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Exercise Equipment: The Firm Fitness Ball
You don't need a pricey gym membership to lose weight and build strength. All it takes is 3 key types of equipment (with a total price tag of less than $100) and these expert-designed workouts. "Affordable gear, like resistance bands, can work muscles just as effectively as expensive items, such as dumbbells, which can cost hundreds," says Gregory Florez, a spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise, CEO of personal coaching company www.FitAdvisor.com and the designer of our program. To get the most bang for your buck, do 2 sets of the following moves 3 days a week, with at least 1 rest day in between. You'll see results in 4 to 6 weeks. Now that's priceless.
$25 on amazon.com
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Fitness Ball Move #1: Modified Superman
Tones: Abs, back, shoulders, buttocks, and hamstrings
One Set: 15 to 20 repetitions
Starting Position: Lie facedown on the ball so that it's between your chest and your belly. Your arms should hang down perpendicular to the floor. Your legs should be shoulder-width apart, stretched out diagonally, with your toes touching the floor to keep your body stable.
One Rep: Lift and extend your left arm out in front of you so it's parallel to the floor—and at the same time lift and extend your right leg so it's also parallel to the floor. Hold this position for 2 seconds. Then lower them back to the starting position and repeat the move with the right arm and the left leg. That's 1 rep.
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Fitness Ball Move #2: Crunches with a Twist
Tones: Oblique (side) and lower abs, upper thighs
One Set: 15 to 30 repetitions to each side
Starting Position: Sit on top of the ball with your knees shoulder-width apart and your feet firmly planted on the floor. Slide down the ball until your lower back is leaning against it. Remember to keep your back as straight as you possibly can.
One Rep: Cross your arms over your chest and raise your torso (as if doing a sit-up) for 3 seconds, lifting yourself only as far as you can while keeping your buttocks in contact with the ball. As you crunch, tighten your stomach muscles and squeeze your glutes. At the top of the motion, gently rotate your upper torso to the right. Come back to the center and roll back down to the starting position. Repeat the crunch, this time rotating to the left.
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Exercise Equipment: 3 SPRI Original Xertubes (green, red, and blue resistance bands)
3 x $10 = $30 on amazon.com
Start the following exercises with the green (lightweight) band. If you finish a set and can do at least 3 more reps with perfect form, switch to the red (medium) and then the blue (heavy) for more resistance.
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Resistance Band Exercise #1: Standing Squat with Shoulder Press
Tones: Glutes, quads, hamstrings, shoulders, and triceps
One Set: 15 to 20 repetitions
Starting Position: Stand with your back straight, feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent. Place the band securely under your feet. Gripping the band's handles with palms facing forward, raise your arms out to the sides so they're parallel to the floor, and then bend your forearms, so they're perpendicular to the ground.
One Rep: Keeping your abs pulled in and your gaze at eye-level, take 2 seconds to lower into a squat. Make sure that when you're in the deepest part of the bend, the tops of your thighs don't go past parallel to the floor. Take 2 seconds to return to the starting position, and then slowly press your arms up overhead until your elbows are straight. Leading with your elbows, return arms to starting position.
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Resistance Band Exercise #2: Alternating Leg Lunges with Biceps Curls
Tones: Glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves, biceps, and forearms
One Set: 12 to 15 repetitions on each leg
Starting Position: Stand with your back straight, feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, hands hanging by your sides while holding the band, chin level with the floor and eyes gazing straight ahead. Then step on the band with your right foot.
One Rep: Gripping the handles with palms facing forward, slowly lunge backward about 2 feet with your left foot. Bend your left knee while curling your forearms upward, making sure your back stays straight. Once you finish the motion, return to the starting position. After 1 full set on that side, switch legs.
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Exercise Equipment: Gaiam Fitness Mat
$30 on amazon.com
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Fitness Mat Exercise #1: The Plank
Tones: Shoulders, chest, back, abs, buttocks, hamstrings, and calves
One Set: 2 repetitions
Starting Position: Get on all fours: hands under shoulders, knees bent under hips, back straight.
One Rep: Place elbows on the mat, straighten legs, and prop yourself up on your toes, so your head and spine are in a straight line, parallel to the mat. Hold this position for 10 seconds. As you get stronger, tack on 10 to 15 seconds, increasing the time until you can hold each plank for 2 minutes.
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Fitness Mat Exercise #2: Downward-Facing Dog
Tones: All muscles, improving balance, flexibility, and posture
One Set: 10 to 15 repetitions
Starting Position: Lie on your stomach with your legs straight behind you, toes curled under. Place your hands flat on the mat, even with the midline of your chest.
One Rep: Walk feet 4 to 6 inches apart for stability. Then, pushing with your hands and toes at the same time, stick your buttocks into the air until your body is in an inverted V position—arms straight, legs straight. If possible, place your heels on the floor. Slowly lower your entire body back down to the starting position.
Originally published in the August 2010 issue of Family Circle magazine.