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Consider an in-home gym to jump-start the new year
Renee Sobering, personal trainer and co-owner of Apex Personal Training, works out in the Apex studio at 405 N. 24th St. The studio, similar to a home gym, has a variety of workout tools, including an exercise ball, adjustable dumbbells and an elliptical trainer.

Even before the new year began, Darryl Sobering, a Billings-based personal trainer, was setting a larger-than-normal number of consultation appointments. Sobering, who co-owns Apex Personal Training with his wife, Renee, said that this time of year fitness is at the top of many people's priority lists.

The Soberings offer in-home and in-studio training. Darryl said people appreciate working out in the privacy of their own home. "The No. 1 reason is convenience," he said. "They don't have to get up and drive to the gym and can get to (their workout) right away."

Even if his clients work out in-studio, Sobering recommends they have in-home equipment or a gym membership.

Better Body Fitness of Montana Billings store owner Greg Monical said the first of the year is typically the busiest because of New Year's resolutions for better health and fitness.

"People today are buried in life and often don't have time to go to the gym," Monical said. "If you have (exercise equipment) right there at your house, it's easier to use it," he said.

With three stores located throughout the state, Better Body Fitness of Montana Inc. is one of the state's major providers of exercise equipment. Commercial clients constitute a large component of their business, though they sell in-home equipment as well.

A productive space

Monical equates working out at the gym this time of year to Christmas time at a mall: Very busy and normal codes of conduct and etiquette are forgotten. Many of his customers shopping for exercise equipment for their homes are also seeking privacy and convenience.

Monical, who also works for the Billings Clinic as a certified strength-conditioning specialist, has been in the fitness business 25 years. He started as a personal trainer and progressed into specialty training for athletes. He worked into the equipment business while opening a health club, filling the club with quality equipment at discounted prices.

From ellipticals to treadmills, functional trainers to specialized weight machines, Monical deals with a wide range of equipment. He said major considerations when purchasing exercise equipment include budget, room size and fitness goals. Skill level is also a factor when choosing equipment.

Budget-friendly home gym

When you're looking at fitness in general, there are two things that need to be accomplished: Cardiovascular and strength fitness for a whole body workout, according to Sobering.

For the budget-minded consumer, cardiovascular exercise can be achieved as easily as running the stairs in his or her own home, Sobering said. Riding a bike is also a good way to get a

cardiovascular workout, but in the winter, it's often difficult to ride outdoors. In this instance, Sobering recommends a bike trainer, which attaches to the back wheel of a bicycle, creating a stationary bike from a regular one, so you can cycle indoors.

Depending on the gadgets included, a bike trainer can range from $150 up to $2,000, Sobering said. Most bike trainers offer adjustable levels to increase resistance. Switching the bike to a higher gear also makes it more challenging to pedal, similar to going up a hill.

"It's a great home piece if you already have a bicycle and want a piece that is not too expensive to add in or start your collection," Sobering said.

Another essential piece to add to a home gym is an exercise ball, Sobering said. He can complete a full workout on an exercise ball, and often will show up for a personal training appointment with just the ball.

"If you educate yourself a bit on how to use it, the ball can be extremely versatile," Sobering said. It doubles as a bench, can be used for crunches, leg workouts, strength training and core workouts. Sobering warns that consumers need to be certain to purchase an anti-burst exercise ball because it is much safer to use.

Along with the ball, one of the most effective pieces of equipment for strength training is a set of dumbbells, Sobering said. Adjustable dumbbells, which combine several sets of weights into one, are ideal for small spaces and cost less than an entire set of weights.

The limitless budget

For someone who doesn't need to worry about a budget, Sobering recommends purchasing a high-end piece of cardio equipment

"Elliptical, treadmill or some sort of stationary bike; the one that you like the most is the best," Sobering said. "Don't get the $500 elliptical, because you're not going to like it. It's not going to be like the one at the gym."

Monical said that a quality in-home cardio machine can be found for less than $3,000, and that quality begins to be compromised below $1,500. Lower-quality exercise machines often have plastic adjustments that can break easily and are not designed to last more than four or five years under consistent use, he said.

"It's like shopping for a car. There's Kia, and there's Cadillac. Both are going to work. One works better than the other," Monical said.

Ease of use

With any exercise machine purchase, the goal is to use the machine. Selecting user-friendly equipment helps ensure the product will be used. If you're unfamiliar with the exercises or inexperienced with weights, some products are overkill, Monical said.

The functional trainer, a versatile strength training machine, fits into a corner more easily than a larger home gym machine. Functional trainers are designed to help with balance, coordination and developing a strong core. Monical stresses to try out the equipment before deciding to buy. "Make sure it's what you want to buy. It's an investment," he said.

But all the fancy machinery you can afford won't make a difference if it never gets used.

Working out "has to become a habit for you. Once it becomes a habit, it becomes more enjoyable," Sobering said.

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