Brother, can you spare a treadmill?

Economic hard times have Americans downsizing their workout equipment, trimming their workout budgets, and shifting their workout venues, according to a sporting goods industry survey.

Sales of fitness equipment took a hit for the first time in 20 years, health club membership dipped slightly and some regular exercisers were working out less in 2008.

The fitness industry was not immune from the effects of a tough economy, said Tom Cove, president of the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA), a global organization which conducted the poll.

SGMA represents over 1,000 sports manufacturers, retailers and marketers around the world. They have published their study, Tracking the Fitness Movement, for 10 years.

The 2009 edition puts U.S. wholesale sales of fitness gear and equipment sold for use in home, clubs and institutions, at $4.2 billion in 2008, down from $4.7 billion the year before.

People didn't have the money to buy new equipment as they have in recent years or the free time needed to exercise on a regular basis, Cove said.

Nevertheless, SGMA's online survey of 41,500 households found that more than 60 percent of Americans exercise regularly.

Seventeen of the 28 aerobic, conditioning, and strength activities measured in the survey showed increased rates of participation.

We're pleasantly surprised to find the appetite for fitness has not waned, SGMA spokesperson Mike May said in an interview.

The only thing that's affected it is the freedom to do so based on economic demands.

Walking, treadmills, hand weights, running/jogging, and weight/resistance machines were the top five fitness activities in 2008. Step aerobics showed the biggest one-year increase at 21 percent.

The graying of the fitness community is continuing. Among those who exercise 50 days or more a year, nearly 30 percent were 55 or older, with the 65-plus set dominating in two categories: aquatic exercise activities and tai chi.

It's interesting to see seniors making a bigger dent on the fitness population, May said.

The survey found that among fitness machines, the treadmill still rules the roost.

The treadmill remains number one. And I don't think it's going to lose that spot any time soon, May said. It's king of the hill.

But even the king is not immune to cutbacks.

People are choosing not to spend $3,000 to 4,000 on a treadmill, said Colleen Logan of ICON Health & Fitness, the largest manufacturer of home fitness equipment. But we're seeing steady sales of treadmills for under $1,000.

The home fitness market is roughly three times as big as the institutional market, according to SGMA.

Logan says that while sales to health clubs and specialty stores may have plummeted, the home fitness market is down, but not devastated, as consumer habits change with the times.

People are saying, 'Do I really need that gym fee?' she explained.

In what may be yet another belt-tightening move, the report found more people working out with free weights, which include barbells, dumbbells and hand weights.

Myatt Murphy, author of The Ultimate Dumbbell Guide, says dumbbells are the smart choice for lean times.

There were thousands of exercises you can create using one pair of dumbbells, he said. and if you're on a budget, that equals pennies per exercise at most.