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REAL ESTATE

Build a Great Home Gym for Under $500

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Finding the time to schlep to the gym can be tough (not to mention affording those steep membership premiums, dealing with obnoxious gym rats, disrobing in front of complete strangers, etc.). But building -- and finding space for -- a truly usable home gym is a luxury only celebs can afford, right? Wrong!

"At-home training is efficient, effective, and economical, and you can re-create almost any movement from the gym using a variety of inexpensive equipment pieces," says personal trainer Joan Pagano, author of " Strength Training Exercises for Women." Plus, there are no excuses for skipping workouts when you can crunch next to your couch! (This is either an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on your perspective.)

So just in time for busy presummer fitness season, we've gathered expert suggestions for top home gym inclusions (all of which could easily fit in a dedicated corner of your abode). Mix and match some of these great props to supplant pricey, bulky gym gear (or buy one of each item for under $500 total), and soon you'll be able to get svelte on your own turf.

Instead of a weight machine: Bands

Also one of the best travel options around, bands will give you a superb resistance training tool for exercises like biceps curls, shoulder presses, leg raises, and more. Some versions have handles, which are easy for exercisers to manipulate and control when doing moves that replicate those done with weights; others, like flat thera-bands, are great for stretching and strengthening. Different-colored bands indicate different intensities. Pagano suggests home gym builders also consider getting a door attachment/anchor for their bands, which will allow exercisers to replicate gym moves like lat pulldowns.

Total: $9 to $40 depending on how many bands purchased

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Instead of a weight bench: Physioball

"The physioball adds a lot of diversity to a home-based routine, since you can use it in lieu of a weight bench, or as support to do exercises in supine or prone [face down or face up] positions," says Pagano. They're perfect for abdominal work, like crunches. They're lightweight and cheap, and you can roll (or bounce!) them into a closet when you're not using them. Still not convinced? Use them as a substitute for your desk chairs, and they'll help build your core all day long. Because, who doesn't want a strong core? (Note: rhetorical question.)

Total: $35 to $50 (sometimes you can find these at discount stores like T.J. Maxx or Marshalls for a lot less)

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Instead of a treadmill: A platform step

Think you'll need a pricey, Volkswagen-size piece of cardio equipment to complete your home gym? Nope, just get a super versatile platform step.

"It replaces a stair-climber in the gym since you can use it to do a variety of step-ups for a cardio or interval routine, i.e., either doing a series of steps continuously or interspersing step-ups in between resistance exercises," says Pagano. It can also be used as a flat or incline weight bench!

Another super inexpensive cardio workout piece to keep on hand is a speed jump-rope; it takes up almost no space and can incinerate calories. And if you're really in a budget-conscious mode, you can even pull off a pretty great free workout: If you have a decent-size staircase in your house, devise some repetitive climbing sets.

Total: $13 for a rope, $100 to $110 for a step

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Instead of a weight rack: Two pairs of free weights

Some kind of resistance equipment is a necessity for a truly impactful home gym setup, but you don't need to shell out thousands (and give up your living room) for an entire weight rack.

"No home workout would be complete without two sets of dumbbells, one light and one heavy," says Pagano. "These are available in a variety of shapes, colors, and surface treatments like plastic or neoprene."

For example, you can get a 3-pound pair of vinyl covered dumbbells for $7.50, and a 15-pound pair for $34.50.

And yeah, you can try the DIY approach: Fill 64-ounce laundry detergent bottles with water (they're about 4 pounds each).

Total: $20 to $45 for two sets of dumbbells

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Instead of a personal trainer: TRX suspension training system

While this item is a little pricier than others on this list, it's actually a very cost-effective deal when you consider its multifunctionality.

"Instead of forking out thousands of dollars on stacks of weights, plates, bars, and benches, a TRX home suspension training system will only set you back a couple hundred bucks," says exercise physiologist Bill Sukala. "All you need is an overhead beam -- or backyard tree branch -- to anchor it and you're in action. It gives you a solid full-body workout, which challenges your core strength as well as your balance and coordination."

There are lots of tutorials on YouTube and other places to give you workout ideas with the TRX. So, who needs a personal trainer when you've got all that?

Total: $200

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