When it comes to sticking to an exercise program, convenience is key—especially when you’re already pressed for time. Perhaps that’s one reason 25 million Americans work out at home. Free membership and not having to wipe someone else’s sweat off the treadmill are added perks.
“The most common reason people drop out of exercise is due to time constraints,” says Len Kravitz, Ph.D., Coordinator of Exercise Science at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. “Home fitness equipment helps alleviate that issue.”
Experts agree, when you have the right gear, home workouts can be as intense as the gym variety. So it’s no wonder Americans spent a whopping $81 billion on sporting goods equipment, fitness equipment and sports apparel in 2013, up from $71 billion in 2009.
Ready to flex your muscles? Consider these expert-approved equipment-buying tips:
1. Take stock of YOU. Exercise equipment can’t help you shape up if it sits in the corner collecting dust. According to Consumer Reports, 37% of their subscribers used home gym equipment less frequently than they anticipated. To avoid becoming a statistic, think about what forms of exercise you enjoy and choose products accordingly, suggests Jessica Matthews, MS, personal trainer and assistant professor of exercise science at Miramar College in San Diego, California.
2. Size up your space. Consider how much physical space you have to devote to exercise, advises Matthews. A multi-station strength training system may require 200 square feet or more. Remember, too, that you may need to modify the space to be more fitness-friendly. If your garage is sweltering for four months out of the year, it may not be the best place for your treadmill. And if you sweat profusely during workouts, think twice about setting up shop over new carpet—without a rubber mat.
3. Start small. If space and budget are tight, consider investing in smaller, portable, easy-to-store items. Free weights, exercise balls, resistance bands and workout DVDs are a fraction of the cost of traditional home gym systems. “For most at-home exercisers this approach offers a more practical option than purchasing a strength training machine,” says Matthews.
4. Go to a specialty store. Sporting goods stores allow you to compare products, research brands and test equipment live. Plus, according to Kravitz, most fitness equipment stores sell quality equipment because they want repeat business. While online retailers may offer competitive pricing, you often don’t know what you’re getting. “Potential hassles range from shipping damage and assembly issues to lack of service support and poor quality,” cautions Kravitz.
5. Talk to experts (and read reviews). Most respectable fitness equipment stores have highly-trained staff who can detail the pros and cons of different equipment, says Kravitz. Check out product reviews in health and fitness magazines, too, to get an idea of how a product performs long-term and whether it’s likely to help you achieve your goals. Looking for cons? Type the product or manufacturer’s name along with terms like “complaint” or “problem” into a search engine.
6. Try before you buy. Never buy anything online or from a box retailer unless you’ve already tried it live—either at the gym, retailer or a friend’s house. Dress in your workout garb and take the equipment for a test run. Then you can evaluate how the product operates and whether the motions and exercises “work” for you.
7. Beware of slick sales ploys. Be skeptical of any machine boasting quick results with little effort and no sweat. Promises that a particular gadget can blast belly fat or take inches off your thighs are nothing more than snake oil, say experts. “Losing weight in a specific place requires regular exercise that still works the whole body to burn calories,” says Kravitz. If you want stronger shoulders you can develop them by specific target training, but you can’t “reduce” trouble spots.
8. Consider used equipment. If you know what you’re looking for, and you’re a savvy shopper, buying used equipment can be a steal. Maybe a retailer is offloading equipment to make room for new merchandise, or a consumer is ditching their treadmill because they’re moving to a smaller space. In either case, look for a 2 to 3-year warranty on moving parts, recommends Kravitz.
9. Safety is key. Machines that move too freely while in motion can lead to injuries. Plus, some manufacturers design products for individuals who are at a healthy weight, which could put someone who is overweight at risk, says Kravitz. Whether you’re shopping for a stationary cycle, elliptical trainer or treadmill, you should always look for an easy-to-reach kill switch.
10. Remember the world is your gym. You don’t need fancy equipment to get a solid workout. Your body provides all the resistance you need, especially in conjunction with “props” like stairs, benches and gallons of milk. In fact, research shows you can burn up to 500 extra calories by just staying in motion during your waking day.
Before you start pumping iron in your bedroom, consult with your doctor to ensure home exercise is safe for you. Got the green light? Work with a personal trainer for a few sessions to ensure you’re using the equipment properly.