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Fitness Equipment Goes Functional & Other Trends

By Deborah L. Vence

Today, continued innovations have advanced the world of fitness equipment, with newer and better machines turning up at every corner. More than just your standard treadmill or stationary bike, fitness equipment now boasts extra features and capabilities that were unheard of 20 years ago.

To make sure that members stay engaged in your fitness facility, it's important to be on top of the latest fitness equipment trends. Functional fitness, group fitness and technological integrations all can help you stay on track.

The Latest Trends

"In terms of cardio equipment, HIIT programs are extremely popular, as exercisers want to get the maximum ROI for their limited time investment," said Tina Nibbe, senior marketing manager for a Minnesota-based manufacturer of elliptical machines and other fitness equipment. "With that in mind, total-body machines are ideal, as they address more muscle groups simultaneously for greater efficiency."

In fact, high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, was the No. 1 fitness trend for 2018, according to the American College of Sports Medicine's (ACSM) Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends.

One example of equipment that dovetails with this trend is Nibbe's company's new training machine, which "offers a 14-minute max interval workout that challenges exercisers so that they build stamina, burn calories and increase their metabolism," she explained.

"Finally," she added, "fitness equipment has been transformed with technology, not only with programming, but also with console interactivity and entertainment, multiple customization options and the ability to sync workout data with third-party apps."

For example, her company recently launched a new app that enables exercisers to pick workouts based on specific goals, and then tracks all of the results and syncs data with Apple Health. (Apple Health helps people record a variety of information about their health and wellness.)

Sam Mendelsohn, CEO of an Orange County, Calif.-based company that manufactures outdoor fitness equipment, said that "With the rapid expansion of CrossFit gyms nationwide, CrossFit Games celebrating its 12th annual competition covered by sports channels, the street workout influence from Europe, and American Ninja Warrior gaining exposure on mainstream TV channels, it is only natural that those challenging fitness trends will spill into our parks environment as well.

"During the recent NRPA Conference," he said, "it was evident that functional fitness is gaining momentum among manufacturers, park directors and designers alike. It seems there is a need to offer some sort of option for those who choose to engage in extreme fitness."

Functional Fitness

Functional fitness essentially helps to prepare or train your body for everyday situations and to handle them more efficiently.

"Functional fitness emphasizes compound movements over isolated, single joint or muscle exercises," Nibbe said. "It has soared in popularity over traditional selectorized machine circuit workouts. It is a way of training multiple muscle groups at once, taking into account mobility, stability and balance, and is meant to better translate to performing activities of daily living."

And, "Group fitness—small group training (SGT) is huge, because individuals like the personal instruction, group camaraderie, accountability, variety and results," she said.

Mendelsohn said that "Functional fitness, or calisthenics, stems from the Greek-Roman period and refers to free body exercises performed with varying degrees of intensity, sometimes done with minimal apparatuses such as rings, balls, ropes and bars."

Earlier this year, his company released two all-in-one units that cater to this trend.

The first is an apparatus that helps to strengthen the chest, shoulders, upper and mid abs, forearms, biceps, triceps and obliques. There are many exercises you can do, a few of which include high rings, incline ladder and ring rows.

The second apparatus features multiple suspension trainers for the outdoors, and targets the chest, back, abs, shoulders and biceps. Exercises you can do include push-ups, chest press and inverted row.

Mendelsohn added, "By including functional fitness apparatuses, local parks will appeal to a whole new segment of the population that otherwise would have been limited to indoor activities."

Bruce A. Sherman, Ph.D., who is the innovator of a unique holder for spray bottles and towels that can be placed on fitness equipment, noted trends in functional equipment and CrossFit as supplemental to traditional machines, both strength and cardio.

Changes in Fitness Equipment

If you think about elliptical machines, treadmills, stationary bikes, etc., one thing for sure is that they have evolved over the past 20 years.

"Fitness equipment has become more varied, with new modalities continually evolving (just think, the elliptical wasn't even available in the 1980s)," Nibbe said.

What's more, recumbent ellipticals, lateral trainers and cross trainers have debuted in the past 15 years. Nibbe's company, for example, invented a fitness machine in 2014 that enables exercisers to walk, jog or run without repetitive jarring impact to the body. (Anyone who uses the machine can safely perfect their form, minimize fatigue and reduce their risk of injury.)

"There's nothing else like this available," she said.

"Today, there are multiple variations of alternate motion trainers as well, which weren't in existence 15 to 20 years ago," Nibbe said. "As mentioned, technology also has changed fitness equipment, adding more sophistication, with smart consoles, interactive videos, Internet access, availability of personalized entertainment (TV, movies, music), USB ports, workout data tracking and syncing to third-party apps.

Continued innovations have advanced the world of fitness equipment with newer and better machines turning up at every corner.

"Finally, industrial design and use of colors has made fitness equipment sleeker, less intimidating, easier to use and a complement to a fitness center's environment," she noted.

