When it comes to exercise-related gear, gadgets, apparel and equipment, fitness pros have seen (and tested) it all. They know quality and innovation when they see it and can spot a flash-in-the-pan fad from a mile away.
So, with all that knowledge and experience, what do they spend their money on when they decide to splurge?
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We asked a group of experts — including seasoned trainers, educators and the LIVESTRONG.com team — about the big-ticket items they purchased this year. Their answers range from pricey-but-practical bike shorts to a bespoke boxing ring.
So, if you're looking for ideas for that one "big" present for a loved one or seeking permission to treat yourself to a little something outside your typical price point, get ready to be inspired.
How We Chose
We polled our staff and chatted with trainers, coaches and an exercise science professor about what qualities make for the best pieces of fitness equipment to splurge on. We made these picks based on those features and other criteria, including:
- Type of activity
1. Apple Watch Series 7
Expert: Danielle Zickl, LIVESTRONG.com fitness editor
As an editor, Danielle Zickl spends most of her day at a desk. She wanted a fitness watch that would prompt her to stand and move regularly, and the Apple Watch, because it was compatible with her iPhone, made the most sense.
Her purchase not only upped her daily steps but also changed how she thinks about exercise. "Seeing the fitness, standing and activity rings has been helpful in truly knowing how much activity I need to aim for each day," she says.
The Apple Watch offers all the other standard features you'd expect — GPS, heart rate monitor, sleep tracking — plus some advanced features, like body temperature sensing, women's health insights and advanced workout metrics.
"If you're someone who could benefit from a little motivation when it comes to getting in activity throughout the day, this watch will be worth your money. It's really rewarding at the end of each day seeing my activity rings close, and it's made me more aware of how much activity I'm getting throughout the day," Zickl says.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $377.25
2. Specialized Stumpjumper EVO Pro Mountain Bike
Expert: Pete McCall, CSCS, master trainer and host of the All About Fitness podcast
Did Pete McCall's Stumpjumper Evo Pro mountain bike cost more than his first car? Yes. Was it ultimately worth the sticker-shocking price? Also, yes, he says.
"I raced BMX as a teen in the 80s and have been mountain biking since the 90s. I love mountain biking, and living in San Diego, there are a ton of trails all over. I got the bike because I purposely moved next to a local trail system," McCall says. "Flying down a hill makes me feel like I'm 16 in the middle of a BMX race — I'm a dopamine junkie."
McCall, who rides between one and three times a week, thinks of his splurge as a sound investment in his health and happiness.
"With bikes, you get what you pay for. I wanted a full suspension with the latest engineering. The last bike I had, I paid $3,000 for and had for about eight years. With proper maintenance, this bike will last me at least 10 years," he says. "With that many rides, the cost per ride is less than a cup of coffee."
Buy it: Specialized.com; Price: $8,600
3. Hyperice Normatec 3 Compression Legs
Expert: Ciara Lucas, LIVESTRONG.com health writer
Ciara Lucas began researching compression therapy shortly after she started training for half-marathons and marathons. She was having trouble recovering from high-mileage runs and was looking for a way to increase circulation and reduce soreness and swelling.
"The Normatec system was a consistent standout product that I saw many professional athletes used. I'm no elite, but I decided to treat myself and invest in my health and recovery, which I consider priceless!" she says.
Lucas describes the purchase as a "game-changer."
"After every long run, I use them as a part of my cooldown routine. I feel immediate results with less soreness and recovered legs, no matter the intensity of my training. And they feel like an instant massage from the comfort of my couch," she says. "For someone who is very active in fitness or sports, this is a piece of equipment that won't collect dust. And because recovery is just as important as training, it's a high-value item that will pay off in the long run."
Buy it: Hyperice.com; Price: $699
4. Nike Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT% 2
Expert: Todd Buckingham, PhD, triathlete and visiting professor of exercise science in the Department of Movement Science at Grand Valley State University
Todd Buckingham describes the science behind Nike's Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT% 2 running shoes as "second to none," but he's also got plenty of his own research to back up his purchase. "I cut 22 seconds off my 5K time, 1 minute off my 10K time and 2 minutes off my half-marathon time," he says.
The magic is in the shoes' extra foam cushioning, Buckingham says. "You feel like you're floating. You get more spring in your step, and there is less muscle damage, so you're not as sore after your run."
However, there is a catch. These shoes will only hold up for 100 to 200 miles, compared to most running shoes, which typically last more than 300 miles. So, most runners who treat themselves to a pair reserve them for races. ("And maybe one training run beforehand to make sure they fit okay!" Buckingham says.)
Even with that caveat, Buckingham is more than happy with his purchase and recommends them to avid road racers. "They will make you run faster across any distance, from one mile to the marathon!"
Buy it: Nike.com; Price: $275
5. Therabody Theragun Elite Massage Gun
Expert: Jessica Campbell-Salley, LIVESTRONG senior fitness editor
Before investing in her own Theragun Elite, Jessica Campbell-Salley took a family member's device for a test drive. The relief for her sore muscles was almost instantaneous. So, she patiently waited for it to go on sale, made her purchase and never looked back.
