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Guest Column - September 2003

Preventive Maintenance Keeps Fitness Equipment Healthy

By Chris Keel


Just as proper diet and exercise help human beings live healthier lives, preventive maintenance is the key to getting the most out of exercise equipment. Preventing service calls and keeping exercise machines running with minimal downtime requires more than just wiping down equipment and reporting malfunctioning units to your technician. A regular program of care truly can extend the life of your equipment and save money in the long run.

Combat problems before they occur
PHOTO COURTESY OF PENN RECREATION
The Pottruck Center at the University of Pennsylvania

One way to ensure that fitness equipment lasts longer—and sees minimal downtime—is to purchase commercial-quality products from reputable manufacturers. Although equipment from leading manufacturers sometimes costs more, name-brand products can offer superior durability, reliability and warranties, which help reduce costs for equipment repair and replacement later on. Some pieces even can perform various maintenance functions themselves.

Next, every fitness center should implement a routine preventive maintenance program. Not only will this minimize equipment downtime by identifying problems before they occur, but it also can avert safety issues—such as worn cables or loose bolts—which can result in injuries to gym patrons.

Facility management should stress the importance of routine maintenance to all staff, and employees performing equipment maintenance and service should undergo thorough training by a technician from a manufacturer or qualified local vendor. For some recreation fitness centers, purchasing a service contract from an equipment manufacturer or local vendor may be more convenient—and ultimately more effective—than handling maintenance internally.

Top maintenance tips

For all facilities, even those that outsource equipment service, there is one must-have tool for effective preventive maintenance: a logbook. Have facility staff record every incident of maintenance, service and failure for every piece of equipment in a logbook. The more thoroughly the information is tracked, the better. A well-organized logbook is a valuable record of equipment performance for technicians and staff.

Following are other keys to maintaining equipment:

  1. Adhere to the manufacturer's maintenance recommendations. Include the manufacturer-recommended maintenance routine in the logbook so it's accessible to staff and outside technicians.
  2. Clean equipment every day. Removing sweat, dust and dirt will help the electronics and upholstery last longer. When cleaning a piece of equipment's exterior, apply a mixture of mild liquid antibacterial detergent and water only to a rag—not directly on the machine, so the cleaning solution can't leak into the machine and cause electronics to short. Do not use ammonia, bleach or acid-based cleaners. Simply vacuuming under the motor cover of a treadmill can extend the life of its belt and deck.
  3. Use only replacement parts from the equipment's manufacturer. When working with service vendors, insist on manufacturer parts.
  4. Install surge protectors. This will help prevent electrical damage from power spikes to equipment that is not self-powered.
Equipment service recommendations
PHOTO COURTESY OF PENN RECREATION
The Pottruck Center at the University of Pennsylvania

Although specific maintenance tips may vary slightly depending on the manufacturer's recommendations and equipment workload, a few rules of thumb exist. For all motorized equipment, keeping dirt and dust away from moving parts will help reduce friction and heat that can cause motors to wear out prematurely. Wipe down electronic displays as well as seats, backrests and handrails at least once a week—or daily for heavily used equipment. Pieces with upholstered surfaces (for example, bike seats and weight benches) should be cleaned and checked for tears at least weekly.

Here are some other tips for maintaining standard equipment:

  1. Treadmills—Clean the motor cover and exposed areas of deck and check the operation of the stop button every week or two. Once a month, vacuum inside the motor electronic compartment and underneath any treadmill that's on carpet. (Keeping treadmills on rubber mats can help keep carpet fiber away from the machines.) For treadmills with automatic wax lubrication systems, check and clean the wax nozzle each month. Do not use cleaning solution to wipe the belt; this will impair the lubrication system. Every two to three months, check the belt tension and tracking, and inspect the hardware (nuts and bolts), belt and deck for wear every three to six months.
  2. Ellipticals/cross-trainers—In addition to cleaning the console and exterior, depending on the manufacturer's suggestions, remove the cover and clean the area around the alternator every two to three months and ensure that the intermediate shaft belt is tight and centered. Inspect the hardware every six months.
  3. Exercise bikes—Check the seat attachment handlebars, pedals and crank arm every other month. Tighten pedals and handlebars as necessary. Every three months, clean and lubricate the pedal shaft and listen for squeaks, grinds and any other trouble signs.
  4. Stairclimbers/steppers—Inspect pedals and tighten as necessary. Check hardware and conduct an audible inspection every three to six months.
  5. Selectorized strength—Every other week, inspect the cable and handgrips and clean guide rods. Even minor visible damage to cables on strength-training machines is cause for immediate repair. Per the manufacturer's specifications, lubricate guide rods with a Teflon spray, not WD-40. Every three months, check that bolts and screws are tight and that pulleys and any other moving parts are operating smoothly.
  6. Plate-loaded strength—Clean frames weekly. Quarterly, check to make sure all bolts and screws are tight.
  7. Free weights—Check the bolts, screws and adjustment mechanisms on dumbbells, racks and benches every other week. At the same time, make sure weight collars fit snugly and inspect the weight plates for cracks.
The bottom line

Regardless of the number of machines in your fitness center, and no matter what their workloads, a concerted preventive maintenance effort is crucial. Customers will be content that their favorite equipment isn't constantly being repaired, and the facility will be safer because potentially dangerous malfunctions are identified before machines can cause injury. Finally, machines that run longer with less downtime and fewer repairs also will keep your facility's budget in shape.

Chris Keel is Life Fitness' manager of technical support and training and is responsible for ensuring that all field and in-house technical personnel are service competent. He can be reached at chris.keel@lifefitness.com.

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