Mendelsohn added, "With today's increasingly sedentary lifestyle, and less time for recreational activities, we see many TV commercials and infomercials offering full-body workouts with very minimal investment of time and equipment.

"These calisthenics programs are designed to guide already-motivated individuals to achieve better results," he said. "The cruel reality is that the individuals that are already motivated will find those programs relatively easy to assimilate into their lifestyles, but the rest of the population suffering from obesity will continue to face the same challenge of actually doing it."

Mendelsohn also said that offering a wide variety of physical activities—not only activities just for the highly athletic population—in public park settings helps community member live better, healthier lifestyles.

"About 12 years ago the trend toward outdoor gyms was predominantly on the coasts," he said, "but they are now being added to new and existing parks everywhere."

What Customers Want

When it comes to fitness equipment, customers want a few things.

For example, "ease of use" is one area, Nibbe said. "Exercisers want to get on and go quickly, without having to spend a lot of time programming the console or figuring out how to access what they want. Consoles should be intuitive."

Many exercise machines allow exercisers to access instantly, simply by hitting "Quick Start."

Customers also want "low impact" in fitness equipment.

"With so much HIIT training, challenging the body with high-impact work, low- or zero-impact cardiovascular equipment is popular," she said.

For example, while treadmills are effective, not everyone can tolerate the stress of running. One of Nibbe's company's fitness machines eliminates the constant pounding on the body. And, virtually any exerciser can jog or run and benefit.

Customers also want a total-body workout. "Where possible, exercisers want to work more muscle groups simultaneously, as they have limited time for workouts," Nibbe said. For instance, a fitness machine that offers total-body cycling, with unlimited resistance, versus a traditional recumbent bike that only targets the legs. A standard stair climber only works the lower body, but you can find training machines that engage the upper body as well.

Another area is variety and customization. "Machines need to fit all exercisers, with simple adjustments if necessary, and a range of resistance levels to accommodate different abilities," Nibbe said. "Equipment should offer multiple options."

One of Nibbe's company's fitness machines enables users to walk, jog, hike or climb on one machine; while another uses the company's exclusive program that combines cardio intervals with strength training exercises for greater challenge and efficiency.

"Programming variety, including pre-set options and customization capabilities, also helps keep exercisers motivated," she added. And bonus features, such as the company's trademark program that adds bursts of interval training to any fitness routine for interest and change.

Mendelsohn noted that it is important to offer something for every aspect of the community when providing fitness equipment

He noted the following:

  • Make sure the area is inclusive of those with mobility impairments—wheelchair-accessible units are often offered based on percentage required by the owner/operator.
  • Consider seniors and grandparents as well—provide low- to moderate-impact activities for these patrons.
  • If space and budget allows it, add a functional fitness component as well.

Maintenance Ideas

Of course, one of the most important things that every fitness facility needs to do is to conduct regular maintenance and sanitization of fitness equipment.

And, fitness industry experts shared some ideas on the best ways to maintain equipment.

"First, make sure to purchase full commercial or light commercial equipment, based on anticipated usage," Nibbe said. "Then follow the manufacturer's recommendations, and train staff with a schedule of regular maintenance. It's definitely worth the effort to keep equipment clean and perform preventive maintenance so machines last longer.

"Also, asset management programs on cardio equipment are an invaluable way to measure machine usage, help avoid potential maintenance issues and be made aware of and address service problems immediately and efficiently," she said.

Sherman stressed the need for fitness facilities to provide a way for users, members, exercisers to clean and sanitize before and after exercising on fitness equipment.

His unique holder invention, for instance, can attach easily to all strength training and cardio equipment. The idea is for equipment sanitizing supplies to be right at every exerciser's fingertips.

You can "leave behind germs. Sweaty hands have been on the handle," he said. "The need to clean and sanitize on a regular basis is mandatory."

Premoistened wipes are another option many fitness facilities provide to help members clean up after themselves, but location is everything. Cleaning supplies that are not near equipment or attached to it lessen the chance that someone will clean it up after a workout.

"To count on the staff to follow up and do that, that's not generally part of anyone's job description," he said, adding that the idea is to put supplies on each piece of equipment. Exercisers then don't have to walk across the fitness center to look for cleaning supplies.

Someone who has a cold or the flu and uses an elliptical machine and doesn't clean it afterward, for example, puts the next person at risk for catching the virus.

Sherman noted a fitness club that used his unique holder, "and it was remarkable," he said. "Every person cleaned their equipment. It was fascinating, [and] remarkably wonderful to see [that] for the sake of the club."

"Maintenance should include the most convenient, accessible, safe and sustainable way to do it," he said.

Regarding maintenance of outdoor fitness equipment, Mendelsohn added, "Like any other public amenity, periodic inspection is the key. The new outdoor fitness equipment is designed to be durable with minimal to no maintenance. Much like the brakes or tires of a car, occasional replacements of footrests or other parts will be needed based on frequency of usage. But all in all, the new designs are durable and designed to last."



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