DIY Home Gym

You don't need a home gym to exercise at home. Here are four inexpensive, easy-to-store alternatives that enhance all the elements of fitness: muscle strength, flexibility, and cardiovascular endurance.

Elastic exercise bands are the perfect option for beginning strength training. They've been used by physical therapists for years. Long, wide bands provide the resistance you need to work your muscles. They are also cheap (about $3 a band), portable and often come with illustrated booklets. The bands' colors reflect the level of resistance. You can strengthen and tone all your major muscles--and work them from a variety of angles, depending on what you use as an anchor for the elastic band.

Rowing Exercise: Sit on the floor with your legs extended, loop the band under the arches of your feet and hold one end in each hand. Start with arms extended forward. Keep your back straight and shoulders down. Pull your elbows back slowly, contracting your shoulder blades. Hold for two seconds. Release slowly and repeat.

Having a Big Ball
You can do calisthenics (strengtheners) and stretches on the ball, as well as warm-up and cool-down routines. Ball workouts require the use of multiple muscle groups. For instance, by simply sitting and bouncing on the ball, you work your hamstrings, quadriceps, abdominals and back muscles. Add arm movements, and you also get an upper-body workout. The main benefits are improved coordination, balance, and posture.

Stretch for Hip Flexor Muscles: Kneel and put your stomach on the ball. Keep one knee forward and bent at a 90 degree angle. Put your forearms on the ball and extend the other leg backward with the knee on the floor. Hold and feel the stretch in the front of your hip. Your front knee should be over the foot. Then lift the back knee, straighten your back leg, and stretch again. Switch legs.

Taking Your Medicine Ball
Workouts with medicine balls are called plyometric exercises. This involves stretching a muscle (for example, when you squat before you jump to shoot a basket) and then contracting it suddenly or "explosively" as you jump. You can hold the ball above your chest to make your sit-up routine more strenuous. Or substitute the ball for hand weights while doing aerobic dance. You can also play toss or keep-away with one or two partners. Plyometrics build muscle strength and increase power for specific sports.Twist: Sit with your back at a 45 degree angle to the floor. Move the ball from side to side, twisting your upper body.

Learning the Ropes
Jumping rope is great exercise for adults as well as kids. All you need is a rope and good shoes--plus a little instruction at first and then some practice.Jumping rope can be as strenuous as jogging, but is lower in impact, since you should jump only a little off the ground. It is a great way to build cardiovascular endurance, and improve coordination, speed and agility. If you engage in a sport (such as tennis, basketball, or skiing) that requires bursts of speed and power, jumping rope can be particularly beneficial. It works muscles in the legs, shoulders, chest, and forearms. And, it burns lots of calories.

If you are just beginning to jump, start at about 70 turns a minute, which allows you to double-hop each jump. Keep your elbows near the sides of your hips. Turn the rope with your wrists and forearms. Don't turn from the shoulders. To minimize stress on your legs, jump just high enough for the rope to pass under your feet--only an inch or two off the ground. Land softly on the balls of your feet, and let your heels help absorb the impact. Land with your knees slightly bent. Keep your posture erect, shoulders back, and abdomen tucked in. Slow down if you get winded or too tired. Jumping rope can elevate your heart rate very quickly.