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SHOP TALK : Getting Into Shape Need Not Put a Strain on Your Finances : Walking shoes, videos, rubber-band workouts and 'step' programs offer inexpensive ways to achieve fitness.


This must be January. Almost everyone we know has joined a gym, purchased a Stairmaster, or at the very least, talked about doing something to improve fitness. So how much does an improved you cost? Can you afford to get in shape? How do you keep the wealthy along with the healthy and wise?

We have many ideas for fitness under $100.

And we don't recommend spending more. (Unless it's much more.)

It's common knowledge now that a great way to stay in shape is to walk. Walk, walk and walk! A good pair of athletic shoes, along with the naturally beautiful terrain of Ventura County, will help you achieve and maintain your fitness goals.

Athletic shoes are sold at almost all the local shoe shops and department stores. The biggest selection, however, will probably be at a sporting goods store or at a sports shoe store like Big Five or FootLocker. Big Five advertises almost every week with sales and specials. We took a look and found some good deals in the shoe department.

We found men's and Nike Air in styles "Sonic Flight" or "Assault Flight" for $39.99 from $69.99. Women's Saucony "Jazz 2000 Classics" were $32.99 from $64.95. Avia's "Cross Training" shoes were down to $35.99 from $59.99. Most impressive were the $19.99 selections, which included brands by Pony and Turntec.

When you shop for athletic shoes, try on many different styles. Walk around the store. A good pair of shoes will be flexible, comfortable and will have wiggle room for your toes.

If you already have good shoes, or you are ready to upgrade your workout, look for some weights. One of the most popular brands for walkers is called "Heavy Hands" and Big Five has the "Combo Pac" for $32.99.

These weights add an upper body workout to your walk. They include one-pound and three-pound end caps so you can start out slowly. (Heavier end caps are sold separately.)

What to do when the weather won't permit walking? Inexpensive indoor exercise can be achieved through fitness videotapes, rubber-band workouts and "step" programs.

Target has a vast collection of fitness videotapes. From the ubiquitous Jane Fonda tapes (priced at $17.95) to Dixie Carter (also $17.95). You can pick your movie star mentor. Personally, we'd rather watch Cindy Crawford who offers 100 minutes for the same $17.99.

Interested in tai chi or yoga? These forms of fitness are also covered. Karen Vight's fitness tapes received high ratings from Shape Magazine. Looking for "Buns of Steel?" These tapes are priced from $8.99 for one to $24.99 for a three-pack.

We found an inspiring array of books on fitness. From Covert Bailey's "Fit or Fat" to Tamilee Webb's "Rubberband Workout"--for $9.95 this manual includes the biggest rubber bands you have ever seen. The bands add resistance and toning to your workout.

"Step" exercise programs provide a terrific home workout. They are similar in principle to a stair climber. That is, it's harder to climb than walk on an even surface. The steps themselves are like wide step stools on (and off) which you do an exercise routine.

Target and Big Five have a daunting selection of "Steps." Test them out. The cheaper models may slip under your feet if you are really working hard. We liked the "Step Circuit Trainer" at Big Five. For $99 it includes a 90-minute video (featuring Nadia Comaneci), resistance bands and a "Step" that adjusts to your ability. Target has a foam step box designed for low impact. This one also includes an instructional video. All for $19.99. Try out that box although it does look small. A step at every size and price in between is also available.

Just for fun, we grabbed a Hula Hoop from Wham-O for $4.99. We're hoping it will be a real waist whittler. Don't forget a Frisbee! (Only $7.99 also at Big Five.) They provide great exercise for you and your mate.

OK. Say you want to look like Madonna or Marky-Mark and money is no object. The Fitness Store in Thousand Oaks is the place to go. Their machines are the Porsche Carreras of exercise. They have top-of-the-line treadmills, computerized bikes and home gyms. Their prices are the lowest we've found. Times are tough, so bargain just like you would when buying a new car.

The "Trotter" treadmills sold here are the same kind used at the Pritikin Health Centers. Sales Manager Pete Hernandez said their top-of-the-line "Trotter" treadmill would probably last a lifetime.

Julie Sawyer, an experienced shopper, writes the Shop Talk column regularly in Ventura Life. Want to know where to find the best stuff at the best price? Write to her at 5200 Valentine Road, Suite 140, Ventura, 93003, or send faxes to 658-5576.

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