"This little device is powerful, and once I push through the initial so-good-it-hurts feeling — and on a seriously sore hamstring, it does hurt — I can feel the tension in my muscles just dissipate," Campbell-Salley says. "It doubles as a warm-up tool, and as someone who tends to skip warm-ups and cooldowns, having this handy makes it easier to get my muscles primed for work. And it's portable! I can take it to the trailhead and use it pre-run or pre-hike to make sure I'm not starting cold."
Yes, the Theragun is pricier than other percussive massagers, but Campbell-Salley believes its long battery life, portability and power make it worth the cost.
"This thing delivers on its promise of making you and your muscles feel better," she says.
Buy it: Therabody.com; Price: $298
6. Prolast Professional Boxing Ring
Expert: Jeff Watters, strength and conditioning coach with USA Boxing and owner of Watters Performance
"Some people buy Pelotons. I buy boxing rings," says Jeff Watters, a strength and conditioning coach who specializes in training fighters and hockey players.
Before splurging on his own in-studio boxing ring, Watters used other coaches' rings, sometimes driving 30 minutes for a single session. "I think it was worth the savings in gas alone," he says.
Watters worked with Prolast to custom-build a boxing floor and ring that fits his facility. Having access to a professional ring is a perk for clients, but Watters and his family also use the space for their own training, too.
Buy it: Prolast.com; Price: $2,500
7. Bowflex SelectTech 552 Adjustable Dumbbells
Expert: Sarah Klein, LIVESTRONG.com editorial director
A home workout devotee since long before the COVID-19 pandemic, Sarah Klein started to feel a little bored with her standard living room HIIT sessions.
"It was time to take my home gym — aka the storage drawers in my coffee table — to the next level, and I wanted as close to a one-stop shop as I could get without purchasing a big piece of equipment," she says.
The Bowflex adjustable dumbbells, each of which scale from 2.5 to 50 pounds, were just what she needed to upgrade her sweat sessions.
"I can do an enormous range of different exercises and workouts with one piece of gear," she says.
And the hefty price tag is easy to justify.
"It's less expensive than a year's gym membership in many instances, and it provides endless versatility. I can progress (or scale back) workouts without needing to purchase additional equipment," Klein says.
Buy it: Bowflex.com; Price: $429
8. Balanced Body Allegro Pilates Reformer
Expert: Lauren George, fitness instructor, educator, and founder of Lauren George Fitness
A seasoned Pilates instructor, Lauren George had a clear idea of what she wanted in a reformer. She needed a high-quality professional model that could stand up to regular use and last for years, but it also had to be space-efficient and look like something that belonged in a home, not a Pilates studio.
Charmed by its sturdy construction and sleek design, George ultimately opted for the Allegro Reformer by Balanced Body, a well-respected brand in the Pilates community.
The reformer lives in her kids' playroom where, when not in use, it stands up against a wall.
"I didn't have to compromise quality for the fact that I can move it out of the way," George says.
Another feature that sets the Allegro apart from other reformers is that it's elevated. Because it doesn't rest directly on the ground, George can perform a wider variety of exercises, including lunging movements. George says that the reformer is "without a doubt" worth the investment.
"I use it at least five times a week," she says. But if the Allegro is out of your budget, George also recommends the slightly more affordable Metro IQ Reformer.
Buy it: Pilates.com; Price: $2,945
9. Balance Meditation App Lifetime Subscription
Expert: Rachel Grice, LIVESTRONG.com contributing fitness editor
Balance was the app that finally got Rachel Grice to meditate consistently.
"After years of starting and stopping, I found I loved the courses Balance offered," she says.
The app includes programs for everyone, from meditation newbies to advanced practitioners, as well as activity-specific meditations.
"I like doing ones during my daily walk or waking up to a stretch meditation," Grice says.
Grice originally discovered the app in 2021 when the company offered free subscriptions to help ease pandemic-related stress.
"I enjoyed it so much, I didn't want it to end, and the lifetime subscription was well worth it for the access," she says. "There's so much variety! And to have lifetime access rather than a monthly or annual subscription makes sense since I want to make meditation a lifetime habit."
Buy it: iOS, Google Play; Price: $139.99
10. Beyond Yoga Spacedye Slim Racerback Cropped Tank and High Waisted Biker Shorts
Expert: Tiffany Ayuda, LIVESTRONG.com contributing fitness editor
While Spacedye's cropped tank and biker shorts are designed for yoga, Tiffany Ayuda has found that they stand up to more rigorous workouts, including strength training and HIIT.
The tank's built-in shelf bra offers plenty of support ("I hate peeling off a sports bra after a sweaty workout," Ayuda says), and the shorts, which have a 7-inch seam and no outside seams, won't slip, sag or roll — even during squats.
But that durability doesn't come at the expense of comfort or style.
"The fabric is super soft and comfortable, unlike any other performance fabric I've tried," Ayuda says. "These pieces are so versatile; you can wear them as a matching set or with other pieces you already have in your workout wardrobe. But I like wearing them together because they look and feel great."
Buy it: Beyondyoga.com (Cropped Tank); Beyondyoga.com (Biker Shorts); Price: $66 (Cropped Tank); $68 (Biker Shorts)