Feature Article - November 2016
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From Muscle to Movement

Top Trends in Fitness Equipment

By Deborah L. Vence

In the 1960s, treadmills became popular for use in gyms and in homes, while the 1990s saw the birth of the elliptical machine, giving exercisers a cardiovascular workout, but with low impact. Since that time, more impressive features, such as heart rate monitors, touch screens and speed adjustments, have been added to fitness machines, giving exercise enthusiasts an even better way to get in shape and reach their goals.

Over the years, fitness equipment has changed in that users expect it to include entertainment, technology enablement and a customized experience, according to Matt Hacker, chief sales officer for a St. Louis-based fitness equipment manufacturer.

"Fitness equipment itself has provided new modalities of movement to allow the user to flex areas of focus and provide differing workouts," he said.

The Latest and Greatest

Trends in the industry essentially are moving from traditional machine-based training "to more whole-body functional movement and recovery-while-you-exercise type of programming," noted Jacob Guajardo, sales representative and head of the facility design department for a West Warwick, R.I.-based fitness equipment manufacturer.

Functional training involves training movements, not just muscles. Traditional strength training includes doing bicep curls. "Functional movement includes a kettle bell swing, [and the] bicep happens to be part of it. But it's part of total body," he said, adding that one of the godfathers of functional training is Michael Boyle, who is considered one of the foremost experts in strength and conditioning.

Among some other trends in fitness equipment, networked fitness and functional products and programs are two of the bigger trends right now that are growing globally.

"The products that are most successful have been the ones backed with programs and education to ensure the highest member and staff engagement," said Adam Hubbard, director of product management for a cardio equipment manufacturer based in Woodinville, Wash.

"With boutique gyms leading the transformation of the fitness industry, we see gyms of all sizes interested in outfitting their space with equipment that facilitates group training. This includes rowers, cycling bikes and equipment that accommodates small group training," said Anthony Morelli, senior product manager for a Rosemont, Ill.-based company that specializes in fitness solutions, and offers a wide range of cardio, strength and group training products in the fitness industry.

In addition, fitness equipment that allows users to achieve high intensity or interval training is another trend.

"The equipment needs to allow for user personalization, identification and customization," Hacker said. "Engagement with personal trainers and technology will continue to grow through the space."

From Cardio to Group Training

Variety and personalization are overarching themes emerging in the market.

"Exercisers are continuing to train in increasingly different ways. Exercisers are better informed and are more willing to try new and different training methods," Hubbard said. "Facility operators must provide equipment and programs that are flexible and adaptive to meeting the evolving needs of their members."

From Guajardo's perspective, he said he sees blending of facilities.

"We can't just trust and put cardio in a room and have people use them. They need to flow within the facility and blend with the facility," he said. "And that goes from the first talk with the contractor.

"Talk with the architect and talk with the client. What kind of programming will they have?" he said.

In addition, you have to consider the type of flooring you need. Rubber flooring, for instance, has to be put in properly and have racks anchored to the floor correctly.

"From a design standpoint, [you have to] start at the very beginning. You have to ask, 'What type of programming are you going to be doing?'" Guajardo said.

He cited an example of a physical therapy clinic, a hybrid facility that involves having one revenue stream feeding into another revenue stream. The therapy is feeding a sports performance facility. The idea is, "We are going to focus on sports performance, but from a level of rehabilitation," he said.

When it comes to cardio equipment itself, "We still sell traditional ellipticals, lateral trainers—you name it. But our main focus is how to integrate cardio products within the metabolic circuit," Guajardo said.

"And, you have companies that have gone from supplying strength products to a functional training/metabolic treadmill, (which is different from a standard treadmill)," he added.

Morelli said that "As we see the active aging population rise, there's a higher need to furnish gyms with equipment that is assessable and practical for a different profile of exerciser."

For instance, Morelli's company has an equipment brand that focuses on functional fitness, a combination of strength training and other movements that help to improve balance, coordination and endurance.

"We also continue to see a rise in group training," he said.

"Last, strength training is no longer just for the body builders. Exercisers of all levels of fitness have incorporated the weight room into their workout routines. Gyms are now outfitting their weight room with a range of equipment to facilitate everything from beginners to those training with the popular Olympic lifts," he added.

Hacker said other trends include interval training and users demanding the ability to mix both cardio and strength into the same exercise program.

Also, "Technology tracking and program suggestions continue to evolve," he said.