So you want to start a fitness program but you're not sure where to begin. And you definitely don't want to spend a lot of money.
Not to worry.
We asked three fitness experts how to get started for less than $100. Here are their suggestions.
John Damon; Fitness manager at the SportsClub/LA in West Los Angeles
Damon, a longtime professional trainer, recommends that anyone embarking on a fitness program meet at least once with a trainer to learn proper technique and develop an individualized program. If that's not feasible, he says, at least check with your doctor to make sure you don't have medical conditions that might limit your activities.
If your doctor clears you, you're all set.
First, make sure you have a good pair of sneakers. Says Damon: "You can do all your exercises in a good pair of running shoes."
Next, invest in a heart-rate monitor, which can cost as little as $40, to $400, and calculate your target heart rate. The device lets you know when you're exercising at the proper intensity, and when it's time to back off. "The heart monitor is the best way to get yourself to listen to your body," Damon says.
For cardiovascular fitness, add a jump rope, which you can find for as little as $3; the heart monitor can help you decide if you need to take the pace up or down. You also could run or walk.
To improve flexibility, Damon suggests buying a foam roller, which lets you use your own body weight to stretch and ease tight back, shoulder, pectoral, leg, hip and gluteus muscles. You can find rollers at physical therapy clinics, or through the Internet for about $20 to $25.
Purchase an exercise ball, also called a medicine ball or fitness ball, priced from $20 to $40, to strengthen abdominal, lower back, or and leg muscles.
Because you're more likely to stick with an activity you enjoy, Damon provided suggests several alternative programs:
For potential Pilates enthusiasts:
Start with a Pilates video for $20 to $50, with instructions on how to do mat-based exercises, which all emphasize strengthening core muscles of the abdomen and back while working the limbs. Then add an exercise mat for $20 to $25 and resistance bands (thick latex strips for resistance exercises) for as little as $3.95 each.
Finally, purchase a Pilates Magic Circle, a rubber ring with handles that provides resistance for muscles of the inner and outer thighs, arms, back or chest while you're working your abdominals. It usually costs $15 and up (available with an exercise mat for $25 to $40).
For those who might want to try yoga:
Pick up a yoga kit, which typically contains a yoga mat, yoga blocks for certain poses, a yoga strap for stretching and instructional videos or booklets, for $40 to $100.
For people who'd rather head to a basketball court:
Invest in a pair of basketball sneakers for $45 to $80, and a basketball, starting at less than under $20.
Bobby Cipolloni; Chief executive of Sportivo!, a private training club in Los Angeles
Cipolloni is a former trainer who specializes in working with breast cancer survivors, multiple sclerosis patients, overweight and older patients, as well as and anyone seeking to get into peak shape.
He suggests that the novices begin with some portable equipment for weight training; Pilates exercises for flexibility, strength and overall conditioning; and simple cardiovascular exercises.
"Cardio is free," he says. "You can walk. You can climb. You can jog. You can do steps." Just make sure not to overdo it: no more than 30 minutes at a time, and stop if you feel pain.
Cipolloni likes elastic resistance bands (he uses ones that cost about $7 each) that allow users to work various muscles of the arms, shoulders and back; they can also be wrapped around the legs to strengthen and stretch those muscles. He recommends videotapes with instructions on using the bands for just under $40. Add some push-ups for upper body work - they're free.
He also suggests a basic fitness mat for about $30 and a basic Pilates exercise video for just under $15 to strengthen the core muscles of the stomach and back.
Don't get carried away once you have your basic gear, he says. Give your body at least one day of rest each week, and realize that "you have to train in an age-appropriate way."
Executive director of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports
Johnson, a former competitive gymnast who has an undergraduate degree in exercise kinesiology from UCLA and a master's in health fitness management, believes in a minimalist approach. Like many health officials, she knows that getting more Americans off their duffs could reduce rates of heart disease and diabetes.
She advises that you begin by investing $45 to $80 in sturdy walking shoes, making sure that your salesperson knows something about proper fit and proper support. Then pick up a pedometer for $12 to $15 to measure your steps, and an inexpensive water bottle "so you can carry water with you when you walk."
Set your goal at 30 minutes a day five times a week if you're an adult; an hour a day if you're a child.
Wearing your pedometer throughout the day can help you build to a the nationally recommended goal of taking 10,000 steps a day. Depending on your stride, that could take anywhere from three to six miles.
Once you've made walking a habit, think about easing into other activities, too. More than 100 are included in a free, six-week program called the President's Challenge, which lets you monitor and track your progress, and even rewards you upon completion. Go to www.presidentschallenge.org.
"Every little bit counts," says Johnson. "You don't have to run a marathon to get health benefits."