Researching Rehabilitation

Purchasing exercise equipment can be the most challenging of all the tasks faced in starting or expanding fitness programs. The right piece can help boost offerings to a new level; the wrong selection can gather dust in a corner and drain the capital budget. And those outcomes are perhaps more pronounced when looking to enter the specialized but booming area of rehabilitation services.

For recreation officials without a healthcare background, the prospect of running a rehab program can be especially daunting. Cary Wing, executive director of the Medical Fitness Association, a trade group, says the first step is to assess the demographics of the area and the potential users’ needs.

Using Local Resources

“Define programs for ‘rehabilitation exercise’,” he says. “Is this post-rehab for shoulder/knee/back injuries, weight management and/or cardiac rehab Phase III/IV? Are there step-down programs available through the local hospital?”

He also suggests consulting with local healthcare practitioners on how they conduct rehab. “Get feedback on specific equipment they use most frequently during rehab and also what they recommend for post-rehab exercise.”

Valerie Paluszak, a physical therapist for Illinois’ Ingalls Health System, oversees five outpatient centers–including one in the fitness center of the Homewood-Flossmoor Park District–and agrees that talking with local experts is helpful.

“If you don’t have the experience, then seek out someone who does, so you can get feedback on what you are planning to purchase,” she says, adding that posing questions on professional e-mail listservs “is a quick way to obtain lots of feedback.”

Wing suggests that equipment should be simple to use, and easy to get on and off. “Machines with multiple uses that take up a small amount of floor space are preferable,” he said, pointing to one company’s dual-pulley system that allows for adjustable weight loads and accommodates people exercising from wheelchairs.

“Look at equipment that all members can utilize, not just those who are post-rehab,” says Wing. “It should be equipment that could be used for preventive as well as for post-rehab patients.”

Above all else, “a manufacturer’s reputation and the quality of the equipment are of the utmost importance,” stresses Paluszak.

Wing concurs: “Be certain to work with a manufacturer who has been in business for a period of time, as well as ask others for referrals.”

New Or Used?

Used or refurbished equipment can be attractive to center operators just starting out. The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association says such products can sell for 30 percent to 70 percent of the original price.

Wing urges careful consideration of such equipment. “Used equipment varies considerably in quality,” he says, suggesting that centers purchase it directly from the manufacturer and make sure a warranty is still in place.

Going for the cheap buy at first can even result in a penny-wise, pound-foolish outcome: “Sometimes the cost of a used piece of equipment is attractive, but it may increase repair costs, making it less expensive to buy a new unit,” says Wing.

Paluszak says she never purchases used equipment. “The manufacturer’s warranty is important to me, as well as having a service agreement. I know that the equipment I purchase is going to be used heavily, so I want to start out with new.

“Also, the aesthetics of new equipment is important when opening a new facility, or even replacing equipment.”

How Much Is Enough?

Again, Paluszak says talking with local clinicians is critical in determining the scope of a new operation. “The quantity of equipment is somewhat complex, and will vary based on the patient population and the style of the clinician,” she says.

“Some clinicians are manual-therapy-based, and use little equipment. Others prefer to use free weights or machines. It is important to understand the population and the clinician preference before outfitting your space.”

Wing says an obvious factor in determining how much equipment is needed is the facility’s space, and local practitioners–exercise physiologists, physical therapists, athletic trainers, kinesiotherapists or physicians–can help. Equipment manufacturers also can provide insight about how their products can fit into a space.

Training Basics

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