Fitness equipment buying guide

Exercise plays a very important part in helping you lead a healthy lifestyle. Whether you want to increase your overall fitness, lose weight, build strength or tone up specific muscle groups, there's a huge range of fitness equipment to choose from. This guide will give you some general tips, along with a brief overview of the different types of fitness equipment.

What are you looking to achieve?

Ideally, you want to get a balance of high and low impact exercise. High impact is the most effective way of burning calories and strengthening muscles and bones. It's also worth including some low impact workouts that use resistance such as swimming and cycling. Low impact doesn't mean low results. For anaerobic (non-cardio) exercises, it's worth considering doing some stretching exercises and weight lifting.

In terms of equipment, the best way to decide what you need is to think about what you want to achieve.

Learn about the benefits of different types of equipment that relate to your fitness aims below.

Improve general fitness

Cardiovascular exercise is good for all-round fitness, endurance and circulation. It increases your heart rate and gets the blood pumping around your body.

There are several ways of improving your general fitness. Here are just a few:

  • Exercise bikes

    Ideal if you're just starting out on the road to fitness, exercise bikes are easy to use and can be adjusted to suit different levels of fitness.

  • Treadmills

    Perfect for anything between a gentle stroll and serious training for a marathon, a treadmill allows you to go for a run even when it's pouring with rain outside. If you'd like to try something a bit tougher, the adjustable incline feature adds the extra challenge of walking or running uphill.

  • Cross trainers

    Combining the best elements of stair climbing, skiing and running, cross trainers help you to exercise your upper and lower body at the same time, helping you build up your overall fitness. You can also focus on one area at a time if you prefer. Cross training is a low impact exercise, minimizing the stress on your joints.

  • Rowing machines

    A low impact form of exercise, rowing machines strengthen your arms, shoulders and all major muscle groups while providing a very effective cardiovascular workout.

Increase your supplness and strength

Suppleness and flexibility can be improved through anaerobic (non-cardio) exercise such as Pilates and yoga. These low impact exercises are designed to increase strength and mobility in the upper and lower body including the arms, legs and abdominal muscles. These exercises can also improve posture, circulation, breathing and muscle tone.

An essential piece of equipment for these types of exercise is a Pilates or yoga mat. Using accessories such as a Pilates' bar or a gym ball (balance ball) will ensure you get the most out of your non-cardio exercise. Starter sets are available that contain all you need to get going.

Increase strength and muscle tone

Improve your strength and muscle tone through weight lifting and resistance training. The more lean muscle mass you have, the better your metabolism works and the easier it is to burn off calories.

Using dumb-bells and free weights, multi-gyms, weight lifting benches, vibration trainers and gym balls (balance balls) is a very effective way of working your muscles.

  • Dumb-bells and free weights

    Using free weights is an effective way of improving your strength and fitness. Lifting weights burns calories, increases muscle size, strength, power and endurance and improves bone density. If you're short on space, weights take up very little room and they cost less than more complex fitness equipment.

    Think about how you're going to use your weights and how often you're likely to use them in order to help you choose the right weights for you.

    • Setting up: very little set-up is required apart from making sure you warm up and have enough free space with nothing to obstruct your movements. For some exercises you may need a weight lifting bench. You can buy adjustable dumb-bells, which can hold varying weights, or dumb-bells with fixed weights which can save time.
    • Storage and care: you should make sure that you have somewhere safe to store your weights - a specialist rack is ideal if your budget allows. Chrome-plated weights need a little more care to maintain their finish than metal, concrete or foam-covered weights.

  • Weight lifting benches

    Benches are ideal if you want to follow a wide variety of weight-based exercises for the various muscle groups - particularly the arms and legs.

    If you're looking for a bench, make sure it's the right size for you and that it can be adjusted to suit. Bear in mind that a bench that reclines and declines opens up more exercise options for you. Make sure the bench is sturdy enough to take the weight you intend to lift as well as your own, and consider leg and arm attachments that support you as you lift.

  • Multi-gyms

    If you can't decide which piece of fitness equipment is right for you, why not consider a multi-gym that gives you a number of options, all built into one machine? Multi-gyms improve strength and build muscles, using standard features such as chest presses, leg extensions and lateral pull downs.

    Check that your multi-gym offers you the variety of exercises that you're looking for. There are usually at least 12 different options to choose from.

    Remember to check the dimensions of the multi-gym before you purchase it.

  • Vibration trainers

    These electronic machines offer you a gentle form of exercise without the risk of straining muscles or putting too much strain on individual body parts. This equipment strengthens and tones your muscles, improves circulation (which helps reduce cellulite) and increases your metabolism. Although useful if you're trying to lose weight, it should be used as part of a wider exercise programme, along with a sensible diet to see full results.