Work It Out

By Ginny Frizzi

December 3, 2010 7 min read

Many Americans decide at some point to begin exercising in order to improve their physical fitness and/or to lose weight. Some join health clubs or gyms; others prefer to work out in the privacy of their homes.

One challenge to exercising at home can be a lack of equipment that would be available in a gym. As a result, some people look to purchase secondhand equipment for home use.

For Joshua Margolis of Mind Over Matter Health & Fitness, such a purchase comes down to a matter of real value versus cost. "If you're not accustomed to a particular piece of equipment, there is no sense in getting it," he says. "Try it out first at a gym or health club. Remember that exercise is not about an inanimate object; it's about you. It's all about whether you like the equipment and would use it."

Margolis compares the purchase of exercise equipment to that of other major goods, such as a car. "You always test it out first. So why not do the same with exercise equipment?" he says.

According to Margolis, a treadmill is probably the No. 1 piece of exercise equipment bought for home use. "It is best for simplicity. It doesn't take much to walk." He adds that bikes for home use are now being made small and compact so they even can fit into a bedroom in a small apartment.

"Ellipticals are also gaining in popularity, and companies are designing them for home use," says Margolis.

When it comes to secondhand equipment, Margolis believes that the fewer moving parts there are the better. "There is less of a chance of it breaking, and it will be easier to get fixed," he says.

Fitness expert Andre Farnell's company, Better Body Expert, provides fitness instruction for busy individuals. Known as Dre the Trainer, Farnell recommends exercise equipment for his in-home clients. His suggestions for purchasing secondhand exercise equipment include doing your homework, especially if you're looking at a specific piece, to become aware of any recalls. Farnell recommends finding out the manufacturer of the equipment because the best brands of new equipment generally make for the best secondhand equipment.

"Make sure that all of the parts are present and accounted for," Farnell says. "Many people have things sitting in the garage, and over the years, bolts and accessories tend to get lost. Offer to pick up any large pieces. People really want to get rid of the larger pieces because they take up the most room in their houses. You can really negotiate free or low-fee (equipment) on Craigslist or at yard sales."

Purchasing secondhand exercise equipment is usually a "buyer beware" situation. Farnell has a few additional tips for being an informed consumer.

The first is to determine whether the equipment was used often, moderately or at all. "You will want to purchase things in the way of treadmills, ellipticals and weight training machines that were moderately used and still have a manufacturer's warranty," he says. "Equipment that has sat for many years of disuse tends to have issues, for example, dry rot. Avidly used equipment is also a good purchase, but make sure that it is not on its last legs when it becomes yours."

Several experts suggest purchasing exercise equipment from a local gym. The best purchases are commercial-grade equipment, according to Farnell. "These are the best to snatch up at privately owned neighborhood gyms. Also, small gym equipment suppliers usually have floor models for sale at heavy discount," he says.

Margolis agrees. "Most gyms lease equipment and trade it in for new equipment every year and a half or so. You can often buy this returned equipment from the supplier," he says. "Be sure to check it out, because it is used equipment, although buying from a supplier or manufacturer is better than Craigslist."

It is also important to check the size of equipment, according to Margolis. "Remember that gym equipment is bigger, and make sure of the size so it will fit into your house or apartment," he says.

Another good source of information is the American College of Sports Medicine, which produces a series of free brochures written by experts designed to help the public safely enjoy physical activity and exercise. To download them, go to http://www.acsm.org. Click on "News" and then "Books, Brochures, and Multi-media."

The "Selecting and Effectively Using" series provides guidance on choosing and using equipment such as treadmills, stationary bicycles, and stair machines. There is also information on yoga, walking, exercise and blood pressure, exercise and asthma, and more.

"One of my favorite resources for the public is the ACSM Fit Society Page, which is a quarterly e-newsletter. The fall 2010 issue focuses on healthy aging. Each issue has articles on a range of health and fitness topics," says Dan Henkel, ACSM's senior director of communication.

Beata Aldridge of Betterfly suggests an online resource for checking into the price of used equipment: "Something I find handy when trying to buy/sell used items is Worth Monkey, which tells you how much used items are worth. It indexes eBay, Craigslist, depreciation rates and other factors. It only focuses on one aspect and can't tell you too much about the quality of the machine, but it does help to keep you from overspending or to recognize when you're getting a deal. It's also good for sellers to keep from pricing themselves out of the market."

Before they look to buy secondhand exercise equipment, Margolis encourages people to first invest in a new jump-rope. "It will give you a good overall workout. It will be a challenge when you first start because most adults haven't jumped rope since they were kids," he says. "Start by jumping for 15 seconds, and then work up to 30 seconds and gradually to five minutes. Most exercise equipment supports you. With a jump-rope, it's the rope vs. your body."

But no matter what kind of secondhand equipment they may purchase, Margolis has some words of wisdom for people taking up exercise: "It is important to remember that exercise is a journey, not a destination."

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