Searching Craigslist Like A Pro

Searching Craigslist like a pro is a good idea if you’re outfitting or upgrading your garage gym and want to save time and money. But you’ll need a plan of action and a standard operating procedure. Veteran garage gym athletes I interviewed said their best practices include:

    • Search Multiple Times a Day
    • Build a Quality Search Term
    • Be Willing to Drive
    • Choose Ads with a Picture and Look at What Else They Have
    • Learn the Different Markets

Why Craigslist?

“I came up with the methodology by doing a bunch of research and figuring out the most efficient ways to search Craigslist” says veteran garage lifter, Cody Martin, about his quest to save on gym equipment with Craigslist.  “When you buy used, you’re never out your money. If I buy a bar for $100 on Craigslist, I can sell it for $100 later it’s not a big deal. It’s the same thing with weights, they may not be the ones you want, say you just get some regular metal plates and you pay .50/lb for them. Then down the road you want rubber coated or a particular name brand, when you find those, you can sell the old ones for your .50/lb again and someone will buy them.”

“If you want to train at home, Craigslist is the way to go because you’re basically buying new when you buy off Craigslist,” says, International All-Around Weightlifting Association Champion James Fuller. “You get all of these people that buy these weights with good intentions and they might do it for a month then after that it’s done! And how much wear and tear are they putting on it in one or even six months?”

How Not To Search Craigslist

I’m going to assume that you’ve searched Craigslist before and know how to narrow your search by price, location and dealer versus private seller. If not, check out this short video which covers how to get started including setting up an account. It would be so convenient if you could just watch the video and be successful but unfortunately not so. Most Craigslist search tutorials on YouTube talk about setting up search tools but those aren’t foolproof.

“There’s a bunch of different apps for searching Craigslist in the iTunes and Android stores but I’ve found that a lot of times the apps when updates would happen to the operating systems would start missing notifications and things like that,” Martin says. “They’ll work for a while then an update happens and they stop working for a little bit or they don’t catch everything that they’re supposed to catch. They don’t load all of the results that you would find if you just went to the website for whatever reason”. So what should you do? While their methods may vary, everyone I talked to agreed that you’ve got to be prepared to search often if you want a deal.

Search Multiple Times A Day

“I search pretty often, weekly at the least”, says powerlifter Edward Olesh, who started training at home when his wife was pregnant with their son. “I found that the more you search not only are you more likely to find something, but you’ll also see what prices are good and which are high.” Martin agrees.  “The first thing you have to realize when you’re putting together a gym is you have to be searching several times a day,” he says.

“I’ve found that it’s best to literally open up the website,” Martin says. “At the top of every hour I had a search that was just saved like a bookmark and I would just refresh the search every hour.” Searching that often might sound like a full time job if you’re just getting into Craigslist but Olesh and Martin agree that it’s the only way to make sure you get to the best deals first.

“When that brand new leg press/hack squat machine or squat rack gets listed for 275$ you want to be the first to say you’ll take it!” says Olesh.

“Some of those guys don’t work, they troll Craigslist all day. A lot of are willing to leave work if a good deal pops up and that might be something to consider; possibly leaving work for a good enough deal,” Martin adds.

To even the playing field with professional resellers, frequency will get you part of the way there but we also want to work smarter and the key to that lies in how you search.

Building a Quality Search Term

craigslist advanced search information“There are multiple ways to phrase the same thing and there are misspellings; you have dumbbell, dumbbell, dumb bell, dum bell. The Craigslist search FAQ lists keyboard shortcuts so prospective buyers don’t have to type multiple spelling variants into the search box.

“Asterisk (*) works really well because it lets you type in just part of a word,” Martin says. I could do dumbe* and that would let me search for every variation after that. The | which is found right above the Enter Key on your keyboard allows you to search dumbe*| dumbbe* and you can continue to build from there; the same thing applies to the different variations of barbell, different spellings of weight, squat— which lets you filter out a lot of things that you don’t want. It lets you search for general keyword terms but you could also start throwing in brand names.”

You could type in Rogue or Eleiko because a lot of times people will list the brand name of an item but they may not use search terms that you’re thinking about.

(Be warned though that brand names like York throw a monkey wrench into the scenario because of the cities of York and New York.)

Martin shared another tip: Keep looking after you think you’ve found what you want. “Just because you think you’ve found an item doesn’t necessarily mean that you should stop looking for that item. I had picked up a Hammer Strength power rack. One of their high end racks, the same kind that’s in Anytime Fitness. I gave $1,000 for it which is high but I hadn’t found anything else really good. It was a $3,200 rack so it wasn’t like I was getting really ripped off but it was more than I wanted to spend. So I kept looking and I eventually found the one I have now; I got the rack and the bench for $500. So when I was making the deal to pick that up, I also listed and sold my Hammer Strength rack for $1,200 to a gym so I actually made $200 selling it and then picked up the other rack for $500. Then I sold my original bench for another $120 so I made money on the deal and I got a rack that was better for my space.

Choose Ads with a Picture and Look At What Else They Have

Once you’ve found an interesting looking ad, you don’t need to immediately reject it if what you want isn’t on sale. Fuller says, “You go to the ad and you

look at the other stuff that’s in the picture that they’re not even talking about and sometimes you’ll be like ‘Hey! What’s that plate over there?’ You’ll go over the guy’s house and you’ll talk about what he’s got for sale but you’re looking in the corner and you ask him, ‘What’s that?’ and he’ll say, ‘Oh that’s just some old plates that my grandfather had. I’m going to just throw them out.’ Well, I’ll buy this and I’ll buy those off you. And he might just say, ‘Oh I’ll just throw those in for free!”

