If you're unable—or simply unwilling—to pay thousands of dollars a year for membership in the new exercise studio started by Gwyneth Paltrow and her personal trainer, never fear. You don't need to be cashed up to get a good workout. In fact, you don't need to join a gym at all. We asked four fitness pros for their advice on putting together a home gym for $100 or less. Here's what they said.
1. Don't buy anything that's going to gather dust. "If you have $100 to spend, I'd probably tell you the same thing as if you had a million dollars to spend: Buy what you'll use," says Gene Schafer, athletic trainer and owner of Arc Athletics Sports Rehabilitation in New York. That means you shouldn't blow your budget in four payments of $24.99 each on that new whosamacallit you saw on late-night TV. Figure out what you want to accomplish (Lose fat? Tone up? Learn yoga?) and what will help you do that, says Michael Feigin, a trainer, nutritionist, and co-owner of the Fitness Guru facility in Brooklyn, N.Y.
2. Look at what you already have. Before you open your wallet, hit the garage, basement, and kitchen. Cans of food and jugs of laundry detergent can replace dumbbells, says Jim White, a nutritionist, personal trainer, and owner of Jim White Fitness in Virginia Beach, Va. "You can use chairs for exercises like push-ups and dips, and a towel for resistance training with a partner," he says. Another freebie: a homemade jump-rope, crafted from rope or cord. That's good for more than aerobic exercise, notes Schafer: You can put it on the floor and jump over it to improve your agility.
3. Embrace DIY. What you don't have, make for cheap, says Justin Price, co-owner of the BioMechanics, a personal training and wellness company in San Diego. You can buy a foam roller for less than $20 (we found one for $14.63 on Walmart.com), go online to see how to use it, and presto: You've got your own self-massage tool. Or, he says, head to Home Depot, buy a 2-foot length of 4-inch hard pipe for a few bucks, wrap it in a beach towel, and you can use that instead. He also recommends tennis balls for self-massage; lie on your back and bend your knees, then put them under your butt and hip muscles to work tight spots. Use one on each side of your spine to work out knots there. (Support your head with a pillow.) And rather than a pricey Bosu balance trainer, use a hot-water bottle under each foot, he advises.
4. Buy the basics. A lot of simple equipment can be found for not much money. Plain-Jane dumbbells go for about 50 cents per pound of weight, says White. Men can start with a range between 12 and 25 pounds, while women can buy some in the 5-to-12-pound range. Inflatable stability balls and hard medicine balls can be had for less than $25, depending on the size and weight, he says. Price says he likes adjustable chin-up bars that fit in doorways; if you can't do a chin-up, put it lower down where you can do exercises involving your body weight but with your feet on the ground. For all of these purchases, check local stores as well as online. If you are looking for something fancier, like adjustable dumbbells that encompass a range of weights, haunt eBay to see if you can snare a bargain.
5. Harness technology. "Videos are a great place to start," says Feigin. Amazon.com has a range of DVD bestsellers, many discounted to less than $10. Look for used copies. Or, if you are a Netflix customer, check out the selection and add a few to your queue. And if you're a video-game junkie, see what's available for your system. "I had a client who lost 40 pounds by playing Dance Dance Revolution for 30 minutes after he came home from work every night," says Feigin. You can also find plenty of free videos online.
6. Invest in some home improvement. One big difference between your living room and the gym is that you can't as easily check your form at home, says Price. To that end, "go to Ikea and buy a $20 mirror," he advises. White says a mat may be a good purchase too, if you're dealing with hard floors.
7. Don't neglect the shoes. Clothes aren't technically part of your at-home gym budget, but be sure you have a good pair of sneakers, says Feigin. By "really good," he means a pair that fits you well and is appropriate to your activity, not the most expensive brand.
8. Scrap equipment entirely. Alternatively, hit a park and see your gym budget go to zero, advises Price. Stand on rocks to challenge your balance, and use other rocks as weights. Hang from a tree branch to do chin-ups. Sprint across the grass. "People have been exercising for thousands of years without equipment," he says.
Related: For more on saving money on your fitness routine, see 5 Ways Your Workout Can Weather the Recession. To find out how you can spend less time exercising, see Can You Really Get a Great Workout in 3 Minutes? And if you'd like to work out with a partner, read 10 Tips for Working Out With Your Significant Other.