GET FIT AND RECOVER FASTER
Whether you're a gym junkie or prefer to work out at home, you need some equipment to stay in tip-top shape. While weight sets and cardio machines are fairly expensive, you can enhance your workout and speed your post-workout recovery with simple and inexpensive accessories. These essential tools help improve flexibility, build strength, and relieve sore muscles.
A good gym bag helps organize clothes and gear and can even help keep an exercise habit on track. Some trainers recommend packing a gym bag before bed and placing it by the door, or even in the car. That way there's no extra prep time to deter you from working out. EBags has a selection of brand-name gym bags for less than $25.
Jumping rope isn't just for kids and boxers. A high-quality jump rope starts at about $10 or less, and regular use increases endurance, coordination, strength, and stability. Jumping rope can also burn more calories than jogging, help decrease the risk of an ankle or foot injury, and improve bone density.
Large balance or stability balls can cost more than $100, but Tone Fitness makes highly rated small and large ones for less than $10 at Walmart. 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.
Standard equipment at many gyms, kettlebells can be used for a variety of strength-training exercises. The price varies with weight; a 15-pound kettlebell can be found for about $14. Exercises can be tweaked to increase or decrease difficulty without changing the weight.
Late-night infomercials may have made an ab roller (about $12) seem like a gimmick, but it really does provide a good workout. If used improperly, however, it can lead to back injuries, so be sure to have an experienced user demonstrate proper form or watch an instructional video on YouTube.
HEART RATE MONITOR
The latest smartwatches have built-in heart-rate monitors, but they also cost several hundred dollars. "Dumb" heart-rate monitors (with no internet connection) start at less than $25. They make it possible for the wearer to target a heart-rate zone while exercising, helping optimize aerobic fitness.
There really is science behind moisture-wicking clothing. It can keep help keep you dry throughout a workout, which might make it easier spend a few extra minutes in an otherwise uncomfortable position (not to mention make your gym bag smell better). The major name brands can be expensive, but options under $25 include the C9 by Champion line at Target, and even the likes of Nike and Under Armour are sometimes discounted at outlet stores online and off.
Resistance-band training is highly effective and greatly decreases the chance of injury or joint stress compared with free weights. The bands are lightweight, easy to store, and inexpensive -- a set of four with varying levels of resistance runs about $12.
Wearing a running belt can improve health and safety. In addition to providing storage for keys and other essentials, many also have room for energy bars or gel, which can be essential for completing long-distance runs. Some, such as this one from Dick's Sporting Goods, have reflectors to catch drivers' eyes in low light.
Wearable weights ($10 to $25) can make almost any activity, from walking to grabbing a cup of coffee, into a moderate workout. They can also play an essential role in developing muscles during physical therapy.
A self-massage ball helps release tension, undo knots, and reduce myofascial pain in the feet, back, and chest. People use tennis balls or lacrosse balls for the same purpose, but highly rated massage balls start at $10 or less online.
Weight-lifting gloves ($10 to $15) can help prevent weights from slipping out of your hands, support your wrists, and keep callouses or blisters from forming. Gloves with a wrist strap help distribute pressure across the hand and forearm, so you can lift heavier weights.
STRETCH OUT STRAP
OPTP's Stretch Out Strap (about $16) is a patented stretching tool used in physical therapy offices across the country. The sturdy strap has 10 loops to gradually increase the depth of the stretch. An instructional booklet is included, and helpful videos on YouTube guide viewers through different routines.
For those who enjoy drinking protein shakes or taking other supplements before, during, or after a workout, a shaker cup such as a BlenderBottle comes in handy. The plastic bottles (starting at about $7) have a metal whisk inside to help evenly distribute powder throughout the drink.
Keep an extra stick or spray bottle of deodorant in a gym bag for freshening up after a workout -- everyone around you will be thankful. Even if the gym has showers, a post-workout metabolism boost can lead to sweating after leaving the locker room.
A basic high-density foam roller can help break up scar tissue and knots and often costs less than $10. Self-massage with a roller can also aid post-injury rehabilitation. Plus, it feels good.
Bags of frozen veggies always work in a pinch. But reusable ice wraps are fairly cheap ($10 and up), provide a snug fit, and are easier to keep in place while standing or walking.
PROTEIN BARS OR SHAKES
Rather than grab a carb-loaded pastry after a morning workout, consider a protein bar or shake. Regardless of the potential muscle-building benefits of protein, it can certainly increase satiety.