Feature Article - March 2005
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Fresh Fitness Checkup

Fitness equipment and programming: One doesn't work without the other, and both are changing

By Kyle Ryan

Functional, balance and core training

Changes in fitness and exercise practices over the past decade come from a shift in perspective.

"It's not about training isolated muscles," Catlin says. "It's about training movement."

That holistic approach is the foundation for so-called functional training, which uses exercises based on what the body needs for everyday life.

"Talk about the most simplistic exercises," says fitness instructor Tom Holland, fitness consultant and founder of Team Holland training. "But that's the stuff that usually works most effectively."

A lot of functional training uses cable-motion machines, which allow for unrestricted, biomechanically correct movement. The cables can be pulled in a number of directions, offering an infinite number of exercise possibilities.

"[They're] only limited by the trainer's expertise," Holland says, but he isn't sure how long the buzz will last. "I think cable motion's great—I don't think it's utilized correctly," he says. "To be totally honest, I'll see a 300-pound person with a trainer doing something with a pulley system who's much better off walking on a treadmill."

According to the annual Fitness Programs & Equipment Survey conducted by IDEA, one of the world's largest health and fitness associations, 66 percent of responding facilities in 2004 had pulley equipment, down from a high of 81 percent in 2001.

That same survey shows a dramatic rise in another part of functional fitness: balance training. According to IDEA, only 41 percent of fitness facilities used stability balls in 1998. By 2004, the number more than doubled to 87 percent. Stability-ball programs have jumped nearly 40 percent.

The balls are just part of balance training, which incorporates a growing amount of equipment such as wobble boards, balance boards, discs and an inflatable half-sphere connected to a flat disc on which people stand on either side to do balance work.

"I think BOSU really lifted the whole area of balance training to a new level of respect," Catlin says. "Personal trainers were using it for a long time, but now there are a myriad of products, and I think it's because of the programming that BOSU did that really focused a lot of attention on that area."

Core training and balance training have created a demand for all sorts of products, with small equipment becoming prevalent in fitness facilities. Sixty-seven percent of respondents to IDEA's survey said they had balance equipment.

"When I see trainers working with clients, they are really utilizing all of these tools," says Kathie Davis, executive director of IDEA. "Number one, because they're really functional, but number two, because they're fun and they offer variety, and they help people from getting bored."