The holiday season has always been a great time to get in shape — or maybe just think about it. • How many of us go to holiday parties and hear some variation of this vow: Come New Year's Day, I'm going to get started on that exercise program. Seriously, this year I really am. • Why do so many promises we make to ourselves get derailed? Maybe we're making it too hard by always searching for some new miracle routine or product that will change everything. • Fact is, you'll probably do better with a program that is simple and proven to be effective. • So in that spirit, we've rounded up 10 fitness basics that will help you stick with your goals. You don't need all these items, but the more you use, the more variety you can have in your workout. • Most of our Top 10 fitness tools are readily available in any good gym. But if you'd rather work out at home, you'll also find them in sporting goods stores and discount department stores. The prices listed here come from sportsauthority.com. • Any of these items would make a great tried and proven gift for anyone on your list seeking a healthier lifestyle. Better yet, put yourself on that list and get a jump on your New Year's resolution. This time next year, you'll be glad you did.
Some consider it a child's toy. But lots of fitness pros call it the most important piece of exercise equipment ever made. That's because a regular jump-rope routine will get you in top shape. Jump ropes are inexpensive (though you'll find it easier to use one that is weighted) and portable. Pack one in your purse or briefcase and skip a few at lunch. Jump ropes start at $6.99 and run up to $22.99 for a weighted, leather model.
Pullups and chinups are the go-to exercise for elite military units because they can be performed any place, any time, as long as there is a bar to hang on. Who needs dumbbells when you can use your own body weight? A basic, door-mounted chinup bar can be purchased for $18.99. Free-standing or wall-mounted units can cost as much as $249.99.
Exercise mats are more comfortable than beach towels when it comes time to stretch, and safer because you won't slide around. Look for one with a no-skid bottom. The thicker the mat, the higher the price. A high-quality exercise mat will last for years and make the recipient the envy of fellow fitness enthusiasts. Prices range from $19.99 for a basic yoga mat to $139.99 for a deluxe trifold mat.
An exercise journal will help keep you on the right path. Writing down what you do each day makes you accountable. It's a great way to gauge your progress and keep track of goals. Buy a simple notebook, decorate the cover with inspirational quotes, and give it to a friend. Or pick up a lined runner's log at your local running store for a few bucks more. The tech savvy can also choose from hundreds of electronic log books for smartphones.
Heart rate monitor
These electronic devices measure how many times the most important muscle in the body beats per minute, and can be an invaluable tool to make sure that you are not overdoing it — or underdoing it.
The most basic versions, with a chest-strap transmitter and wrist receiver, sell for under $60. Buy one with more advanced functions like GPS technology and downloadable training programs and you can pay well over $300. If you're really serious about aerobic exercise, a good heart rate monitor is well worth the investment.
Most people run in the wrong shoes. They go to their local department or sporting goods store and buy what looks good or what's on sale. You need to consider factors like your weight, body type and running technique. So do yourself a favor and go to a reputable running shop and have a salesperson fit you for a pair of shoes. Want to get somebody started down a healthy path in 2013? Buy him or her a gift certificate for a pair of shoes, to be fitted in person. Count on spending at least $100 — and add more for insoles, which can make more of a difference than you might think.
A standard in traditional boxing gyms, the weighted medicine ball is now widely accepted in all exercise circles. You can use it on your own — just lie on you back and toss it in the air — or play catch with a friend. You'll be amazed at the workout you'll get, and the variations you'll devise. Balls are available from 2 to 30 pounds and with or without handles. A 10-pound ball is good for most uses. Prices range from $21.99 to $119.99.
Get more out of crunches, pushups and stretching with an inflatable stability ball (also known as Swiss or exercise ball). A must for serious core exercise, stability balls typically come in three sizes (55cm, 56cm, 75cm) or small, medium and large. To get the right fit, sit on the ball and make sure your hips are level with or higher than your knees. You can even use one instead of a desk chair to work on your core stability, but don't think that substitutes for a workout. Average price: $39.99.
Weights come in a variety of shapes, sizes and configurations, but if you want to get the biggest bang for you buck, buy a set of simple dumbbells. Plastic covered, chrome or basic iron — they all do the same thing. Start with a set of 10-pound weights. Don't bother with those tiny 1- or 2-pound weights. If you need to start out small, try using canned goods from the pantry. If you shop around, you might find dumbbells on sale for $1 a pound. Top-shelf adjustable weights can cost as much as $499 per set.
There are dozens of resistance bands on the market, geared for every skill level, beginner to expert. The portable, easy-to-use fitness device travels well and turns a closet door into an impromptu gym. With a little imagination, you can work your arms, chest, back and legs with one set of basic bands. Buy a basic band for $9.99 and then, if you like it, move up to heavy-duty braided bands in the $35.99 to $39.99 range.