Nothing beats the convenience of working out in your own home. And you don’t need to buy a $4,000 treadmill to get started. Standard floor exercises can provide a good cardio workout using little to no equipment.

Or you can take your workout outdoors. Try walking around a park, climbing steps, jumping rope, doing jumping jacks or even hula-hooping. “Thirty minutes of hooping is a very effective form of cardio-respiratory exercise,” says Jessica Matthews, a spokeswoman for the American Council on Exercise. “It brings you back to your childhood, it’s lighthearted, plus it’s as effective as many other forms of cardio.” Matthews also recommends that beginners enlist a professional trainer to ensure safe exercising and to maximize training time.

Aim for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, five days a week, plus two to three days of resistance training using elastic bands or free weights to strengthen your muscles. Strength training should target every major muscle group, including your abdominals, arms, back, chest, legs and shoulders, says Michele Olson, a spokeswoman for the American College of Sports Medicine and a professor of exercise physiology at Auburn University in Montgomery, Ala.

“You don’t have to be on a health-club schedule,” she adds. “If you’d rather be active during late morning or lunchtime, invite a friend over and just work out together in your home.”

Consider including these items when setting up your home gym. Many can be stored in a closet or under a bed.

Elastic bands or tubes

Why they’re useful: They provide resistance training for strengthening and toning muscles. And they can help you target hard-to-hit muscles, such as the rotator cuff in your shoulder.

Shopping tip: Opt for bands or tubes with different tension (they’re often sold as sets), so you can vary the resistance.

Price: $8 and up.

Exercise mat

Why it’s useful: The extra cushioning is helpful for exercises done on the floor, such as crunches, push-ups, stretches or yoga.

Shopping tip: Choose one that’s hypoallergenic, easy to clean and well padded.

Price: $20 or less.

Free weights

Why they’re useful: They’re a versatile tool for toning your muscles. You can work everything from your shoulders to your legs.

Shopping tip: Buy at least two sets — a lighter set for your arms and shoulders and a heavier set for your back, chest and legs. You should be able to lift the weight 10 to 15 times.

Price: About $10 to $60 a pair.

Heart-rate monitor

Why it’s useful: It can help you track the intensity of your workout and make sure you don’t go too far outside your target zone.

Shopping tip: Consumer Reports liked the Timex Personal Trainer 5G971 and the Omron HR100C in its latest tests.

Price: $50 and $40, respectively.

Jump rope

Why it’s useful: It’s an instant cardio workout. Turn on your favorite TV show or music, and see if you can jump rope for 15 minutes, taking breaks as needed.

Shopping tip: Pick a jump rope with nonslip foam handles. Find the best length by stepping in the middle of it. The handles should reach between your armpits and shoulders.

Price: $6 and up.


Why it’s useful: When used properly, swinging this mini cannonball helps you burn calories and builds lean muscle, including your abs, arms, glutes, legs and shoulders.

Shopping tip: Start lighter if you’re new to this type of workout. Women can start with a weight of eight to 15 pounds; men with 15 to 25 pounds.

Price: About $20 and up.

Stability ball

Why it’s useful: This inflatable ball can be used for exercises to improve your balance and help build up your core strength. It can also be used to tone your upper body, glutes and legs.

Shopping tip: Try a 45-centimeter ball if you’re less than 5 feet tall, a 55-centimeter ball if you’re 5-1 to 5-7, and a 65-centimeter ball if you’re taller.

Price: About $30.

Copyright 2012. Consumers Union of United States Inc.