SHAPE UP FOR LESS
Whether you're a gym junkie or prefer to work out at home, you need some equipment to help you stay in tip-top shape. While weight sets and cardio machines are fairly expensive, you can enhance your workouts with simple accessories that don't cost a lot. These essential tools help improve flexibility, build strength, and relieve sore muscles once your workout is over.
A good gym bag helps you get organized, and can even help you stay on track. Some trainers recommend packing a gym bag before bed and placing it by the door, or even in your car. This decreases the chances that you'll skip a workout due to a lack of time or preparation. EBags has a selection of name brand-gym bags for less than $25.
Jumping rope isn't just for boxers and kids. A high-quality jump rope costs about $20 and regular use increases endurance, coordination, strength, and stability. Jumping rope also burns more calories than jogging, will help decrease the chance of suffering an ankle or foot injury while playing sports, and may improve bone density.
Large balance or stability balls can cost more than $100, but Tone Fitness has well-rated small and large ones for $11 and $15, respectively, on Amazon. Although using a stability ball as a desk chair isn't necessarily healthy or safe, the ball can be used for many different strength-training and stability-building exercises.
A standard piece of equipment at many gyms today, kettlebells can be used for a variety of strength training exercises. A 20-pound kettlebell can be found for about $20, and the price varies with weight. Exercises can be tweaked to increase or decrease difficulty without changing the weight.
You may be skeptical after seeing late-night infomercials for this product, but ab rollers ($12) really do work your core muscles, arms, and shoulders. If used improperly you can hurt your back, so be sure to have an experienced user show you the ropes or watch an instructional video on YouTube.
HEART RATE MONITOR
The latest smartwatches cost several hundred dollars, but a "dumb" (no Internet connection) watch with a built-in heart rate monitor costs about $25. The monitor allows you to target a heart-rate zone as your exercise. WebMD recommends this approach to optimize aerobic fitness, especially for people with heart conditions.
There really is some science behind moisture-wicking clothing, and wearing it can help keep you dry during your workout. In addition to making you more comfortable, less sweat means less odor in your gym bag. The major name brands can be expensive, but if you don't want to go off-brand both Nike and Under Armour have outlet sections in their online stores featuring discounted items.
STRETCH OUT STRAP
A patented stretching tool from Orthopedic Physical Therapy Products, the Stretch Out Strap ($11.30) is used in physical therapy offices across the country. The sturdy strap has 10 loops allowing you to gradually increase the depth of your stretches. An instructional booklet is included and there are helpful videos on YouTube that guide you through different routines.
Resistance band training is highly effective and greatly decreases the chance of injury or joint stress when compared with free weights. The bands are lightweight, easy to store, and inexpensive -- a set of four with varying resistances runs about $15. To get started, check out these 33 workouts compiled by Greatist.
A self-massage ball helps you release tension, undo knots, and reduce myofascial pain in your feet, back, and chest. People use tennis balls or lacrosse balls for the same purpose, but for less than $20 you can buy a highly-rated trigger point massage ball. Some massage balls have spiky or bumpy surfaces for a deeper massage.