Where to find and how to buy gym equipment

Where to find and how to buy gym equipment

My previous article, Home gyms Rule! described a rationale for home gyms and touched lightly upon which equipment you will need to create your own. This article is going to delve more in-depth into equipment needs and where to find it, but I first want to make a point. The value of a home gym lies in its use. Irrespective of how the gym is equipped if you do not make use of it you have effectively wasted your time, money, and space. Use your home gym!

In my home gym I have a combination of equipment that was purchased new, used, and I also have my own “home-built”. I prefer to buy new gym equipment, but it can get costly.

If you are open to buying used equipment there are some great options available to you.

Olympic Weight Set “101”

There is a significant difference between a “standard” weight set and an “Olympic” weight set. A standard bar is approximately 1” in diameter from end to end. An Olympic bar is also approximately 1” between the sleeves, but is generally a bit longer. An Olympic bar also has a 2” diameter revolving sleeve on each end. It should be obvious that Olympic plates therefore have a correspondingly sized 2” center hole. The quality of materials, rated capacity, and preciseness of machining for an Olympic set is usually far greater than a standard set. Bottom line, for the relatively small difference in price the Olympic set is the only way to go.

When I am looking for a new Olympic set I will usually look for a good sale from a big-name retailer like “Sports Authority” or “Dick’s Sporting Goods”. Prices can vary substantially by store and location. If you are patient and carefully track weekly sales ads you can usually find a new 300 lb. Olympic set priced somewhere between $90 and $120 USD. That price assumes store pickup as either the shipping will be extra or the price will be higher.

If you are open to a used Olympic set you can usually get an even better price. What I have found is that unless an Olympic weight set has really been abused it can pretty much last into perpetuity. I buy used Olympic sets and additional plates all the time with tremendous success. There are, however, a few basic tips to help avoid getting a “lemon”.

First, visually check all of the plates for cracks. It tends to be rare, but I’ve seen plates that have been cracked from use. Usually a cracked plate results from someone who either drops the bar following deadlifts (without some measure of cushion or a platform under it), or when a lifter gets over-anxious and “dumps” a bar.

Next, check the bar itself. This might sound tricky, but it is actually quite simple. Rotate the sleeves on each end by hand to make sure they move freely. Pull each sleeve outward from the end of the bar to make sure it is fully attached and the play is reasonable (no more than 0.25” maximum). Then, roll the bar across the floor to look for visible bends or warping. You also want to be sure to check the knurling is not completely worn off.

The final check I perform is to verify the plates are all from the same manufacturer. Although the 2” sleeves and the concurrent holes in the Olympic plates are supposed to be a standard you will see some variance in the actual measurements of each between manufacturers and even between equipment of the same manufacturer in the lower quality brands. Usually, equipment from the same manufacturer will work well together and that is why I look for unity of brand on the plates. In any event, it is always a good idea to check that the plates fit well on the bar. The tolerance and play should not be significant, nor should the plates fit tight. There is no sense getting stuck with a bar and plates that don’t work together.

So what about price?

If the Olympic set is 300 lbs (total weight including the bar at 45 lbs, and an assortment of plates at 255 lbs) the going rate for a used set should be less than $90 USD. If the used Olympic set is priced higher either try to negotiate a lower price, or in my opinion – walk away. You’ll find a much better deal later. Used Olympic plate prices can vary, but I find that a published price of $0.35 / lb. is the most common. New plates tend to run around $0.50 / lb.

One important thing to note that is that most of the local sports stores and commonly found Olympic sets and plates are made in China. They are durable, effective, and if cared for can last a lifetime. However, like any commodity there are also brands that are of far greater quality and are respected in the lifting community. Brands of “respect” that come to mind include: Eleiko, Ivanko, and York. This is not to say that other brands are also not of good quality, but an Eleiko, Ivanko, or York will usually bring a much higher price.

I have a mix of brands. While my preference is for the very best, reality for me is that price plays a huge factor. If I can find a great deal on a top quality brand I’ll pick it up, otherwise, I go with the lesser expensive brands. One recent example of a great buy on a top brand is that I picked up a pair of Ivanko 100 lb. Olympic plates for $0.50 / lb.

