Feature Article - November 2018
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Find Your Fit

Fitness Equipment Goes Functional & Other Trends

By Deborah L. Vence

Changes in Fitness Equipment

If you think about elliptical machines, treadmills, stationary bikes, etc., one thing for sure is that they have evolved over the past 20 years.

"Fitness equipment has become more varied, with new modalities continually evolving (just think, the elliptical wasn't even available in the 1980s)," Nibbe said.

What's more, recumbent ellipticals, lateral trainers and cross trainers have debuted in the past 15 years. Nibbe's company, for example, invented a fitness machine in 2014 that enables exercisers to walk, jog or run without repetitive jarring impact to the body. (Anyone who uses the machine can safely perfect their form, minimize fatigue and reduce their risk of injury.)

"There's nothing else like this available," she said.

"Today, there are multiple variations of alternate motion trainers as well, which weren't in existence 15 to 20 years ago," Nibbe said. "As mentioned, technology also has changed fitness equipment, adding more sophistication, with smart consoles, interactive videos, Internet access, availability of personalized entertainment (TV, movies, music), USB ports, workout data tracking and syncing to third-party apps.

Continued innovations have advanced the world of fitness equipment with newer and better machines turning up at every corner.

"Finally, industrial design and use of colors has made fitness equipment sleeker, less intimidating, easier to use and a complement to a fitness center's environment," she noted.

Mendelsohn added, "With today's increasingly sedentary lifestyle, and less time for recreational activities, we see many TV commercials and infomercials offering full-body workouts with very minimal investment of time and equipment.

"These calisthenics programs are designed to guide already-motivated individuals to achieve better results," he said. "The cruel reality is that the individuals that are already motivated will find those programs relatively easy to assimilate into their lifestyles, but the rest of the population suffering from obesity will continue to face the same challenge of actually doing it."

Mendelsohn also said that offering a wide variety of physical activities—not only activities just for the highly athletic population—in public park settings helps community member live better, healthier lifestyles.

"About 12 years ago the trend toward outdoor gyms was predominantly on the coasts," he said, "but they are now being added to new and existing parks everywhere."

What Customers Want

When it comes to fitness equipment, customers want a few things.

For example, "ease of use" is one area, Nibbe said. "Exercisers want to get on and go quickly, without having to spend a lot of time programming the console or figuring out how to access what they want. Consoles should be intuitive."

Many exercise machines allow exercisers to access instantly, simply by hitting "Quick Start."

Customers also want "low impact" in fitness equipment.

"With so much HIIT training, challenging the body with high-impact work, low- or zero-impact cardiovascular equipment is popular," she said.

For example, while treadmills are effective, not everyone can tolerate the stress of running. One of Nibbe's company's fitness machines eliminates the constant pounding on the body. And, virtually any exerciser can jog or run and benefit.

Customers also want a total-body workout. "Where possible, exercisers want to work more muscle groups simultaneously, as they have limited time for workouts," Nibbe said. For instance, a fitness machine that offers total-body cycling, with unlimited resistance, versus a traditional recumbent bike that only targets the legs. A standard stair climber only works the lower body, but you can find training machines that engage the upper body as well.

Another area is variety and customization. "Machines need to fit all exercisers, with simple adjustments if necessary, and a range of resistance levels to accommodate different abilities," Nibbe said. "Equipment should offer multiple options."

One of Nibbe's company's fitness machines enables users to walk, jog, hike or climb on one machine; while another uses the company's exclusive program that combines cardio intervals with strength training exercises for greater challenge and efficiency.

"Programming variety, including pre-set options and customization capabilities, also helps keep exercisers motivated," she added. And bonus features, such as the company's trademark program that adds bursts of interval training to any fitness routine for interest and change.

Mendelsohn noted that it is important to offer something for every aspect of the community when providing fitness equipment

He noted the following:

  • Make sure the area is inclusive of those with mobility impairments—wheelchair-accessible units are often offered based on percentage required by the owner/operator.
  • Consider seniors and grandparents as well—provide low- to moderate-impact activities for these patrons.
  • If space and budget allows it, add a functional fitness component as well.