For many fleeing noisy gyms and pricey membership fees, when it comes to working out, there's no place like home.

If your fitness is housebound, experts say your gym can be anything from a basement brimming with exercise machines to a towel spread on the living room floor.

"People need a workout space," said fitness expert and personal trainer Melanie Douglass. "It can be a treadmill, a weight machine and a stability ball, or it can be a five-dollar set of hand weights."

Douglass, who is based in Salt Lake City, Utah, said do what fits your space and your budget.
"A resistance tube can train your whole body," she said.

Despite the sluggish economy, home fitness equipment sales hit $5.3 billion in 2009, according to the National Sporting Goods Association, even as U.S. gym memberships remained flat.

"People are economizing and gym membership is a casualty," said Colleen Logan of ICON fitness, which manufactures workout equipment. "A piece of home exercise equipment is a one-time expense for more than one person in the household."

That expense is usually in a treadmill. Despite a hefty average ticket price of around $670, treadmills account for 56 percent of home fitness sales, Logan said.

Douglass said treadmills are great if you have the budget. If not, there are many frugal ways to cardio fitness.

"I've had clients who've really enjoyed jump-roping," she said, "or stepping on a step deck. You can get a great cardio-vascular workout for $20."

Fitness is not achieved by cardio alone. Experts agree that a well-rounded workout involves three components: cardio, strength and flexibility/balance.

"If someone puts a treadmill in their house and that's all they do for five days a week, they're more likely to cause some injury," said Dr. Angela Smith, an expert with the American College of Sports Medicine.

Much safer is mixing it up, said Smith, "something like 15 minutes on a bike, 15 minutes on a treadmill and 15 minutes in a Pilates class."

Smith, an orthopedic surgeon based in Philadelphia urges home exercisers to build their routine gradually, rather than plunge into an advanced exercise DVD or even a strenuous bike ride they haven't prepared for.

"Most people don't realize how truly astonishing the human body is, how it can adapt to demands placed on it," she said, "but that adaptation doesn't happen overnight."

For her own workout, Smith, who is also a competitive skater, is strictly no frills.

"Frankly at home I use liter water bottles as light weights for upper body," said Smith, who does 45 minutes of dance and Pilates before work. "I use a towel on a rug. I don't even own a mat."

She said it doesn't take a lot of expensive equipment.

"My husband has a treadmill, a recumbent bicycle and sit-up equipment in the basement, but all those are gathering dust."

"What gets used is my towel and my rug and my water bottles," she said.

Smith says rather than pine for a treadmill, to go outside and walk. And if you want to walk on an incline, find a hill or walk up the stairs.

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