Buying strength training and aerobic equipment for your home makes exercise convenient if you shop wisely. Here's how to map out a strategy before you spend the cash.

A home gym can make smart fitness sense. It's more convenient and ultimately cheaper than a health club membership, and it stands to reason you would be more inclined to get fit if you had easy access to exercise equipment in your home.

But if you don’t choose carefully, you run the risk of wasting money on strength-training and aerobic equipment that is poorly designed, difficult to use, or takes up too much space in your home. A lot of these devices end up serving as clothes racks because they were inadequate or did not fit the needs of their owners.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t create a home gym, just that you need to be smart about what you buy. The main question you need to ask yourself is: “Will I really use it?”

Truth is, some people simply lack the motivation or discipline to exercise at home. If you've never tried sticking to a routine that doesn’t involve going to the gym and following a set workout, give working out at home a trial run (using exercise videos and less expensive exercise equipment) before investing in a $2,000 treadmill.

Consider Your Available Space

Some pieces of strength training or aerobic equipment take up a lot of room. You need to make sure you have the appropriate place to position equipment in your home. For example, you might not want to place a piece of aerobic equipment on a new carpet given that you'll be sweating; putting your strength training equipment in your garage won’t work if it’s a freezing cold space six months out of the year.

Here are some estimates for the amount of space different pieces of equipment take up; you can use painter’s tape to outline the needed floor space to better judge what will fit in your home:

-- Stationary bike: 10 square feet
-- Stair climber: 10 to 20 square feet
-- Rowing machine: 20 square feet
-- Ski machine: 25 square feet
-- Treadmill: 30 square feet
-- Single-station strength training system: 35 square feet
-- Multi-station strength training system: 50 to 200 square feet

Also keep in mind ceiling height, as some of these pieces of equipment can be quite tall.

Make a List of Exercise Equipment Features You Want

You want a machine that fits into your lifestyle and one you've used before, so you know that you will enjoy it and get a good workout.

When considering strength training or aerobic equipment, look for these features:

-- The equipment is adjustable and accommodates many different levels of ability —
    this is important if you and other members of your family will be using it.

-- The machine offers different workouts to keep you challenged. For example, when
    buying a treadmill, you might look for a model that allows you to increase the
    speed in many increments, comes with many pre-programmed workouts, and has
    an incline feature to give you a better workout and burn more fat as your fitness
    level improves.

-- It has proper safety features, such as an easy-to-reach kill switch on a treadmill.
-- It is well built and sturdy, and can support your body weight.
-- The various parts fit together well and move smoothly when you test it.
-- Broken parts can be easily removed and replaced.
-- The equipment is easy to operate and use.

Set Your Budget

The best home exercise equipment is often expensive — and you should think of it as an investment. You can spend several hundred to several thousand dollars on a treadmill, stationary bicycle, or a home weight machine system. Do keep in mind that quality matters, however — you will likely get a better workout from a more expensive, solidly built, and reliable machine that will hold up through daily use.

If you want to work out at home but price is an issue, look for less expensive alternatives. You might be able to convert a regular bicycle, if you have one, into a stationary unit without spending much cash and still burn fat efficiently. A set of free weights and a bench or a set of resistance bands is a fraction of the cost of a strength training machine and likely will take up less room, too.

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