Last updated on February 28th, 2021 at 07:19 pm
I almost had a heart attack the first time I priced out a new set of dumbbells. And then another when I looked at prices on weight plates. In fact, I have been consistently amazed at how much quality gym equipment costs. But there is hope for those of us who build out gyms on a budget! That hope lies in used fitness equipment.
If you take the time to be smart about it, buying used equipment can allow you to build a top quality home gym on a very modest budget.
However, it’s not just a matter of running down to the corner garage sale. Fitness equipment is something you’ll end up keeping for a very long time if you buy it right. I have a lot of recommendations on how to buy new gear and not overspend. This website is filled with them. But sometimes it just makes more sense to buy used.
Four key steps to smartly buying used gym equipment.
- Make a plan.
- Research your purchase.
- Try before you buy.
- Get it into your home gym, and start working out!
As straight forward as that formula is, there can be a lot more to it than that. Especially if you want to end up with something that you love, will last, and you didn’t overpay for.
I’ve bought a good deal of used fitness equipment. Some of it I still have, use, and love. Some of it was a complete waste of money. This article is my way of sharing those experiences with you without you having to go through the pain and lost money yourself. If you keep the following things in mind, you’ll get a great deal on a used piece of equipment that you’ll love for a lifetime.
Step One – Make a Plan
Will you use it?
Rule number one in buying anything, used or new, is to make sure you’ll actually use it more than a few times! It’s so easy to see a piece of equipment on line or at a gym and think we need it. I own a few things like that. I don’t use them, but I do own them. They look really cool sitting in the corner collecting dust.
A good recommendation would be to find a way to try one for a while first. Treadmills are a great example. A lot of people think that running every day will be the key to their fitness even though they have never run, let alone on a treadmill. They rush right out as part of their New Year’s resolution and buy a fancy new treadmill or elliptical. Three weeks later, they have a very expensive clothes rack.
A very close point to that is to make sure you are familiar with the specific type of equipment you are buying. Usually, this means you’ve found a way to use it more than a handful of times. This is how I found out that I hate elliptical machines. I’m really glad I discovered that before buying one for my garage gym!
Will it Fit?
Once you know that you really will use it, make sure you have space for it. That’s something I should have done before buying a steel mace from Onnit. There isn’t a ceiling in my house high enough to make use of it! Now it sits unused in my garage. Oops.
Another easy to overlook planning tip is to make sure you have a way to get the new gear into the room it will be used. Can you get an assembled treadmill through your doorway? How about down the stairs and into your basement?
When I decided to move my treadmill from a second floor bedroom to the garage, I had to hire people to come out, take it apart, move it, and put it back together. I should have thought about that when I had it assembled in my bedroom when I first purchased it. You’ll sometimes run into similar issues getting large pieces of fitness equipment into your home.
Oh, by the way, if you are buying something large, do you have a way to get it home in the first place? A BowFlex just won’t fit in the back of a Ford Escort station wagon. No matter how much you swear at it. I know because I tried.
Once you know what you want to buy, that you’ll actually use it, and that you can get it into your home gym area, there are a couple of additional logistics to work out about your purchase.
When Should You Buy It?
The first is something a lot of people never consider, but it’s something that can save them a ridiculous amount of money. When buying used fitness equipment, you absolutely have to pay attention to what time of year you plan to make your purchase.
The high point for fitness sales is in January. This coincides with everyone’s New Year’s resolutions. The next busiest time is the holiday season. Lots of people get new treadmills, ellipticals, weight sets, and many other piece for their gym at this time of year.
That means that since the demand is highest at those times of year, so are the prices. Once March, April, and May roll around, it’s a different story.
Not only is demand low, but a lot of those people that bought in January have completely forgotten about their resolution. Their treadmill is now a coat rack. Their dumbbell set is now collecting dust. Late spring to early summer is one of the best times to buy used equipment. There’s a lot of it available and not a lot of people buying. That’s a recipe for a great deal.
It also points out the importance of being patient. Don’t run right out and buy the first thing you find. When planning your purchase, understand that there will always be used gear for sale. But really great used gear at really great prices isn’t as common.
I can’t tell you how many times I bought something only to find something better for less money a week later. Be patient! I promise it will pay off in the end.
My last planning point is more of a mindset tip. Be willing to walk away. It’s easy to get excited when you see what looks like the perfect thing for sale on eBay. In the pictures it looks amazing! The description is flawless. The price is beyond belief.
And then you see it in person. It’s beat up, smelly (yeah you need to worry about that), and not at all what it looks like in the pictures. Prepare yourself to walk away if needed. Remember, patience is a virtue!
Step Two – Go shopping
When shopping for your new purchase you have to start by knowing where to look. A lot of folks are tempted to check only one or two places they are familiar with. It’s easy to scout through eBay and Craig’s List from the comfort of our homes. But stop there and you miss most of the great deals. There are a lot of other, and many times much better, places to look.
