Guest Column - January 2004
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Blueprint for Strength Success

By Greg Highsmith

Meeting the diverse and ever-changing strength-training needs of a wide range of exercisers can be a challenging task for fitness facilities. Among the fitness industry's market segments, recreational fitness facilities traditionally have had the broadest ranges of member demographics, and their users have had the widest array of experience levels—from the novice and active older adult to the intermediate and advanced exerciser—and fitness goals. Because strength training is among the fastest-growing fitness activities (with nearly 20 million frequent participants, up 53 percent over the past 10 years, according to SGMA International), recreational facilities face even more pressure to offer their users the perfect blend of fitness products.

Selecting which strength machines to put in a facility is no longer as simple as opting for one product line or another. Rather, the decision involves identifying the right combination of machines for the needs of each facility's particular membership.

With improving technology and an increasing breadth of products offered by equipment manufacturers, facilities can more easily satisfy their members by providing two key elements of strength training: variety and progression. Facilities should offer a mix of strength products to ensure that every exerciser, regardless of needs and experience, has the variety that is essential to obtaining optimal results as they progress in their strength training. In addition, it is important to provide machines that allow your members to progress in their exercise regime as their fitness levels increase or as their goals change. By keeping variety and progression in mind, facilities will be able to determine what mix of strength-training equipment is right for their users.

Characteristics and categories

Strength machines typically have three defining characteristics (machine or user stabilization, machine or user-defined path of motion, and dependent or independent movement) and fall within one of three main categories (selectorized, plate-loaded or free weights). These characteristics and categories are key to classifying strength-training equipment for facilities to address variety and progression in their purchasing decisions.


This first classification, basic, serves as a baseline for strength training and is made up of selectorized equipment. These units typically have one weight stack with a pin that allows users to select the resistance level. The machines are most commonly available in a single-station format in which one movement or muscle group is focused on per machine.

Equipment in this group supports the user in the correct exercise position and defines the path of motion with the movement arms linked together. These pieces are a staple of fitness facilities because they are safe and easy to use, and they appeal to all users. They also are easy to learn how to use because most machines have instructional placards with simple visuals indicating proper form and muscle groups targeted. Weight-stack and seat adjustments are fast and easy to identify.


Once exercisers have mastered the basic selectorized machines, they may be looking for a change in their routine and want to incorporate machines in the intermediate classification. These machines may be selectorized or plate-loaded and offer more advanced movements. The variety they offer as compared to the basic machines add an element of variety, which helps enhance strength gains and conquer strength plateaus. Machines in this group stabilize the exercise position and define the exerciser's path of motion but offer independent motion, allowing users to move one limb at a time, both limbs simultaneously or both limbs alternately, for greater variety.


The final classification, advanced, contains free weights and cable motion selectorized units. With user-defined path of motion and independent movements, this equipment is for more experienced users. In some machines, the user may do exercises from a standing position or on an exercise ball, which brings in additional stabilization requirements from the user.

Units in the advanced classification offer the greatest freedom of movement. This freedom requires that users practice proper technique and form, which may take extra time to learn and, for some exercisers, may be more difficult than using machines that predefine motion. To ensure safety, exercisers should be supervised by a qualified exercise specialist until they become comfortable at this level.

Variety: the common denominator

If all users were the same, choosing the right fitness equipment would be an easy decision. But the wide range in demographics, experience levels of those who use recreational fitness facilities and fitness needs mean that selecting the proper equipment requires planning and strategy. By providing a variety of fitness products, facilities can ensure that users with any level of experience are well served and will remain loyal customers.

Greg Highsmith brings more than 18 years of engineering and product management experience to his position as senior business director, strength products, at Life Fitness. He can be reached at