4 Alternatives to Pricey Fitness Equipment

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This is about the time of year when I forget I ever made new year’s resolutions. I always start off gung-ho to better myself, but by the time the last of the holiday clearance sales have disappeared and heart-shaped boxes of chocolates have replaced wrapping paper, I fall back into my normal routine and let my resolutions slide.

This year, though, I’m trying to hold on to one resolution: being more physically active. I even considered buying some fitness equipment – until I saw the price tags. Those machines can cost thousands of dollars, which is way more than I’m willing to spend. Turns out, there are some dirt-cheap alternatives to several popular fitness machines. Check out these four, for example.

1. Bowflex

We’ve all seen Chuck Norris tout his Bowflex machine. These machines use resistance rods that can provide up to 220 pounds of resistance for the upper body (or 300 pounds if you want to pay more), according to the company website. The rods are bendable, meaning you’ll have more movement options and exercise methods than traditional weight machines.

The cheapest Bowflex model I found was the Bowflex PR1000 for $397 at Walmart.com. But if you want a top-of-the-line Bowflex, you’ll have to cough up $2,999 for the Bowflex Revolution Home Gym.

Instead, try out a set of resistance bands – like this $30 set from Black Mountain Products. Resistance bands give you the same freedom of movement and variety of exercises. Granted, you won’t get 210 pounds of resistance; instead, you’ll be working with a maximum of 75 pounds (and only by combining various bands). However, if you’re anything like me, you’ll never work with anything beyond 25 pounds – let alone 210 pounds – and you’ll save $2,969 over that top-tier Bowflex.

2. Treadmills

Chances are you know someone who uses a treadmill for nothing but a clothes rack. In my family there are four treadmills, and all of them are in storage.

So why spend hundreds of dollars when all you need is a pair of running shoes?

The cheapest motorized treadmill I found for sale at Amazon was the Confidence Power Plus Motorized Treadmill, which retails for $250. Some manual treadmills cost $100 less, such as the Stamina InMotion Manual Treadmill, which sells for $111 at Amazon.com.

On the high end of the spectrum, you’ll end up paying much more. Take, for example, the Precor 9.27 Treadmill with Ground Effects Technology, which sells for $1,999.

Call me crazy, but I don’t want to spend $2,000 on something that I can do for free – running. Granted, I can’t adjust the lay of land at my whim, creating hills and dips like a high-priced treadmill’s workout program can simulate, but at least I’ll get to enjoy the outside for a while.

Instead of a treadmill, invest in some good running shoes, a pair of running shorts and/or pants, and possibly an armband accessory to hold your smartphone.

You can buy running shoes at a discount on sites like Zappos.com. Zappos has a highly customizable search option that allows you to filter results by areas such as performance, support, shoe weight, insole, brand, and color. Best of all, they offer free shipping on all returns, and as long as the shoe’s condition is like it was when you received it, you can make a return up to one whole year later, according to the company’s return policies.

For running clothes, I buy mine at overstock retailers like TJ Maxx, Marshalls, or Ross. I usually pay $10 or less a pop, and I’ve found other cheap accessories like armbands for my iPod there as well.

3. Smith Machines

A Smith Machine is basically a weight-lifting bar set on rails that can be safety-locked. These machines are often used for squats and bench presses. However, they’re big, heavy, and expensive machines. For example, one of the cheaper options, the PowerLine PSM144X Smith Machine, retails for $434 on Amazon, weighs 168 pounds, and only comes with the bar. A more expensive and inclusive option is the PowerLine Smith Machine Package that retails for $1,198 and weighs a whopping 437 pounds. It also includes an adjustable bench and some other features like a preacher curl station and a leg developer station.

If you’re not a heavy weight lifter, just buy a simple adjustable bench and lightweight dumbbells. For example, this Cap Barbell Fitness FID Bench costs $65 and is adjustable, allowing for more exercises. A Cap Barbell 40-pound Dumbbell Set can be had for $55.98. You can buy both for $121, a $1,077 savings over the inclusive PowerLine Smith Machine Package.

If dumbbells aren’t your style, you can do bench presses with the Competitor Weight Bench with 100-pound Weight Set for $209. For squats and other, more advanced kinds of presses, you’ll need to start with a rack like the Best Fitness BFPR10 Multi Press Rack, which retails for $140. Then you’ll need to look for a bar, such as this Cap Barbell Weight Bar Standard 72-inch Threaded Bar, which retails for $39.04.

4. StairMaster

When I had a gym membership (read: a free guest pass from a friend) the StairMasters were some of the most popular machines in the joint. These machines have a rotating set of stairs that you can walk up at varying speeds. According to this article from Spine-Health.com, stair climbing has a lower impact rate than running, so it might be a more viable option if you have back pain.

So while StairMasters might better for your knees, they can also be hazardous to your wallet. On Amazon.com, the cheapest price I found for the current base model, the StairMaster Stepmill SM3, was $2,999. This model is more compact than others, has 10 pre-programmed workouts, and a LCD monitor screen. The most advanced model available, the StairMaster Stepmill TSE, has a 10-inch LCD screen and includes different workouts set to well-known landmarks. That model costs $6,949.

Stepping does burn calories at a lower impact rate than hitting the pavement, but you don’t need to shell out nearly $7,000 for it. Instead, head outdoors and run some steps for free. Try the bleachers at your local high school stadium or even your own back steps. Indoors, a set of small plastic steps (known as step decks) will do the trick. Think of them as manual StairMasters for a fraction of the cost. Amazon.com carries an adjustable step deck for $45.10 and it includes a 90-minute workout DVD. Buy the step deck instead of the StairMaster Stepmill TSE and you’ll save $6,903.09.

Bottom line

You don’t need fancy gym equipment in the gym or in your home. Just pick up a good pair of running shoes, an inexpensive weight set, resistance bands, and maybe a step deck and you’ve got everything you need to get in shape this year without emptying your savings account.

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