- eBay – Most people know about this one, but one very important tip is to shop items that are “local pick up only”! Only look at listings where you can go see the item first! No sight unseen internet purchases. That goes for every other place you’ll look too.
- Craigslist – This isn’t a bad place to check, but I’ll be honest in that it’s not my favorite. You have to wade through mountains of garbage being sold by unresponsive and rude people to find a gem. But there are gems! So even though I don’t like to, I always check here.
- Letgo and OfferUp – In this world of app based everything, these are two of the best apps you can use for buying used fitness equipment locally. Both apps are free and you would be amazed at how many people in your city use them.
- Play it Again Sports – The OG in used sporting goods. This definitely includes fitness equipment. PIAS is a really good place to look for smaller items like weights, benches, and bars, but you might be surprised what else you’ll find. The inventory changes quickly, so if you didn’t see what you wanted the first time, check back again.
- Used fitness equipment retailers – Johnson Fitness (formerly Second Wind), Primo Fitness, and Push Pedal Pull are just a few examples. A quick Google search on your part will show you who is in your area.
- Yard, Garage, and Estate Sales – The latter of these three is my favorite. Typically you find a higher quality item and better brand names here than the first two. But all three can yield great finds if you are willing to put in the leg work.
- Pawn Shops – Not just a fun place to go occasionally, but also the place some people go to unload their used gym equipment for cash. Be a little careful here, I’ve noticed that pawn shops tend to be overpriced compared to other places. Bring your negotiating hat if you try this option.
If at all possible, try it before you buy it. And yes, this means that you are only going to buy things you can physically see or touch first. Like I mentioned earlier, stay away from internet only, sight unseen purchases. You’ll get burned more often than not if you buy without trying first. That can be okay with new equipment, but is never the case with used.
When I say try it, I mean really try it. Throughly. Use all the functions. If it’s a treadmill then walk, jog, run, and sprint. Check out the inclines. Try all the programs on the control panel. Give it a real workout. If it’s a squat rack, rack some heavy weight on it. Don’t be gentle. Make sure the gear you are looking at is in good, working condition.
Once you have given it a full run through, fully inspect it for damage, wear, and tear. Look closely. Check each of the welds. Check to make sure any bolts or screws are not stripped or cross threaded. Check for hard to see cracks, especially at high stress locations. Pick it up, turn it over, look at all sides, top, and bottom. Take your time. Once you buy it, you own it. Now is the time to make sure it’s worth the money you are about to spend.
One last tip I’ll give you from experience. Smell it. That’s right, give your prospective purchase the old sniff test. Especially if it has any kind of rubber, foam, padding, leather, or cloth.
I bought a used weight bench without trying it once. I took it home and after a day in my hot garage, it was unusable. It smelled like it was upholstered with dead hobo! Learn from my mistake and take a big whiff before you buy. Bad smells are just about impossible to get out. And remember, what you are about to buy has probably seen it’s share of sweat and grime.
If the condition checks out, it’s time to question the seller. Whether it’s a store that specializes in reconditioned gear or a private seller from craigslist, here’s a list of questions you should ask before you move closer to spending your hard earned money.
Questions for a private seller:
- How long was it used?
- Are you the only owner?
- How often did you use it?
- Why are you selling it?
- Has it ever been repaired?
- Did you buy it new?
- Where did you buy it?
Questions for a retail store:
- Is there a warranty?
- Where did the equipment come from?
- Was it in a commercial or home setting?
- How do they classify it’s condition?
- Used – Someone had it and used it for an unknown length of time.
- Refurbished – It wasn’t sellable when they got it, so they repaired it.
- Serviced & Cleaned – It needed a little TLC, but was in working order and was most likely not broken prior to being for sale.
- Demo – It was the one they let customers try out in the store. These are usually great deals. Many come with a warranty.
- Floor Model – Usually a display item that wasn’t used enough to consider it a demo item. These can come with a warranty as well.
- Returned Item – Something a customer bought and didn’t like. Ask why it was returned. This type of item also usually comes with a warranty.
- Remanufactured – Basically rebuilt from the ground up. These are usually very good deals. If you are buying from a reputable store they are typically in great shape. They also usually come with a limited warranty.
- Is there a warranty?
- Can you buy a warranty?
Those last two questions are important. Some of the better stores offer a limited warranty on everything they sell as part of the purchase price. Many will offer an extended warranty for an additional investment. I recommend buying one if it’s available. I know not everyone buys these, but here’s how I look at it. If I buy it and don’t use it, I’m happy because my new gear didn’t break. If I buy it and I do use it, I’m happy because repairs on fitness equipment can be ridiculously expensive (think $200-$300 PLUS the cost of stupidly expensive parts). Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it!
If the item you are looking at passes all of the above tests, you are almost ready to fork over your cash…. Almost.
