Feature Article - November 2007
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Survival of the Fitness

Adapt to Evolving Fitness Trends and Demographics—or Be Left Behind

By Kelli Anderson



Fear factor

Strength-training equipment is morphing into more aesthetic, easier-to-use models with fewer, smaller incremental adjustments. The goal, to reduce the fear factor and frustration often experienced by younger or first-time users, translates into simpler-to-understand equipment.

Smaller incremental adjustments also mean less physical discomfort while letting users more easily measure their progress. The result? A greater sense of accomplishment and greater motivation. It's a win-win.

For Kids Action Fitness, which is the country's first all-kids fitness facility, equipment modification and especially motivation via both education and entertainment was a must.

"Some equipment was specially designed," said Rick Schliebe, owner and founder of the facility, which opened this July. "Everything is kid-friendly and fun. We have a Tazer that teaches kids how to react to different sports—like in soccer, how to respond to a goalie. Then there's Dance Dance Revolution or bicycles that take different trail courses where you can race friends—the screens stop when you stop, and so forth."

Some companies are developing kids' equipment lines that combine exercise with gaming just to meet the needs of this specialized and growing market.

Equipment designs also are responding by getting smaller and just plain "prettier." Smaller equipment is visually less intimidating while having the added advantage of opening up previously lost floor space. In addition, manufacturers are offering customizing options to allow equipment to become more a part of the general decor to provide members with a more pleasant workout experience.

For older users interested in workouts that simply are less stressful on joints and less painful, treadmills are still the number-one cardio piece, while elliptical machines are popular for their ability to provide a low-impact workout. Recumbent bicycles are designed to reduce lower-back stress, and smaller equipment pieces like bands, tubes and balls are props used by more and more trainers with older populations and young athletes alike.


Downsizing

Ultimately, the shift toward smaller equipment and away from larger equipment has been in the works for some time. With walking enjoying the lowest dropout rate of any type of exercise among fitness seekers aiming to improve their health, and with the continued popularity of programs like Pilates and yoga, it comes as no surprise that small equipment, according to IDEA's latest research, continues its dominance.

"Stability balls, resistance tubing or bands and balance equipment are the three most frequently offered types of equipment," the report says, concluding that "it doesn't take large expensive tools to help people become fit."

Additionally, with the fastest-growing population in the United States being those 55 years and older, IDEA touches on a significant paradigm shift in the fitness industry from exercising to achieve a certain body type to exercising for health.