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Gerri Willis Commentary:
Top Tips by Gerri Willis Column archive
Don't get suckered on exercise gear
From products to warrantees, five tips on what to choose.
By Gerri Willis, CNN/Money contributing columnist

NEW YORK (CNN) - Every new year we make the same promise to shed some pounds. If you're not the gym type, Five Tips is going to tell you what you'll want to know before investing in exercise equipment.

1) Get a free pass

Our tips are about getting fit at home, but first, you'll need to have some idea of what kind of workout machine you like.

You can do that by getting a free trial membership from a local gym and testing out their stuff for free.

This is the best way to figure out if you like the feel of an elliptical machine or the pace of a stationary bike.

If you don't have any exercise equipment, it's best to start off with an aerobic machine, like a treadmill or a bike.

2) Don't get sold by infomercials

You know those commercials where actors are demonstrating how "easy it is" to get rock-hard abs or thighs in "just a few minutes" or other products that are advertised as "painless."

We hate to break it to you, but it's likely junk.

"Anything that looks or sounds too easy, is highly suspect," says Geoffery Martin of Consumer Reports.

He recommends you go to a sports store and invest in the little things that will make a big difference, like hand and feet weights, exercise balls and perhaps a jump rope.

3) Get Wheelin'

If you have a bad back or even if you're just starting an exercise program, stationary bikes are your best bet according to Consumer Reports.

You can get a great aerobic workout without putting too much impact on your body.

Think about investing in recumbent bikes that let you sit in a chair, rather than a regular upright bike that has you hunched over the handlebars. You'll put less pressure on your back with a recumbent bike. Both types of bikes cost about $500.

And bikes are also good for something else...getting your mind off of exercising. You can sit and read or watch TV. "You can basically be mindless" says Martin.

For more information on treadmills and bikes, check out www.consumerreports.org.

4) Get a fold-up treadmill

The treadmill is the most popular exercise machine says Geoffrey Martin of Consumer Reports.

If you're not a hard-core runner, you should think about investing in a folding treadmill. These are more versatile and are generally cheaper than regular treadmills.

You can spend $2000 and get a really good quality folding treadmill. You would have to spend at least $3,000 if you wanted the same quality in a regular treadmill.

Plus, if you have small kids, it's easier to just fold up your treadmill and put it away so they don't accidentally turn it on. You don't want to put a treadmill in a place that is too cramped. The average size of a treadmill is about 5 feet long by 2 ft. wide.

Make sure there is nothing behind you like a flower pot in case you fall off or trip on the machine. Make sure that your treadmill has a safety button or an emergency cord to stop the belt if you get hurt.

5) Watch your warranty

Don't invest in exercise equipment, especially treadmills that only have a 90 day warranty.

Look at equipment that has at least a year warranty on parts and labor.

Then you should consider an extended warranty. To get a 2-3 year extended warranty, it may only cost you $70-$100, but it's worth it. These products can be very expensive to repair outside of a warranty.

When you buy any machines, the frame should be covered for a lifetime.

And finally, make sure you ask about the return policy. You don't want to see your exercise machine into an expensive clothes horse.

____________________________

Gerri Willis is a personal finance editor for CNN Business News and the host for Open House. E-mail comments to 5tips@cnn.com.

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