Step 3 – Do the research
So you’ve made your plan and you know what you want. You’ve waited until the right time of year. You’ve done your shopping and you are ready to pull the trigger. It’s always at this point where I have to remind myself of a few important precautions. It’s very tempting to skip these next steps. But trust me. Every time I do I regret it. So will you.
It’s time to pull out your smart phone and look 3 things up. If all three check out, you have a green light on your new purchase. If not, as we talked about in the planning stage, be prepared to walk away. Don’t get too attached to anything until it passes all the tests, precautions, and questions. Remember, the goal is to buy something you’ll keep and love for a very long time. Skipping this, or any, step can quickly cause that not to happen.
First, if you haven’t heard of the brand, Google it for reviews. Check to see if it’s a trusted brand name or if it’s some cheap off shore knock off that is prone to breaking. There is a lot of shoddy equipment out there and even though it passed your tests, it may have a track record that isn’t so good.
Next, if the brand checks out, look for reviews on that specific item. Check Amazon and Google. Keep in mind that all reviews need to be taken with a grain of salt. Instead of getting hung up on one review, look for trends. If one person says it’s a terrible item, but 300 say it’s great, you can probably count on it being great.
Likewise, if a good number of people cite a specific problem, you can be assured you will most likely have that problem. At that point, you need to decide if you can live with it or not.
If you feel good about the reviews of the brand and the specific item you are looking at, it’s time to check the price. Doing this correctly will save you a ton of money.
In my experience, the best place to check what you should be paying is on eBay. But you have to know where to look. The mistake a lot of people make (especially private sellers who overprice their used fitness equipment) is looking at live auctions or sales. All you can see when you enter the model you are looking at in the main search bar of eBay is what people are asking for this particular item.
We don’t care about that. What we care about is what that particular item is actually selling for. To find this, you need to use eBay’s “advanced” search function. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s a necessary step in buying used merchandise.
Now you are looking at a list of what your item has actually sold for. In many cases you will be both shocked and amazed at the difference in price between what people ask for an item and what they can actually get.
If the piece of gear you are looking at doesn’t line up in price with what it is selling for, you need to ask for a discount. Share your search with the seller. Show them the price the item is currently going for. Explain to them that you can probably buy a used one elsewhere for that price.
Be nice about this. Don’t be a jerk. People will generally understand that you aren’t going to pay them more than you can pay someone else. That said, a great negotiating technique is to offer them just a touch more than you are seeing in your search.
Let them know you appreciate the opportunity to see the piece of equipment in person and that you place a value on the time they spent with you (you should!!!). Often times, this is all that is needed to get the price down to a reasonable level.
On the flip side, if you see that what they are asking is well below what similar items are selling for, alarm bells should go off. It could simply be a great deal, but you want to be extra cautious here. There could be something wrong with it too. Take a few extra minutes to be sure of your purchase. If it’s really a smokin’ deal, congrats! This is why you did so much research and work up to this point in the first place. If not, walk away.
Either way, a little negotiating should be expected. Nearly anyone selling anything second hand is asking more than they are actually willing to take for it. There is no reason to pay the listed price in most cases. Again, be nice! Don’t get all used car sales person on them. But definitely make an offer that is lower than the asking price. You’ll be surprised how often this can save you money!
Step 4 – Make the purchase
Huzzah! It’s time to buy! I love this part. I get so excited when I’ve found something I know I’ll love, is in great condition, and priced right. Having that new piece of equipment in my home gym is not only going to benefit my workouts, but it will actually motivate me to work out more often. Let’s complete this transaction and get your new gear home where it belongs.
First, if buying privately, see if the seller will take PayPal. If buying on eBay, this will be the expected and most common way to pay anyway. If not, PayPal provides you a quick and safe way to send money to the seller without walking in with a pocket full of cash.
When using PayPal privately, I’d recommend not using the “friends and family” option. Yes that will eliminate some fees, but you will also forgo any recourse you might need if something goes wrong with the transaction. It’s totally worth a few % of the price to have the backing of PayPal in the event of a problem.
If you are buying privately, and especially if you are walking in with cash, don’t ever go alone. Most people you’ll meet will be nice, normal folks. Occasionally, that’s not the case. The last place you want to be is by yourself in some stranger’s basement with a pocket full of money. Bring a friend. Maybe two!
If you aren’t buying privately, but at a store instead, see if you can purchase a warranty. Trust me, they are worth it. I buy warranties on pretty much anything I can. The few times I’ve had to use them have paid for all of them many times over. Repairs are expensive. Having to replace something that can’t be repaired costs even more.
As I stated at the beginning of this article, I buy a lot of new gym equipment. If that’s in the budget, it’s a great way to go. But sometimes it just makes more sense to buy used. If you follow the four simple steps outlined above, you’ll have a fantastic chance of finding a great piece of gear for your home gym that you’ll love and use for a very long time.
Good luck and happy shopping!!!