrical so the weight is more evenly distributed and they're easy to handle. If you fill one up with water it will weigh about 2.2 pounds, and if you fill it with sand it's about double that weight.
My favorite exercise to do with the water bottle is a wood chop. Stand with legs hip-width apart, and hold the water bottle like a baseball bat. Bend the legs and lean your body toward the left, bringing the water bottle down toward the feet and adding a little pivot in the right leg. Stand and twist toward the right, bringing the water bottle up over the head, pivoting on the left toe. Do three sets of 15 repetitions on each side. In this exercise, everything should come from the core.
David Van Daff
Trainer and senior director, business development for Bally Total Fitness, Chicago
A foam roll -- a cylindrical piece of foam -- is a tremendous tool for anyone, and most people should have one at home.
It can be used for myofascial release, or loosening and stretching the fascia, the connective tissue linking bones, muscle and organs. That type of exercise won't help you burn a ton of calories, but it will prepare you for exercise by getting you warmed up, improving flexibility and promoting injury prevention. People who run, for example, often deal with very tight, stiff muscles, which can make running painful and difficult. If you run when your body isn't warmed up, you're putting your body at tremendous risk of injury. It's also good if you're sedentary, because if you're sitting all day you're not extending the muscles at all.
This exercise for the iliotibial band is especially good for runners or anyone who's not moving or stretching that much during the day. The iliotibial band goes from the outside of the pelvis over the hip and knee and helps keep the knee stable, but it gets very tight if you don't stretch it. Start by lying sideways on top of a foam roller placed horizontally underneath you, directly under your hip. Keep the bottom leg straight and the top leg bent, with the foot on the floor in front of the body (a modified side plank position). Bend the arm closest to the floor and rest on it, supporting your upper body. Place the other hand on the top hip.
Slowly roll the body over the foam roll. Don't allow the body to sag in the middle, and make sure the roll is under the side of the leg. Repeat for 10 repetitions.
If you have a pre-existing injury in this area, check with your doctor before trying this.