A Show of Strength

Trends in strength-training equipment

By Tim Mccarthy

Strength training. Resistance training. Weight training. No matter what you call it, strength training is here to stay, and equipment for strength training is a mainstay of any fitness facility. As more people of all fitness levels and ages appreciate the multitude of ways strength training will benefit them, they recognize that it should be a key component of their exercise programs. As a result, more people are strength training, and the equipment has evolved to meet changing user demographics and demands. Among these trends are improved design, the expanding popularity of circuit training and a growing diversity of equipment in fitness facilities.

Good looks, Ease of use

Look around any fitness facility, and you'll notice right away that the appearance of some strength-training equipment has changed. Look a little closer, and you'll see that the changes are more than just cosmetic—certain pieces are more aesthetically pleasing, easier to use and less intimidating, with more user-friendly designs and with fewer machine setup adjustments.

Bulky, mismatched machines that take up lots of floor space are being replaced by attractive equipment that complements other pieces in the facility. And because many people are new to strength training, the machines look more approachable and inviting, making users feel less intimidated.

Some newer equipment not only looks nicer, but also is designed to make it easier for users to get on and off. And the machines require minimal, if any, setup adjustments.

The low starting resistance on certain machines is perfect for exercisers who have limited strength capability or are new to strength training. Small resistance increments let them increase resistance appropriately and enable them to measure their progress, so they feel a sense of accomplishment and stay motivated.

Circuit training

Another trend in strength training is circuit training. Some people don't want, or simply don't have the time, to spend an hour working out, which has led to the development of strength machines for express-type workouts, or circuit training. While circuit training is not new to the industry, its popularity is growing as more people want to get maximum exercise benefit in a minimum amount of time.

Circuit-training programs are designed to move participants through a sequenced order of strength exercises for a total-body workout that can be completed in less than 30 minutes. With an organized circuit-training program, people don't have to wait for the next machine to become available—everyone moves through the circuit at once. The program is perfect for time-crunched exercisers because it allows them to move rapidly through the circuit without delays, enabling facilities to help busy users fit exercise into their demanding days.

For those who want to do strength and cardio, the express workout can utilize both in a way that gives users a total-body strength-training workout and maintains their heart rates throughout the circuit. The user performs a series of different exercises in one training session, alternating between intervals of strength training and cardiovascular exercise, so they're combining the elements of traditional strength training and cardio into the strength workout.

Unlike traditional strength training, which allows for heart-rate recovery during the rest period between strength-training exercises, circuit training with cardio incorporated cues exercisers to quickly alternate between strength and cardio, so their heart rates remain elevated and sustained at a desired intensity throughout the workout. This promotes cardiovascular conditioning and reduces the need for a separate cardiovascular component in the workout. And because the workout includes both strength training and cardio, exercisers reap the benefits of both types of exercise.

Circuit-training programs have been proven to burn more calories compared to traditional strength-training programs due to the maintenance of an elevated heart rate. If the heart rate stays elevated throughout the session, more work is performed in less time, resulting in greater caloric expenditure.

So overall, consistent circuit training improves the user's general conditioning, body composition, muscular endurance, muscular strength and cardiovascular fitness.

Equipment diversification

Another trend in strength training is greater equipment diversification by fitness facilities to meet the needs of their users and to give personal trainers more options for creating programs that will deliver the best results for their clients.

More facilities are adding a wider variety of strength-training modalities beyond traditional selectorized machines, including ground-based equipment, cable-motion machines, plate-loaded equipment and free weights, as well as other pieces that can be incorporated into strength-training workouts, such as medicine balls, balance boards and stability balls.

This is the result of a significant increase in the diversity of exercisers' goals. People want to achieve different objectives with their strength training, such as losing weight, improving everyday or athletic performance, or simply enhancing their general fitness. Facilities have found it important to offer a variety of strength-training products with different features and characteristics, so all of their users can achieve their strength-training goals, no matter what they are.


Tim McCarthy is vice president of National Accounts at Life Fitness. For more information, visit www.lifefitness.com.

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