Fads vs. trends

By Pat Warner

One of the challenges facing the fitness industry is to develop products that will sustain over the long run and avoid the stigma of being labeled a fad. First, let's understand the difference between a fad and a trend. Fads come and go quickly. They create a lot of attention and press, and then they abruptly disappear because people haven't seen results or they find it too difficult to sustain.

Trends are evolutions or changes in direction in a product category, and trends are what fitness companies base their product development on. They are self-sustaining but need improvement over time to adjust to the users' improvement and to add variety to an already successful workout. An example of a trend is the recumbent bike, which continues to become more popular than upright bikes because of increased product comfort.

So how does the industry develop innovative products that sustain over time?

First and foremost, there is no such thing as "spot reduction," and claims of that nature are fabricated. Certainly we can isolate a muscle, but we can't change a particular area of our bodies without a complete, overall exercise program. For example, no matter how many crunches we do, in order to have six-pack abs we need to reduce the amount of fat that overlays the muscles. We do that with a sound diet and cardiovascular routine added to our strength program, which includes crunches as part of it.

Second, claims that an exercise requires little work or "intensity" are false. There is no quick, easy workout that will show results. Mild intensity workouts are effective when starting a program, but intensity level increases are critical to long-term fitness gains. Short bursts of high-intensity workouts are most effective in burning large amounts of calories, and not all machines are capable of delivering interval exercise bouts.

The third thing to watch for is poor biomechanics. Machines that encourage poor form will hurt more than they help. Equipment needs to be built with proper biomechanics that encourage proper lower-back support and skeletal alignment. Back injuries are a common cause of poor form during a workout. And the bottom line is, if the user gets injured or is in pain or discomfort because of working out, they will not continue.

Users should not have to contort their bodies in order to do the exercise. Many machines say they work certain muscle groups, but ultimately the body position the user has to obtain to work the muscle group desired may be uncomfortable and hold the body in poor position.

On selectorized strength machines, the resistance should be smooth and fluid from the beginning of the movement to the end with the appropriate strength curve. If the resistance remains constant or smoothly progressive in all positions, chances are the equipment is not designed to match muscle contraction during the exercise motion.

Gyms should allow the user to move from one exercise to the next without exerting a lot of effort and labor to readjust the machines. They should be space-efficient and, most important, enticing. Boredom can be an issue with fads, but a machine with versatility that easily adjusts to different exercises can be kept interesting. Caution should be exhibited with "all-in-one" machines. Very few do both cardio and strength training.

The optimum workout involves cardio, strength-training and flexibility training. All three of these components make for a comprehensive, full-body workout. If the combination of machines allows the user to do this, then the gym will be effective.

Facility managers need to be educated to look for certain things when buying equipment. It's important to be able to try the equipment before buying it. Most direct products will allow for a 30-day trial period, and stores should allow customers to test the floor model before purchasing the equipment.

The product should feel natural and move with the user's body. The user should look for smoothness, easy adjustment of intensity level, and meaningful and understandable feedback on the display. Is it pertinent? Is it real and will it motivate the user to continue working out? All these factors will contribute to the ability to sustain a member's workout over the long haul and to measure fitness-level improvements. Look for cardio devices that offer a lower perceived exertion with a comfortable workout position that results in a high caloric expenditure and a motivating workout.

The fitness industry is constantly exploring new movements and exercise modalities while at the same time evolving and improving on fitness equipment "cornerstones" such as treadmills, bikes and weight machines.

Manufacturers should avoid designs that are attractive but unsafe or that deliver biomechanically incorrect exercise movements. A design that features exercise benefits that cross over gender and channels of distribution are most desirable. The manufacturer needs to understand the long-term demand statistics and viability of product duplication and market saturation rates. Understanding the user and their overall needs is critical to a company's long-term success in avoiding fads.

All equipment has documentation that accompanies it. When buying equipment, customers should study the support materials that are offered and the validation of the product's effectiveness to ensure that the claims that are being made are real and that there is data to support them. Products also should come with user instructions on proper form and exercise recommendations. And certainly, the manufacturer should offer an 800 number for the purchaser to call a knowledgeable customer-service representative.

Learning from the past, we can pinpoint those products that disappeared from the market, never to return. We know the reasons for this, and we can remedy them by building equipment that supports a lifestyle of fitness, not equipment that offers a "perfect" body part in seconds or minutes. Fitness is a way of life and a commitment, and with the proper tools, results can be achieved and sustained for life.

Pat Warner is senior vice president of Product Development for The Nautilus Group, Inc. He can be reached at pwarner@nautilus.com.

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