Exercise Equipment That Is Totally Worth the Investment

Exercise gadgets and equipment give you options, ease boredom and help boost results. Here top fitness experts dish about their favorite fitness splurges and why they're worth every penny

Heart rate monitor

Dumbbells, Heart Rate Monitor and Other Exercise Equipment Worth the Splurge

Amazon.com

Cost: $40 to $100 on up
Recommended brand: Polar

How hard are you really working out? Solve the mystery once and for all with a heart monitor.

It not only measures your exercise intensity but can tell you how many calories you’re burning during your workouts, says celebrity trainer Keri Lynn Ford, founder and CEO of IgniteGirls, an online personal training and nutritional coaching service. “It can also tell you if you are working out within your target heart rate zone and make sure you are working out at your appropriate exercise intensity.”

Find them in sporting goods stores, on Amazon.com or Polar.com.

Portable stair stepper

Dumbbells, Heart Rate Monitor and Other Exercise Equipment Worth the Splurge

Amazon.com

Cost: $299
Recommended brand: Xiser

Cheapo versions of this portable stair stepper can be found at many retail outlets, but skip the plastic and other inferior versions and splurge on the Xiser, says J.J. Virgin, fitness and nutrition expert and author of Six Weeks to Sleeveless and Sexy. The solid stainless steel Xiser stepper’s unique hydraulic cylinder system is built to last and comes with a five-year warranty. “It blasts fat in just four minutes a day. I have all my VIP clients do their burst training (four-minute intervals) on it and it’s lightweight and easy enough to fit into a carry-on.”

Find it at Xiser.com

A balance trainer

Dumbbells, Heart Rate Monitor and Other Exercise Equipment Worth the Splurge

Amazon.com

Cost: $85.95
Recommended brand: BOSU

Balance trainers can add fun to your workouts while working your abs and creating better balance. Shaped like a giant Mallomar, a half-dome BOSU (Both Sides Up) balance trainer can be used either with its dome side or flat side up. The dome side gives you the balance challenge of a fitness ball without the danger of rolling off it. “It’s very versatile, helps strengthen the core muscles, improves balance and can be used to increase overall strength, agility and endurance,” says Julia Schneider, kinesiologist, personal trainer and holistic lifestyle coach in Ontario, Canada.

Find it at BOSU.com.

A suspension training system

Dumbbells, Heart Rate Monitor and Other Exercise Equipment Worth the Splurge

Amazon.com

Cost: $199.95
Recommended brand: TRX

Home suspension systems include sturdy fabric straps with handles that allow you to workout using only your bodyweight. Since you’re using your core and stabilizing muscles for balance, exercises on this system work your entire body in a more functional way than those on a single machine. Plus, the whole lightweight system is portable, says Schneider.

Get it at trxtraining.com.

Cable crossover machine

Dumbbells, Heart Rate Monitor and Other Exercise Equipment Worth the Splurge

Amazon.com

Cost: $487 to $1,950
Recommended brands: Powerline PCC090X and Body Solid

Home gyms offer tons of options but can easily set you back a couple grand, approximately a year’s membership at an elite fitness club.  It’s worth it, however, if you don’t live near a gym, prefer to workout at home, but want the same gym workout, and will actually use it. Cable machines offer the greatest number of options and flexibility. “Cable crossover machines offer excellent functional training and strength conditioning on multiple planes,” says Schneider. Traditional home gyms only offer one path of motion. Movements that are more fluid utilize stabilizer muscles along with the main muscles, strengthening the muscles you use in daily activities.

Check out your local sporting goods store for a test drive.

Weight vest

Dumbbells, Heart Rate Monitor and Other Exercise Equipment Worth the Splurge

Amazon.com

Cost: $125 on up
Recommended brands: BOX (used by Crossfitters)

Holding onto dumbbells during aerobic exercise for the sake of increasing resistance and burning extra calories can be awkward and even dangerous, especially when walking on a treadmill. Trade the hand weights and dumbbells for a weight vest instead. “Weight vests provide increased intensity, calorie burn and added resistance without changing your center of mass,” says Neal I. Pire, founder of PUSH at Volt Fitness in New Jersey. The added stability of the vest helps you stay balanced and keep your arms free, reducing the risk of injury. Start with a light weight (four to five pounds) and gradually increase according to your goals.

Find them at weightvest.com.

A set of dumbbells

Dumbbells, Heart Rate Monitor and Other Exercise Equipment Worth the Splurge

Amazon.com

Cost: $38 to $185 or higher for adjustable weights
Recommended brands: Power Blocks

When it comes down to basics, you still can’t beat dumbbells for resistance training. If you’re brand new to weight training, start with one set of 3- or 5-pound weights and another set of 8- or 10-pound weights. For a bigger splurge, and a space-saving option, try Power Blocks, a set of adjustable dumbbells complete with its own stand. A set adjusts from three to 24 pounds in increments of three pounds and progresses as you get stronger.

Go to PowerBlock.com.

Medicine ball

Dumbbells, Heart Rate Monitor and Other Exercise Equipment Worth the Splurge

Amazon.com

Cost: $12 to $50 on up, depending on the weight
Recommended brand: Elite, Dynamax, Hammer Strength

Great workout: Toss one of these weighted balls back and forth with a workout partner -- it requires you to engage your abdominals and core muscles.

“They’re also useful for agility training,” says Schneider. Choose smaller, lighter balls to exercise the arms or small muscle groups and heavier, larger balls for leg exercises such as squats with an overhead lift.

Find them at sporting goods stores or at power-systems.com.

Burst-proof balance ball

Dumbbells, Heart Rate Monitor and Other Exercise Equipment Worth the Splurge

Amazon.com

Cost: $35
Recommended brand: VersaBall

A fitness ball may well be the most versatile piece of equipment with the greatest number of exercise options per penny. They’re not just for crunches anymore, says Pire. “Sure it’s a great stability tool, but it also doubles as a bench for seated and lying movements such as chest presses, and can change the leverage for exercises like wall squats (you could not perform wall squats in the same posture without the ball). For seated exercises choose a ball where your thighs are parallel to the floor, hips even with your knees. In general, a 65 cm ball fits a woman 5’5” to 5’11” -- a 55 cm ball works for those under 5’5” and a 75 cm ball is best for those over 5’11”.

Find them at your local sporting goods store or at power-systems.com.

A good pair of sneakers

Dumbbells, Heart Rate Monitor and Other Exercise Equipment Worth the Splurge

Amazon.com

Cost: $50 to $100
Recommended brand: depends on your goals

This may sound like a no-brainer, but cutting corners on footwear can wreck havoc on your body if they don’t have the right support, says Alycia Kluegl, exercise physiologist, TV host and celebrity trainer in North Bergen, New Jersey. “Proper ankle and foot support can help your knees, back and neck.” Running shoes should offer cushioning, traction and stability; shoes for tennis and court sports should support your feet laterally for constant back-and-forth motion. Shop in the afternoon, when your feet are more swollen and try on shoes with the socks you wear for your sport.

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