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Building a home gym isn't as costly as you might think. With as little as $5,500 -- and about 200 square feet of space -- you can outfit your home with the necessary pieces of equipment and accessories to get a health-club-quality workout. Better yet, your club is always open, and there's no waiting.

You'll want to include at least one, maybe two, machines that concentrate on a cardiovascular workout, weights for strength training, and accessories to improve your flexibility. Be sure to try out each machine before you buy it. Ask for discounts when you purchase multiple pieces. Make sure your equipment has a warranty for at least three years and try to buy from a dealer that has its own service department. That will make it easier to get your equipment fixed if it breaks.

It's critical to design the space and plan where each machine will go prior to purchasing it, says Richard Miller, chief executive of Gym Source in Manhattan. "The best way to make sure you use your home gym is to design a room that you want to be in," says Miller. Many dealers offer a design service free of charge. Other things to consider include flooring, lighting, and mirrors. Install carpet or rubber padding to absorb vibrations, and use fluorescent lighting, which gives off less heat. Mirrors can ensure proper form during workouts.

Bosu Ball

This half-moon-shaped accessory is made from wood and rubber and filled with air. It is used mainly to help you improve balance. A chart of designated exercises shows how to work it -- mostly to strengthen weak ankles and foot-arches.

Dumbbells and Rack

Weights should be covered with rubber or urethane to prevent flaking, rusting, and injury. Make sure you have a wide range of weights, up to at least 25 pounds in 5-pound increments, to work different body parts. Dumbbells start at about $1.25 a pound.

Multi-Gym

All multi-gyms should have at least the following four stations (but some will have more): high pulley, low pulley, press station, and leg extension leg curl. To ensure stability, machine should be made from 11- or 12-gauge steel.These machines cost between $1,500 and $2,500.

Treadmill

Look for a machine with a flexible and shock-absorbent running surface. The belt should be at least 20 inches wide and 54 inches long. Buy a machine that weighs at least 200 pounds so it won't rock when you run. A treadmill with features like a heart-rate monitor, time, and automatic programs will start at $2,000.

Exercise Mat

Use an air-filled mat to alleviate pressure on the lower back when doing stomach exercises. Foam mats tend to wear down to the ground. The mat should have a rubber-type surface so it doesn't slip. These mats run about $30 to $70.

Weight Bench

The bench should go from completely flat to nearly 90 degrees, with three or four adjustments in between. The mechanism that holds the bench in place should be secure. Buy a bench on wheels that is light and movable, but stable, too. Benches start at $150 and go to $600.

Stretch Balls

These balls, which run between $20 and $40, are great for stretching and exercising stomach and back. Be mindful of the ball size. They go from 45 cm in diameter to 75 cm in 10 cm increments. Have a small and big ball to use depending on the exercise.

Recumbent Bike

Most stationary bikes change resistance in 25-watt increments. (Wattage is a measure of resistance, and the higher the wattage, the greater the resistance.) Look for a bike that goes in 5-watt increments, which will allow you to get the resistance level almost to zero. This will minimize effort and injury. These bikes start at about $1,000.

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By Toddi Gutner


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