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Weigh the cost and benefits of a gym membership against buying an elliptical for home use.
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If you've just made the commitment to get fit, or the change of seasons has you moving your outdoor cardio indoors, you may be pondering your next move. Is it better to join a gym and pay on-going membership fees or lay out one sum for an elliptical you can use at home? The gym is probably a better idea but only if you can afford it and will use it.
In a Consumer Reports 2012 review of ellipticals, the highest cost model it tested came in at $3,600, with its top-scoring model costing $2,200. You'll find models online or at some big box stores for a little more than $100, but they are basic, with some being only foot pedals. Gym memberships come in a wide range as well, from less than $100 per month at some YMCAs to thousands of dollars a year at more elite gyms. What gym memberships have in common is that you have to keep paying to maintain your membership, and the cost is likely to increase, making your total outlay hard to predict.
All ellipticals give your lower body -- glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves -- a decent workout. Some come with optional settings for targeting certain muscles more, such as hamstrings and calves. Upper-body workouts vary from none, for those without moving arms, to moderate, to intense with models that come with cables for a push-pull workout. If you let go of the handrails, stand up straight and contract your abdominals, you'll get core work as well. Obviously, the more sophisticated the machine, the higher the cost, and not all gyms will have the most sophisticated ellipticals.
Confusing Your Muscles
Whether you purchase the most basic elliptical or one with all the bells and whistles, you're still going to repeat the same movements or a limited variety of movements over and over. Although this is fine for a strictly cardio workout, to build or just maintain muscle, you have to change up your routine every four to six weeks. In addition to different cardio equipment, even inexpensive gyms usually have resistance machines, dumbbells and barbells, weight racks, Smith machines, benches and more. Not only can you work all your major muscle groups at the gym, but you can challenge them with different movements and resistance.
Motivations Is Key
Any trainer will tell you that the best exercise is the one you'll continue to do regularly. You need at least 150 minutes of moderate cardio or 75 minutes of intense cardio each week to stay fit. Losing weight may require twice that much. If you lack the time or motivation to hit the gym that often, then the home elliptical is probably your better choice. However, don't forget your other muscles -- chest, shoulders, back and core. They should be worked at least twice per week on nonconsecutive days. Body weight will only take you so far. Consider investing in some free weights or less expensive resistance bands if your elliptical soaked up most of your cash.