Feature Article - November 2014
Find a printable version here

Fit and Trim

Fitness Equipment Trends and Facility Maintenance Best Practices

By Kelli Ra Anderson

It's a small world, after all.

It's official. Small is big business. In today's buff, multi-billion-dollar fitness industry, people are voting with their feet and their wallets for more intimate fitness environments, small group programming, personalization, and interpersonal and social connections in their fitness experience. Despite the continued success of self-guided, equipment-focused, big-box-style gyms, the appeal of smaller, smarter and more specialized training is big. And getting bigger.

The continuing rise of boutiques with their singular, focused fitness programs certainly is one example of this small-is-beautiful trend, as is the notable increase in personal trainers for one-on-one coaching. Positive outcomes like greater membership retention and program completion are attributed in part to the built-in camaraderie and accountability often integral to small group programming and smaller settings. According to recent reports by the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), 88 percent of small group exercise members retain membership as compared to 82 percent of gym-only members, whose risk of cancelling was 56 percent higher than group exercisers.

Heeding the call for small, The Quad, a 20,000-square-foot Leisure Sports club that opened in April 2014 in Pleasanton, Calif., is sporting a new idea: four specialized training centers and a fully-equipped fitness room, all under one roof (Absolute Barre, CrossFit NST, Undisputed Boxing and AirFit).

"We've combined fitness businesses, independent of each other, with different brands and logos into one building," explained Dennis Dumas, wellness director for Leisure Sports Inc. "People can purchase a la carte membership to some or all, or have drop-ins or passes so you can pick and choose your training." The unique concept gives members all the perks of the smaller fitness environment, with the value-added advantage of childcare and other amenities that smaller studios usually cannot offer.

Play It Again, Sam

Not surprisingly, fitness equipment is changing with the times to adapt to the latest trends in programming. At IHRSA's 2014 convention and tradeshow, many of the latest equipment designs and fitness programming ideas were about a more interactive, personalized, fun and effective fitness experience.

But whether it is eye-catching, multiple-fitness cages reminiscent of the playground jungle-gym, new weight bar designs, rowers, stationary surfboards, rollers for more effective Pilates workouts or ginormous tires to flip over and over for the ultimate functional fitness workout, overall there's not so much new these days, as improved.

"We're seeing some retrofitting," observed Dr. Bruce A. Sherman, a consultant with a doctorate in exercise physiology and more than 30 years of industry experience, about this year's IHRSA expo. "For example, a curved non-motorized treadmill is invented not to do five miles, but to do high-intensity intervals where you get off and do something else. That's an interesting cardio trend embraced by the cross-training, athletic training and the high-intensity-interval training (HIIT) setting." Other designs might combine two or more traditional designs like a stair-stepping treadmill.

Then there are the expected upgrades to old standards like the addition of bio-tracking technology, entertainment devices or even reintroducing old programming favorites like circuit training in the form of multiple-fitness cages. And thanks to the proliferation of personal trainers and their creative applications, staples like free weights and kettlebells are like new again in the creative ways they are being incorporated into the currently popular functional fitness programs, athletic training, cross-training or HIIT.

In some cases, like the currently popular collegiate high-performance training, fitness equipment is transitioning from the outdoors to indoors, with indoor turf areas, sleds, rubber flooring and sprint tracks to simulate the workout of college-level training.

Even the green movement is making an appearance with technology that translates human power in cardio equipment into electricity to partially offset the power required for fans, TVs and HVAC.