Fuller shared an interesting story that illustrates this point:

“I’ve got some waxed Weider 45lb plates, they’re orange but they don’t say Weider on them, the name was waxed out. Weider tried to make an Olympic lifting set in the Fifties, but it didn’t even last a year because the bar they sold with it bent when you put like 250lbs on it. You will occasionally see pictures of those plates being used in training in the magazines but I’ve only seen one pair of the 45s turn up. I’m pretty sure this foundry got stuck with the bill and when they’d pour the plate, they’d wax out the Weider name so it said everything else but it wouldn’t say Weider. That way the foundry could still make back some money because the molds aren’t cheap to make. I’ve got the only known pair of these ever made and it was from Craigslist. It had nothing to do with the actual Craigslist ad. A friend of mine went to check on the equipment the guy was selling and he asked the guy, ‘What are these over here?’ the guy was like, ‘Oh, I tried to give those away and nobody wanted them. You can have them if you want them.’

The bottom line is you can get good deals if you’re willing to travel.

Be willing to drive

“I have driven an hour and forty minutes to pick up my hyper-extension station for 20$.  The wife and I made a day of it though since it was near a big city,” Olesh says.  “I would drive further for a good deal,” he adds. This is a good idea because traveling expands your search area. This is not only because of what strength sports tend to be popular regionally, but also because different regions tend to have different equipment types based on some of the colorful ups and downs of Iron Game history.

“You’ve probably looked at Arnold and Franco benching on the beach. The plates have these small letters on them that say BFC, (Bell Foundry Company),” explains Fuller. “This was a company that made bells out of Los Angeles. They made plates for Ironman which is in Nebraska, so those are two places right there that you know that you’ll be able to find Bell Foundry Company fairly cheaply. They’re one of the best plates for gripping!” (note. James Fuller is a true strength game historian. Words cannot convey the excitement in his voice as he told me this story first thing on a Saturday morning. Back to the article.)

“Dr. Ken Leistner, who created the well-respected Steel Tip newsletter worked for Nautilus back in the ‘70s as a truck driver. So he would drive to California delivering Nautilus equipment. He and his assistant would drive the 18 wheeler over to Bell Foundry Company, load up the truck with Bell Foundry Company plates and he’d hit gyms all over the southern United States on his way back to Deland, Florida selling the plates. Oldetime Strongman Ed Jubinville who built equipment and sold equipment out of Holyoke, Mass, up until the Eighties, sold Bell Foundry Company plates. So Bell Foundry Company plates shouldn’t be too hard to find in New England, the Midwest, the southern United States and Los Angeles,” explains Fuller.

Although Martin is more into newer pieces, he agrees that traveling is the way to go.

“When I was traveling, I would check the cities I was traveling to and through,” Martin says. “If you’re heading to California, Ivanko is everywhere in California but if you want to buy them here it’s $2.25 per lb. in New England, $100 for a York Power Bar in good condition is high you can get them for $75 all day long, but you bring them down South and $100 is a steal, maybe you buy three bars, sell two of them and keep one and now you have got a free bar! “

“I got a shot loaded barbell and a shot loaded dumbbell from before World War I and I got it dirt cheap because the guy didn’t know what he had,” Fuller says. “I drove three states away to get it and when I got there the guy said that I was the only one who had made an offer on it,” he says. “People found out and couldn’t believe that I’d gotten it on Craigslist. I’m going to say I saved somewhere around $4,000 or more.”

Learn The Markets

“If you spend enough time on Craigslist, you’ll learn your market and that will help you with price” Martin says. “It takes a while to learn what something is worth in your market and some things are rare enough to not have a set, established market value,” he says.
Fuller agrees and gave examples. “100lb plates are kind of interesting because they’ll usually go cheap because they’re hard to get rid of. A lot of people overcharge for the York 100lb plates without a rim because they’re old but I don’t care. They’re one of the hardest plates to handle. I’m like, ‘you want to sell them because you don’t want to handle them! Even the York 75lb plates without a rim are harder to handle than a 100lb plate with a rim. ”
Okay, that’s a ton of information! You’re probably nervous and feel out of your depth. Breathe. Let’s say that you’re not at the level of Craigslist veterans like Fuller, Martin and Olesh. You might be leery of being ripped off but not to worry. Martin has one last tip for newbies:

When In Doubt Pay Half

“You can use the “1/2 of new” rule of thumb though in general, you’ll never pay more than half of what something costs new. There are a few exceptions, like Rogue bumper plates and some things will be far less like single function commercial machines, but it’s a good rule of thumb until you learn the nuances of your market.

“With Craigslist it really is about looking to look rather than being specific. You just start looking at what’s for sale in your area. I go to stuff that I’m not even interested in, I look at the other plates and bars lying on the floor around the stuff that the guy is selling,” Fuller agrees. “People that are selling on Craigslist, most of them are just regular people that don’t work out or don’t know much about working out” he points out. So what are they going to do? They’re going to look on Craigslist and they’re going to price according to what they see that is common. So they’re not going to see a bunch of the old 1930s, 40s, 50s plates so they’re going to think those plates aren’t worth much even if they’ve got them. They think that’s just old and out of date, no one’s going to want that. Sometimes you’ll have to buy some junk but he’ll give you a real good deal on something valuable that he was just going to throw away.”


Additional Resources: Craigslist Equipment Thread

Contact: Cody Martin

Contact: Ed Olesh

About the author

John Greaves III is a writer based in North Georgia with nearly two decades of experience in training at home. A former amateur kickboxing champion, John now competes recreationally in powerlifting. He takes a physical culture approach to training; believing that strength and health need not be mutually exclusive. In addition to his nonfiction work, John has written two fiction books, A Different Kind of Giant and A Little Lesson in Manners that are available on




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