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Designing a Home Gym
(Part 1 of 2)

I love to watch late-night TV; it rekindles my belief in miracles. Watching as people transform themselves in "10 minutes a day" on "space-age equipment" and ending up with "rock hard abs!"

Millions of dollars are spent on that exercise equipment. Want to know what people do with it all? According to Consumer Reports, about 75% of the people who bought an exercise machine within the previous five years had stopped using it.

If you're considering a home gym, to make sure that investment doesn't turn into a very expensive clothes rack, take these three steps.

Step One

Buy some exercise clothes and shoes. (Wasn't that easy?)

Step Two

Try a simple routine of cardio and strength training workouts using your body weight. Be sure to exercise at least three days a week. If you're still exercising in four weeks, move on to step three.

Step Three

Sign up for a short-term membership at your local health club and try out the different equipment. Make notes of what you like and don't like. It'll be a good test to see if you want to stick with a program that uses weights and machines. Remember that the health club will have better built equipment than a typical home gym, but it will give you an idea of what's available. If you're still working out after two months, THEN consider buying your home gym.

These are the five types of equipment you have to choose from.

Free Weights - That's equipment like dumbbells and metal plates you attach to bars. The advantages are that it's a low-cost option, the equipment doesn't take up much space, and smaller muscles get worked out with larger ones by being forced to balance and coordinate the weight. The disadvantages are that novices may have problems with coordination, and because you typically won't have a spotter at home, they might be more dangerous.

Body Weight Equipment - Typically, it's a platform that rides on a track. As you sit on the platform, a series of pull cables and pulleys move you while your weight provides the resistance. This equipment provides a wide range of motion, a good variety of exercises, and it's easy to move and store. It's a bad fit for people who are stronger since the resistance is limited to about half of your body weight. It can also be tough to get into position when the platform is at a steep angle for the highest levels of resistance.

Rubber Bands and Flexible Rods - The bands are connected to the handle or cable and frame of the machine. Rods are attached in a similar fashion and bent like a bow (from a bow and arrow). You can make it easier by removing bands or rods, more challenging by adding them. Machines that use this technology are easy to move and don't take more space than a standard double bed. They offer a wide variety of exercises as well. The biggest downside to this equipment is they don't provide the mass of traditional weights, so they may feel different or unnatural for experienced weight lifters.

Hydraulic Pistons - Similar to a car's shock absorbers, the pistons are attached to the handles you push or pull and the machine's frame. You change the resistance by adjusting valves on the pistons. The machine's biggest advantage is its weight making it easy to move. Unfortunately, the pistons don't offer any negative resistance on the return part of the movement, and the machines aren't easily reconfigured for multiple exercises.

Weight Stack Equipment - Stacks of metal plates are held in place by bars or tracks. Cables, pulleys and levers lift the weight, and a simple pin is moved to adjust how much weight you use. This type of equipment provides consistent resistance through a good range of motion, and most offer a wide variety of exercises. On the negative side, weight stack equipment is generally expensive, can be very heavy, making it difficult to move and takes up more room than any other home gym option.

Next issue, I'll tell you what to look for when selecting equipment and some of the companies that make it.

Part 1 2

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CAUTION: Check with your doctor before
beginning any diet or exercise program.