fitness equipment buying guide

One question I get asked all the time is: “How do I find a good piece of fitness equipment?” To quote Einstein — ‘It’s all relative.’ People often associate value with total cost, but value can be defined in many more ways. For example, an $80,000 car doesn’t mean you’ll automatically get every feature you really need. In fact, it may mean you get a lot of stuff you don’t. Conversely, a flashy ad for a $2500 economy car may make your wallet feel better, but in the long run, it probably won’t be very good at getting you from point A to point B. Fitness equipment is no different! So here are a few things you need to know.

KNOW YOUR BUDGET AND STICK TO IT

Knowing your budget is like knowing the rules to a game: You have to fully understand them to give you the best chance at winning. The amount of money you want to spend is no different, and setting a budget should be rule #1. Decide on what you are willing to spend, then can play to win at a price that works for you. You will be surprised at how much money you can spend on fitness equipment, but just because you can doesn’t mean you should. There’s nothing stopping you from finding exactly what you need for less than what you spent on your first car.

KNOW YOUR FITNESS GOALS

Walking in the door of a fitness equipment retailer with only a price in mind can really hinder you. Knowing your goals will be a big part of what helps you decide on the best product. Figuring out how you’re going to use something can have a dramatic effect on your final decision. Looking for a treadmill? Then you should consider upgrades like cushion system, deck length, frame rigidity, and motor size. However, if you plan on always walking at 3.0 MPH with a 6% incline, then you can probably consider something a little smaller. Doing research on the equipment you want, such as checking out what tests treadmills are put through in the factory, can also help give you a clearer idea of what you really need.

DON’T ASSUME YOU’LL UPGRADE YOUR EQUIPMENT

A lot of people justify buying something cheap by saying “well, I’ll see if I use it first and if I do, then I’ll buy something more expensive later.” This may seem logical at first, but in reality, it sets you up for failure right from the start. Aside from committing to throwing away money no matter what the outcome, buying cheap equipment will most likely give you a poor experience. You may end up thinking you simply dislike working out when the truth is that you don’t like working out on a poorly-made product.

Cheap gym equipment typically has poor suspension systems that can feel unnatural and cause DOMS or general aches and pains. A cheap treadmill motor, for instance, won’t give you a smooth consistent speed when walking or running, and a product that doesn’t come with solid workout programs built into the UI means you’ll be less likely to stay motivated to power through periods of fatigue. If you seriously want to commit to fitness, then buy as though your new machine will be part of your daily life for years to come.

BE REALISTIC ABOUT YOUR FITNESS LEVEL

I see so many people hinder themselves by thinking that there’s only one way to exercise. Maybe you used to run outside all the time, but now you want to bring it indoors due to a change in the weather. Or perhaps a friend you knew had lost weight on an as-seen-on-TV elliptical machine that ‘burns four times the calories.’ It’s critical that you pick a product that suits your body.

I always advise that people consider one basic thing before choosing a piece of fitness equipment: “What would keep me moving for 30 to 40 minutes a day?” Maybe that used to be running, but now that’s too hard for you to do. You could, instead, try switching to walking at an incline — which means you wouldn’t need as robust a treadmill as you thought.  You might even try considering a bike or elliptical! The bottom line is that if you try and do something that is too difficult or painful for you, it’ll be much harder to stay motivated to achieve your goals. Be honest with yourself. Not everyone is Mr. Olympia.

TRY EVERYTHING IN THE STORE

As I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of different types of fitness equipment and their prices vary greatly. You could go to a sporting goods store and spend less than $800 (I would seriously advise against that) or you could buy a club model that’s well over $10,000! But what you definitely don’t want to do is say “I don’t want to try it if it’s out of my budget” or “I’ve always believed that running is the best way to exercise, so I won’t test an elliptical.” When you go into a specialty fitness store, you are the one with all the power. Sometimes trying a more expensive unit might reveal a single feature you never knew you wanted! Then, even if you don’t get that particular product, you’ll know to look for a similar offering on a model more within your budget from then on.

Pay close attention to how natural a product feels and how well it suits you. Every elliptical will feel different and there’s no harm or fee to try them all. All treadmills have a different motor, cushion, and deck combination so one might feel closer to natural running than others. I could get into the fine details of why that is, but it would never substitute going out and trying them for yourself. It takes only a few minutes to hop from one product to another, so don’t be afraid to take a tour of the store.