A few years ago, in January, Barb Lito and her husband decided to bite the bullet and buy some home exercise equipment.

"We both had gym memberships, but with demanding jobs and family commitments, we were not making that time to get to the gym," said Lito, who works as superintendent of recreation programs for Newport News Parks and Recreation.

Their daughter, who was 10 years old at the time, was too old for the nursery but too young to turn loose at the gym.

Working out at home was getting more attractive. There, she or her husband could squeeze in a workout whenever they found a spare 30 minutes. "It was the convenience factor," Lito said.

So they canceled their gym memberships and headed to Sears where they spent about $2,000 on a pair of NordicTrack machines — an elliptical trainer and a treadmill.

Despite what cynics might be thinking, this story has a happy ending. Today, at least two years later, those machines aren't simply gathering dust in a corner.

Lito, her husband and her daughter have all used them to burn calories and build muscle.

"I love my stationary equipment," Lito said. "I like the flexibility. And in the long run, it's worked out well for us financially."

That doesn't mean that it's necessary to spend thousands of dollars to get a good workout at home. Local experts and enthusiasts we interviewed, including Lito, told us what to look for in home exercise equipment in all price ranges.

Let's start at the bottom and work our way up, beginning with what you tie on your feet.

Running Shoes

Taking a jog around the block is one of the quickest ways to get started with an exercise program. Consider your feet before pounding the pavement too much, though. "If your feet are hurting, it's going to discourage you from running," said Mike Robinson, owner of Running Etc., a Norfolk shop specializing in shoes and other running gear. "If you can get your feet happy, that's one less excuse to keep you from going out the door tomorrow."

Joe Harney, president of the Peninsula Track Club, said shoes should be replaced regularly, too. He said a pair's effective life is about 400 miles. "When you see white on the edge of the heel, it's time to get a new pair. Otherwise, if you run enough, you're going to come up with pain somewhere. I can almost guarantee it."

Harney suggests buying two pairs at a time — once you find a pair that works well for you. "Companies change styles too much, you may go back to buy another pair and find they no longer make them."

A well-made pair of running shoes typically costs $50 to $125.

Mats and bars

"A lot of times you can use your own body weight," said Mark Palamarchuck, instructional program supervisor for Newport News Parks and Recreation. Pull-ups, chin-ups and sit-ups require nothing more than a bar or a mat. The bars are available from discount stores and often fit over door frames. A yoga-style exercise mat will cost $20 or less at a discount store.

Hand weights

"With free weights or a stability ball, there are a lot of things you can do without spending a lot of money," said Andre Moore, senior director of wellness and membership at the Newport News YMCA.