Work Out for Way Less
Cost-efficient exercise without the ratty sweats or laps around the basement—here's how to save on a first-class workout.
Expensive sports bra
Not all women need a crazy-supportive sports bra. "If you're small-breasted and doing low-impact activities, you can go to almost any retailer and buy a comfortable seamless bra that'll be absolutely appropriate," says LaJean Lawson, PhD, an adjunct professor of exercise and sports science at Oregon State University. "But women with a full C cup and up can't get by with a less-structured bra." That's when it's wise to spend $30 to $50 for support; test it by jumping up and down in the dressing room. For the best fit, get measured by a pro at a bra shop; then head to a sports or specialty-running store for a large sports-bra selection. If you don't have a good retailer for sports bras nearby, try TitleNine.com, which has a great return policy.
If you do yoga or Pilates (or even a lot of crunches), be sure the hooks and seams of your bra don't dig into your spine; lie down on the dressing-room floor to test it out.
Good athletic shoes
Women sometimes splurge on a great pair of running shoes and then wear them for three other sports. That's a recipe for injury. "You can't multitask with your shoes," the ACE's Cedric Bryant says. "Running shoes are flexible and have more cushioning, while shoes for racquet sports are designed for lateral movement." Expect to spend at least $50 on a good shoe, and get one for every sport you play—or buy a good pair of cross-trainers for multiple sports. Bargain ideas: Buy last year's discontinued model (new shoes may boast slightly different technology or colors, but the good core ingredients are still the same) and ask your running store about deals on returned shoes. (Some chains like Road Runner Sports sell lightly worn returns at a discount.)
Treadmill (about $2,000)
Must have good shock absorbency (something other than foam; ask the salesperson). Give the machine a practice run to check stability, sturdiness of rollers, and width and length of the belt (should be at least 18 inches wide and long enough to keep you from flying off the back). You might feel silly jogging in a department store, but would you buy a car without a test-drive? Aim for a 3-horsepower motor; it's lower than commercial grade but enough to keep you moving. Skip the fancy computer console and 500 different programs to choose from.
Stationary bike (about $1,000 for upright)
Must have high enough resistance to give you a thorough workout. Crank it up and try it out at the store.
Skip the bells and whistles. "If it's stable, comfortable to sit on, and you don't hear any parts rattling, you'll get a good workout" says Richard Cotton, national director of certification for the American College of Sports Medicine.
Elliptical trainer (about $2,000)
Must have stability; also, it should operate smoothly and be easy to use. "These machines are even more mechanically complex than treadmills, especially if they have moving handles for your arms," says Bill Sonnemaker, a personal trainer in Atlanta. Do a test-drive before you buy, and make sure the warranty covers repairs. Skip gym-quality models (they usually cost $5,000-plus) or machines with multiple programs.
Special workout wear
A grueling workout is hard enough. A grueling workout in a sweat-drenched shirt or chafing shorts is just miserable. For comfort's sake, invest in apparel with flat seams to avoid rubbing and moisture-wicking material to funnel perspiration away from skin. These clothes are pricier but bargains exist: There's a large selection of Champion and Duo Dry items for less than $17 each at Target.com, and you can get deals on Dri-Fit and Under Armour garb at Dick's Sporting Goods, Sports Authority, Joe's Sports, and other outlets.
If you see your hairstylist more often than you visit your gym, you're probably squandering your money on a membership. (The average annual cost in 2006 was $660.) About 80% of gym-goers would be better off on a pay-per-use basis, according to a Stanford University study. However, if seeing that recurring charge on your credit card gets you off the couch, it's worth every penny—but it doesn't have to be so many pennies. There are ways to negotiate like a pro, says personal trainer Bill Sonnemaker, who is also the IDEA Health and Fitness Association's 2007 trainer of the year.
- Buy a membership just for your gym (not the universal deal that includes far-flung destinations).
- Wait until the end of the month to buy, because a salesperson will be more willing to offer you a break to make his or her monthly quota.
- Ask for a 13th month free or that the initiation fee be knocked off; that's usually where salespeople are allowed to negotiate.