Generally, I’ll stick to used Olympic plates. If they are not obviously damaged, they weigh just as much and work just as well as new plates. If they are a little dirty, some spray cleaner and a rag can go a long way. While the asking price for used Olympic plates is around $0.35 / lb., I always try to negotiate a lower price. We’ll save the price and negotiation topics for the next article.

Where can you find new and used equipment?

Most major sporting goods stores will carry one or more brands of Olympic sets and other equipment such as benches, racks, and machines. Some stores like Sports Authority even carry their own custom branded Olympic sets. You can also find equipment online.

If you prefer to buy new and want to see the item in person a local sporting goods store or fitness outlet is probably best. Although this is not an exhaustive list by any means names that come to mind are: “Sports Authority”, “Dick’s Sporting Goods”, and “Big 5 Sporting Goods”. No doubt there are many others you can find in your area.

Alternatively, you can always search the Web. There are numerous “e-tailers” of sporting goods and fitness equipment. Shopping online can be very convenient as the “e-tailers” will arrange shipping directly to your home. I’ve purchased a few items online and have been quite happy with the outcome.

I do advise caution when using an online “e-tailer” because if there is a problem it can be difficult to get resolved. My advice? Do your homework! If you find an item of interest from an online site do a Web search for that “e-tailer”. See if there are any posted complaints on the various forums. You can always check with the Better Business Bureau as well. Even when you’ve done your “due diligence” you might still run into a problem here or there but you’ll have significantly reduced the potential.

Something else to consider with an internet “e-tailer” is shipping. Given the increasing cost of transportation and fuel, shipping is becoming more and more costly. This is especially true with heavier items such as home gym equipment. Be careful that the shipping charges do not make the initially attractive price become prohibitively expensive.

If you are looking for used equipment there are a few good sources. First, there is your local newspaper and its classified ads. I take time every Sunday morning to read through my local classifieds. Every so often I run across a great deal. To divulge a little “secret”, the period between February 1 and June 1 is ideal. The “New Year resolution wannabes” will often invest in some great equipment and then find out a few months later that it takes real work to lose weight and shape up. They often give up and will let their equipment go at an excellent price just to get it out of the house. Another great source for used equipment is craigslist.com. There are versions of the craigslist site for most major cities and they allow posting of “for sale” items.

A couple notes of caution when buying used from an individual. Always perform a thorough inspection of the equipment as you will very rarely be able to get your money back. You will often have to disassemble, load and move the equipment yourself so having a helpful friend or two along can be of great use.

Another source for used equipment is “Play It Again Sports”. They are a national chain of stores (most individually owned) where you can find a great assortment. As with the other sources, do your homework! Make sure the equipment is up to snuff, meets your needs, and is in good shape.

Is home-built an option?

As noted earlier, I also have some home-built equipment. All of mine is steel and welded framework. Fortunately, I learned to weld and I have several family members who are welders. You can build some interesting and very economic equipment if you are careful. The real key is to carefully plan out the construction and to really know what you are doing. There is a higher degree of risk when building your own equipment. You need to understand the capacity of the base materials and have sound construction methods. It would not be a good thing to build a rack and then have a couple of hundred pounds or more come crashing down on you.

Wood can present another solution and it is often of even less cost than welded steel. Again, you really need to know what you are doing and have sound construction methods. Use only the strongest grade of materials and make sure that all joints are properly seated and fastened. Do not use warped materials or smaller dimension materials just because it will save a few dollars.

Perhaps the greatest down-side to home-built equipment is the risk of damage and injury. Even with steel and welded construction, if you don’t know what you are doing the resulting equipment can fail. I cannot stress caution enough.

So what should I do?

There are pros and cons to every approach.

As I’ve noted above:

  • Do your homework – research is simple and inexpensive
  • Check out the quality of the weights and equipment you want
  • If buying online, check on the “e-tailer” (complaints, BBB, forums comments, etc.)
  • If building it yourself, make sure you know what you are doing and only use the best quality materials

Keep on lifting !

Written by Jim Bean

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