Time to do your homework (out)

More people are staying put while getting fit

Staff WriterJune 16, 2009 

  • Kettlebells: This traditional Russian cast iron weight resembles a bowling ball with a handle and can be purchased used for under $50, offering both cardio and strength training.

    Stability balls: For under $30, stability balls can help strengthen core muscles with the proper exercises.

    Web exercise videos: Sites such as diet.com offer short but varied workouts for free.

    Resistance bands: For less than $100, a set of bands and instructions can be purchased and used to target muscle groups.

Jeanette Jackson walks a few times a week on her treadmill, pumps iron on a weight machine and does yoga. She used to do all that at a gym, but now she exercises at home in Raleigh.

"I work at home, so it's not just money, the $50 or $60 a month for gym membership," she said, "but it's also the time constraints of physically going somewhere to exercise. I just don't have the time."

Home equipment such as Jackson's weight machine can save time and money. It's just one way that, despite the economy, fitness buffs and people just trying to get into shape are doing their workouts at home.

The North Raleigh location of Play It Again Sports, a used sporting goods store, has been selling more used elliptical machines and treadmills, while sales of new equipment have slowed, according to the manager, John Poucher.

"People are still trying to get fit; they're just trying to do it as inexpensively as possible," he said.

Jackson's weight machine cost $400. New treadmills and ellipticals cost between $250 and $4,000, though most on the market fall between $600 and $1,000. Used equipment generally sells for 50 percent to 70 percent off retail depending on condition.

Beyond equipment, Poucher said, the P90X home workout system sells well. Centered on a series of DVDs, the P90X system focuses on "muscle confusion," or using unconventional twists on traditional exercises such as pushups and lunges.

Membership at Gold's Gyms dropped off over the past year but has begun to increase with the warmer weather, said Tony Buglak, regional president for the chain.

"We definitely saw the economic struggles in the fall and winter," Buglak said, "but gym membership really goes along with the seasons and in the summer, people want to get in shape."

Personal trainers, too, report a stronger, if changing market for exercise.

"I'm seeing a lot more group training," personal trainer Mia Johnson of Wake Forest said.

Often groups of 10 or 12 will hire her to design a program for them. After a couple of initial sessions, the group works together on its own, then Johnson later returns to the group to reassess and tweak the program. "The group gets the benefits of a trainer, but without the cost."

Johnson said strength training can be done with minimal equipment. Lunges, pushups and squats can accomplish a lot of the work people sometimes believe can be done only in gyms. And a set of 10-pound dumbbells can easily be purchased at a local Dick's, Wal-Mart or Target -- which saves costs in the long run.

"For one month at the gym, two to three sets of weights can be purchased," Johnson said. "After that first month, that's money back in your pocket."

"I don't even belong to a gym," another personal trainer, Vicky Yeingst of Cary, said. "I teach people how to work out in a way that fits their lifestyle, and that also means their budget.

"There are all kinds of cardio you can do without ever going to a gym: hiking, marching, even stepping and dancing with a DVD on in your living room when it's raining outside. The important thing is to be active and to vary your activity," she said.

Free online applications like workoutlog.com help people maintain their plans, though community programs may hold the true key to staying fit for less.

"There are local running clubs you can join for little cost," Yeingst said. "And a lot of businesses have workout programs in place, people just don't take advantage because they don't know how to get started."

Becky Smith trains for triathlons with Yeingst and cited peace of mind as a benefit of the training. "For me, I've got young kids; the trade off on the cost of a trainer is the time. I just wake up in the morning and look at the schedule and go out and do it, and I don't have to think about it."

Still, her family's always looking for cheaper alternatives for fitness.

"We'll go out for bike rides or go to play and swim in the lake," she said, "things that are active but not expensive."

Johnson said that cost is usually the last reason people quit a workout program, but "that doesn't mean people still don't need a cheaper way to exercise."


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