Balls, Bands, Videos and Mats
A great way to do toning and strength training at home with minimal investment and equipment, is with exercise balls, bands, videos, and mats. For a fairly modest start-up cost (around $50) you can get a large exercise ball and 1-3 bands, which should last a long time with proper use. You may be able to borrow these as well, or find them at garage sales or thrift stores.
Thera-Band is the leader in exercise balls and bands. While their website does not sell the products to individuals, it’s a good source to see what’s out there. Balls and bands are available at fitness stores and large discount department stores such as Target. Balls are color-coded for the user’s height and weight, so make sure you buy the size that’s right for you. Balls are great for stretching and strengthening the core muscles. You can do crunches, press-ups, push-ups, squats and more. The ball comes with an illustrated instruction sheet for many of the exercises; you can also find plenty of resources in books and online for more workouts.
Exercise bands are color coded according their level of resistance. Colors vary somewhat by brand, so make sure you’re getting the resistance you want. As strength improves, you can move up to a higher level of resistance. You can also get more of a workout from each band by holding it shorter or tighter for more resistance, or longer/looser for easier resistance. If your bands are latex, they’ll last longer if you store them where it’s not damp i.e. don’t leave them lying around on the basement floor. That said, if you are latex sensitive, make sure you buy latex-free bands.
The pros of balls and bands? Beginners can start with the easier exercises and work towards harder ones. Expense is minimal and they should last a long time. Bands are easy to transport – you can tuck them into a corner of your suitcase and take them with you for quick work-outs while traveling. (The balls, though, not so much.)
The cons? You’ll have to follow the pictures and instructions until you learn how to do each exercise, which may be cumbersome and awkward at first. One way to get around this is to take a ball/band class, or get a video. Balls can be hard to store, so if you don’t have empty closet space, you may end up with one sitting permanently in the corner of the family room, like I have. Bands will eventually become overstretched and need to be replaced, but if you’re really thrifty you can find uses for the worn out ones, like using them to tie up your tomato plants. While bands can give you a great resistance workout, if you want the look of a body builder, bands will not be enough for you.
Most exercise videos are fairly inexpensive and available in everything from Yoga, Pilates, aerobics, band/ball and everything in-between. One widely touted video exercise guru is Tony Horton, a muscular hottie who offers a variety of video workouts, the most well-known being P90X (“Go from regular to ripped in just 90 days!”) and 10-Minute Trainer (“Give me 10 minutes, I’ll give you results!”) Although I can’t recommend these over anything else as I’ve not tried them myself, I know the Tony Horton series has enjoyed huge popularity. Tony’s approach is a little less saccharine than the typical workout video, and there is a wide selection of series available. Don’t expect to save any money if you go with Tony though. This is not a $20 video. Prices start at around $100 to $125 and go up from there. Another caution – I doubt that you’ll end up looking like Tony with only ten minutes of exercise per day.
The pros of exercise videos? Many are low-cost (except Tony).They’re easy to follow, portable, easy to store. The cons? Most people sooner or later get pretty tired of the typical exercise video banter. You can easily become bored with using the same video day after day. If you buy a video and don’t like it, you’re pretty much stuck with it. To avoid these pitfalls, try renting or borrowing a video to see if you like it before you buy. Have more than one video and rotate them so you don’t get bored. Look for videos at garage sales or trade them with your friends to avoid burnout. If you’re interested in going the Tony Horton route, you might want to borrow one to try it first, or buy used on eBay before you make the big investment.
With all this exercise you’re doing at home you’ll need a comfortable floor space. Yoga mats start at about $20 and are readily available in discount stores, fitness stores and online. A Yoga mat is good not only for Yoga, but also Pilates, or any floor exercise you’re doing. Yoga mats are also great for protecting your floors when using equipment such as a Wii Fit or balance board, can double as a beach mat, can protect the floor under large exercise equipment such as stationary bikes or elliptical trainers, and can be used for just about anywhere you need a cushioned, nonslippery surface. When not in use Yoga mats roll up pretty small and can be stored in the corner of a closet.
Coming up next: weight machines and weight benches