By Josie Rubio

When you’re shopping for workout gear, the price tags shouldn't raise your heart rate (save that for the actual exercise). We all know, though, that exercise products can be surprisingly pricey, whether you’re in the market for a big item like a home treadmill or a simple purchase like a new pair of yoga pants. We already told you about our favorite discount retailer for affordable workout clothes and shared the ih8exercise.com 99-cent store guide to fitness, but there’s another stop to make if you’re in the market for gear on a budget: your local thrift store.

Chances are, the thrift shop has something that will help you get in shape on the cheap — from workout clothes, DVDs and sporting equipment to big items, like elliptical machines and bicycles. The only downside, of course, is that you never know what you'll find at a secondhand store -- after all, you can’t predict when someone will get tired of stubbing his toe on his treadmill-cum-clothes-hanger or admit she’s never going to do that workout DVD again.

Who doesn't love a bargain?

Who doesn't love a bargain?

Goodwill is the big behemoth, with more than 4,800 stores and donation centers throughout the U.S. and Canada, operated by 165 local organizations that choose what kinds of donations the stores will stock, often based on space. “A Goodwill shopper might find it easier to find smaller fitness equipment like barbells, exercise balls or shorts and shirts well-suited for exercise, rather than larger exercise equipment, inside Goodwill stores,” says Michael Meyer, vice president of donated goods retail and marketing at Goodwill Industries International. “It’s hard to predict whether large exercise equipment will be present in Goodwill stores because Goodwill cannot predict donations from the public.”

Meyer recommends calling your nearby stores to see what kinds of fitness equipment your local Goodwill carries. Several apps can help you locate area thrift stores, or you can try an online tool like TheThriftShopper.com and use your ZIP code to find shops, some of which are user-rated and reviewed.

In addition to a bargain, money from charity-based thrift stores will go to a good cause, so you can feel good about donating that unused tennis racket and picking up a thrifty set of weights instead. Meyer says that Goodwill stores’ revenue goes towards funding job training and community services that helped 9.8 million people in 2013. “Goodwill shoppers can take pride in knowing that they are getting healthier by buying fitness merchandise at Goodwill and helping people find jobs in their local community,” he says.

Before exercising with secondhand gear, exercise caution first. Some used workout gear is a better buy than others — and there are a few items that you shouldn’t buy used at all. Here's a guide to thrift store finds, as well as items you should pass up and buy new instead:

Clothing. Depending on what you’re looking for, thrift shops can be a great place to find workout clothes. Of course, the more gently used, the better, when it comes to clothes you sweat in regularly. (The exception to this is vintage fitness gear — think ’80s and ’90s name-brand logos — listed among thrift store items that you could flip for profit.)

You can find crazy good deals on fitness clothing and equipment at secondhand stores, but be a wise shopper.

You can find crazy good deals on fitness clothing and equipment at secondhand stores, but be a wise shopper.

Shoes. If you find a pair that seems new, then you’re in luck, but typically, athletic shoes aren’t a good secondhand buy. Shoes conform to the wearer’s foot after time, which can lead to foot and even back trouble for the next person. In the case of workout shoes, you probably don’t want someone’s much-sweated-in discards, and you definitely don’t want to jeopardize your foot and back health to save a few bucks.

Small pieces of exercise equipment. While you can’t predict what you’ll find at the thrift store, keep an eye out for things that might improve your workout routine or inspire you to try something new. A heavier set of hand weights can help you kick up your workout, or a jump rope might motivate you to do some quick cardio.

DVDs. A cheap DVD from the thrift store can be among the very cheapest and sways to see if you’d enjoy, say, kickboxing or yoga. Secondhand stores offer great deals for lovers of old-school workouts, like step aerobics. (After all, it's not like fitness changes a lot from one decade to the next; a push-up is a push-up is a push-up.) Sometimes you can even find unopened sets, like a Zumba kit with weights or a yoga kit with a mat included.

This Wilson tennis racket was going for $6.99 on ShopGoodwill.org.

This Wilson tennis racket was going for $6.99 on ShopGoodwill.org.

Sporting goods. While some stores devoted to secondhand sports gear, like Play It Again Sports, are a good choice if you’re looking for something specific, a find at a thrift store can inspire you to hit the links or the tennis court. Goodwill’s ecommerce site has an entire section devoted to sporting goods, and the current selection (at press time) included golf clubs, tennis balls, a body board, fishing waders and a snowboard.

Large equipment. As Meyer points out, some thrift stores won’t carry large items because of space constraints, but it’s still worth keeping an eye out if your local shop carries equipment from time to time. (And, of course, there are plenty of online resources for secondhand exercise equipment, including eBay, Craigslist and Freecycle.)

Skates. Skates are a judgment call, and your first concern should be safety. In some cases, a good pair of used ice skates can be a better buy than cheap new ones. Experts recommend inspecting the blades and support of used figure skates, and looking for name brands. 

The word on the street is that, like other ’90s trends, inline skating is making a comeback. Before picking up secondhand Rollerblades, check that they are in good condition and that any items that need to be replaced won’t cost you more in the long run.

Bicycle helmets. Don’t buy secondhand bicycle helmets, which are designed to sustain only one impact. It’s hard to tell if a helmet has previously been involved in a crash, and since you’re protecting something pretty important it’s worth springing for a new one.

Bidding on ShopGoodwill.org started at just five bucks for this Raleigh bike!

Bidding on ShopGoodwill.org started at just five bucks for this Raleigh bike!

Bicycles. Buy a new helmet, but save some money on a used bike. If your local thrift shop carries used bicycles, it can be a great place to find a bike (and sometimes even a name-brand bike) in good condition. Just make sure it’s a cost-effective option if it needs some repairs. 

Swimsuits. Unless the tags are still on it, don’t do it. One in five adults admits to peeing in pools. Are you willing to take that gamble?

After you leave the store with bargains, or maybe even while you shop, celebrate and get your heart rate up with this cardio dance to Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop,” choreographed by dance fitness trainer Lauren Fitzgerald.

Have you ever made a great fitness find at the thrift shop?


Photos:

Goodwill exterior:  Goodwill of Central Arizona

Thrift store shopper: gabe9000c/Dollar Photo Club

Tennis racket, bike:Shopgoodwill.org