Feature Article - November 2018
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Find Your Fit

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.