Mike Salinas demonstrates the exercise equipment at Hest Fitness on Friday in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

McALLEN – It didn’t take David De Leon and his wife long to talk about their health and fitness options when COVID-19 reared its ugly head in South Texas.

“My wife and I are very active in exercising and being healthy and fit,” the 30-year-old McAllen resident said. “When everything started happening it became more of a challenge to go to the gym, so for safety we decided that working out from the house was much safer than putting ourselves in any type of medical risk at a public facility or a gym.”

The couple purchased an FT2 Functional Trainer, a home gym that has a design which integrates an Olympic bar and weight stacks. De Leon said the benefits from the machine and being able to work from home were quickly realized.

“We are really enjoying that system, it’s a whole body workout,” De Leon said. “And we are using it every other day, if not daily.”

Home fitness equipment — from weights and plates to treadmills and full home gyms — are being purchased at a pace never before seen due to COVID-19. According to those within the industry, it doesn’t look like that surge is going to slow down anytime soon.

According to eBay.com sales data, “between March and April 2020, online sales of fitness equipment increased up to 20 times in some categories compared to the same time frame last year.”

Several technological and e-commerce websites, including ecommercetimes.com and zdnet.com report that “comparing March and April sales in 2019 for dumbbells with sales during the same period in 2020 we can see an increase of 1,980% according to eBay sales data; meanwhile weight plate sales have increased by 1,355% in the same period too.”

Albert Kessler, founder and owner of Hest Fitness stores in McAllen, Corpus Christi and San Antonio, said he has never seen such a surge in purchasing home fitness equipment during his 40 years in the industry.

“When the pandemic started, people thought it would be a month or two and they started buying benches, dumbbells or plates — something to do until the clubs (gyms) opened back up.

“But that surge hasn’t stopped. Even our industry is having a hard time getting dumbbells and weight plates to all the dealers and retailers.”

Kessler added that some of his home gym stations that people have ordered are ready to go, other than the weights to complete the pieces and make them functional.

“I’ll go a couple weeks without them. I started putting orders in three months ago every month til the end of the year but just because I have orders in doesn’t mean I will receive a complete order,” he said. “We are still at an iron shortage.”

Specialty fitness stores like Hest offer similar equipment to that found in the gyms and fitness clubs or hotels. They are sturdy, more complex to put together and usually won’t be found where most people may shop. Hest employees will deliver and set up the equipment.

“Honestly, it was white glove service,” De Leon said. “We couldn’t be happier with how everything worked out.”

“We are seeing a new buyer,” Kessler said. “What we are seeing are these club members that never thought about buying home fitness products coming in to look and they haven’t realized how far fitness equipment has advanced because they never had a reason to go to a specialty fitness store.

Mike Salinas demonstrates the exercise equipment at Hest Fitness on Friday in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

“The same stuff that the companies build for clubs, they also build a home line. I’ve heard too many times people saying they wish they knew this stuff was on the market.”

Not only are deliveries of the equipment on a slow boat from China (or Taiwan), literally, but often times they are incomplete or, because of the demand and the fact that they are late, are rushed through shipments and many end up not only with missing pieces but damaged as well.

“Freight companies can’t keep up and the fact that there are so many short-handed because of COVID adds to it. I have to decline three out of every 10 shipments because they are damaged getting here,” Kessler said. “Nobody through the entire chain can keep up and because of that, things get damaged and now the customer has to wait longer, again.”

A survey by TD Ameritrade resulted in 59% of the respondents claiming that they would probably not renew their gym memberships. Kessler said he doesn’t see the demand slowing down much as flu season is around the corner.

“People are going to be concerned because they won’t know if they have the flu or the virus and there’s potential for more panic,” he said. “So they are preparing now by ordering what they need for at home instead of taking any chances.

“I’ve been in this industry for 40 years and at one time had 15 stores. I have never seen anything like this. I have no idea how I would have kept stock in 15 stores. And it’s not just here, it’s worldwide.”