Feature Article - November 2019
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From Functional to Ninja-Inspired, Fitness Continues to Evolve

By Deborah L. Vence

Advancements in fitness equipment have really changed the way people work out today. Free weights, the standard treadmill and elliptical machines are still expected, but sophisticated technologies have been incorporated to enable gym-goers to better track their progress and create more challenging workouts. What's more, fitness enthusiasts are being influenced by other forces. Exercise videos on YouTube, as well as television shows, such as American Ninja Warrior, are pushing the boundaries of physical fitness and inspiring everyone from beginner fitness enthusiasts to the more experienced to push themselves beyond their comfort zone.

Adapting to Trends

There are many fitness trends that continue to gain in popularity among fitness enthusiasts—group fitness, the popular HIIT (high-intensity interval training) and even fitness techniques that mimic the popular American Ninja Warrior television series.

When asked about how equipment trends are adapting to fitness trends and expectations, such as the cardio floor (more tech interconnection), as well as group fitness, functional fitness/HIIT and Ninja warrior-type workouts, industry experts, like Ben Hackney-Williams, digital marketing manager for a U.K.-based company that manufactures functional fitness equipment, said that "Operators are embracing the popularity for functional fitness spaces, both within bigger gyms and as standalone locations.

"In addition, more members, customers and clients are embracing bodyweight and full-body workouts," he said. "Whether it's tri-planar patterns using training tools or challenging your body through calisthenics exercises, movement trends are leading the way for functional fitness equipment to bring the biggest benefits to gym-goers.

"Boutiques have brought a rise in group fitness in a way that's now influencing traditional gyms to provide a studio offering," he said, "but the community approach to exercise has really seen growth thanks to gamification and education that comes with the use of innovations."

He added, "When gym-goers are given the environment to enjoy movements of all kinds, they'll push themselves harder and use the progress, enjoyment and education as reasons to not only return, but also encourage friends to share the experience."

Meanwhile, Erica Tillinghast, global education manager for a manufacturer of premium fitness equipment in Washington state, said, "Exercisers bring in workouts from apps, YouTube, magazines and other forms of media. They also increasingly want to emulate experiences found in popular free-standing studios like CrossFit and Orangetheory, or on TV shows like American Ninja Warrior. As such, functional fitness structures must be dynamic, flexible and sturdy.

"Exercisers," she added, "are loading functional frames in ways we've never seen before, and they are seeking equipment that easily accommodates their workout, rather than needing to alter their workout around the limitations of the equipment."

Tillinghast's company introduced functional training equipment to the market in 2010, and it "…has undergone rigorous load testing to retain its position as best-in-class." The structural integrity of the equipment supports programs like obstacle course race training and aerial yoga classes (yoga that combines yoga, dance and Pilates with suspension training).

"On the other side of the functional spectrum, lifting equipment—platforms, barbells, kettlebells—continues to grow in popularity and gain space on the floor. In the cardio area, exercisers demand equipment that easily accommodates HIIT workouts and other interval training protocols defined by sources outside the gym," Tillinghast said, adding that her company's interval treadmill "makes it easy for exercisers to alternate between low, medium and high intensity levels at the touch of a button, making it a great tool for individual or instructor-led workouts."

Judy Geer, who works for a company in Vermont that manufactures exercise equipment, said, "We're seeing a growing interest in measurable training data. There's an expectation that workout results can be captured and shared. Our performance monitor helps athletes monitor their progress toward their goals. With wireless connectivity to heart rate and fitness platforms, athletes and trainers can easily access workout feedback."

For Ashley Haberman, marketing manager, U.S. Commercial, for a Wisconsin-based fitness equipment manufacturer, "It's all about connectivity—technology and community-building."

She explained that "Users want to remain connected in all aspects of their lives, and the cardio and strength equipment on the floor needs to help facilitate that need. Technologies need to be integrated into the equipment to allow users to access important social networking and entertainment apps (Facebook, Instagram, Netflix, etc.), along with fitness tracking (MyFitnessPal and others).

"On the group fitness and HIIT front, equipment must be designed to allow facilities to offer these training solutions to not only drive results in fitness, but to also create the 'connectivity' through building that social community," she added.