Product Reviews: Circuit Series, 95Ti Treadmill, Half-Trap Retro Kit, Combo Chair
Life Fitness — Circuit SeriesHas the popularity of a certain upstart circuit-training franchise influenced the venerable Life Fitness? The company uses phrases like "easy-to-use" and "non-intimidating" to describe its Circuit Series line of 11 strength-training machines. And, the Circuit Series definitely delivers on its promise of a time-efficient workout in an inviting, non-threatening format. It appears aimed at new exercisers who may be reticent to use typical selectorized strength-training machines, but still understand the health benefits of strength training.
The Circuit Series features a patented Lifeband Resistance System that uses bound and covered groups of poly-elastomer bands for consistent resistance with a smooth feel. This system allows users to execute the relatively faster movements similar to those typically seen with pneumatic equipment, but maintains (somewhat) the feel of selectorized strength-training machines. Plus, using bands — as opposed to weights sliding along lubricated rods — means there are fewer parts to upkeep and repair. The self-contained resistance system keeps maintenance headaches to a minimum.
Since this resistance system has no weight plates or selector pins, new exercisers should feel less intimidated. In addition, the lack of clanging weight plates keeps the machines quiet. However, unlike the pneumatic machines often associated with circuit training, these machines don't require electrical or compressor lines, so fitness centers can place them wherever they like. The push-button resistance selector system is intuitive, easy to reach and easy to see. Users may increase the resistance in small, measurable increments, and the low minimum starting resistance is ideal for newcomers to strength training.
The 11 easy-entry-and-exit machines are simple for new exercisers to handle because there aren't any machine adjustments. The leg extension and leg curl machines, and even the seated row, are "missing" the upper-body supports users have become accustomed to seeing. The good part is that this forces users to use their own core muscles for support. The possible downside is the same: New users might not yet have strong enough core muscles to support themselves in proper posture. (In the personal training business, we call this an "opportunity." ) The lack of machine adjustments also eliminated the customary leg press (in which one size certainly doesn't fit all). It's replaced, fortunately, by a simple-to-use squat machine that also eliminates the need for a separate back machine.
Not sure what to do with the machines once you've installed them? Life Fitness makes the Circuit Series plug-and-play simple with a variety of workout programs developed by the education and training department at Life Fitness, the Life Fitness Academy. You can get programs to meet the specific needs of many types of users and special populations.
So, if you're looking for well-designed equipment that lasts to compete in your marketplace or to attract the type of user that might currently be at that well-known circuit-training franchise, the Life Fitness Circuit Series may be just what you need.
Life Fitness — 95Ti TreadmillThe Life Fitness 95Ti treadmill features the FlexDeck Shock Absorption System, which reduces impact by up to 30 percent compared to non-cushioned surfaces. The obvious benefit should be fewer injuries and better adherence for users.
If you've ever been unfortunate enough to witness an unsuspecting user trying to get on a treadmill that is already moving, you'll appreciate the Stride Sensor. This belt tracking device senses lack of deck deflection if the user is not stepping on the deck, and shuts off power to the belt. In addition, the belt is lubricant-infused, so it requires less maintenance and lasts longer. What I like most is the faster maximum speed. If users really want to get the most out of their time, they should include interval training. The standard max speed of 12 miles per hour is only a five-minute-mile pace — certainly not challenging for a serious athlete. The 95Ti, however, can take users up to a four-minute-mile with its 15 miles per hour top speed.
And there's no way any user could ever get bored with a whopping 28 programs to choose from, including five ZoneTraining-plus workouts that automatically adjust the incline to keep users in their target heart rate zone, 5K and 10K running programs, and even Gerkin and Military PRT/PFT protocols.
Life Fitness placed the most-used controls within easy reach of the user on the Activity Zone control pad, located on the handlebar. This Activity Zone includes a Quick Start button, which lets users quickly begin their workouts, and Incline Up/Down and Speed Up/Down control buttons, which allow exercisers to easily make changes in these functions during their workouts. I especially like the way the Activity Zone lets users start working out at a desired speed with just a push of a button. The annoying "beep, beep, beep, etc." heard as most walkers start from zero to their starting speed is nowhere to be found. With the Go System buttons, users can push just one button one time and start at their choice of Walk (2 mph), Jog (4 mph) or Run (6 mph). Users can check their heart rate with Lifepulse digital heart rate monitoring hand sensors on easy-to-grip handlebars. Of course, Polar telemetry is also available for hands-free heart rate monitoring.
Much like the "Check Engine" light on a car, the Proactive Belt-Wear Notification warns staff with an LED light on the console when they need to check the belt for maintenance or repairs.
Balanced Body — Half-Trap Retro KitBalanced Body prides itself on designing its Pilates equipment by soliciting the opinions of leading Pilates instructors and practitioners, and relying on this information to develop products in the best interests of both owners and end-users. The Half-Trap Retro Kit exemplifies this philosophy by combining a wider array of Pilates exercises (which users will appreciate) in a small space (which owners can appreciate).
The Balanced Body Half-Trapeze Retrofit Kit converts any Balanced Body Studio Reformer into a Reformer/Half-Trapeze Combination (Half-Trap Combo) and, therefore, is an excellent solution for owners who want to expand their Pilates options without having to sacrifice floor space for additional pieces.
The Half-Trap Combo gives users the ability to work in multiple planes of resisted motion on a moving platform, and adds the full assortment of Trapeze (also known as "Cadillac" ) exercises to the standard array of Reformer exercises. Users simply attach the Retrofit Kit's vertical tower frame to the Reformer. Two mats — each are light enough for one person to handle — fit over the carriage and on top of the frame, so, unlike other Combos, there's no need to lift and turn over the carriage. The non-skid mats also double as floor mats.
The unique attachment system disperses the stress throughout the frame, so your retrofitted Reformer/Half-Trap Tower is just as stable and secure as a brand new Half-Trap Combo. Don't worry — installation is simple and explained fully with step-by-step directions that are included.
The kit includes 35 attachment points for springs, and an aluminum push-through bar that can be assembled as a three- or four-sided bar adjustable to three heights. In addition to the hardware, the kit comes with all the accessories needed, including a push-through safety strap; two light and two medium push-through springs; two very light roll-down springs; two very light and two medium leg springs and loops; 35 eye-bolt positions for springs; a hardwood roll-down bar; a cotton belly strap; a set of adjustable Velcro thigh and ankle cuffs; and a set of Neoprene handles.
Balanced Body — Combo ChairJoseph Pilates originally designed the Chair to stretch and strengthen muscle groups not easily reached by more traditional techniques and equipment. The new Balanced Body Combo Chair is an advancement from the Pilates Wunda Chair system, and uses a padded split-step as opposed to the original single step. Users perform exercises by pressing down on the steps with their feet or arms from seated, standing, lunging and prone positions, on or in front of the Chair.
The Combo Chair features a split step that can be used individually or as a single step. Self-lubricating bearings keep movements smooth, while a sound-dampening pad beneath the step makes operation quiet. The split step design increases the range of possible exercises by adding the availability of rotational and reciprocal movements of the extremities. The split step also provides an additional plane of instability — side-to-side — in addition to front-to-back. A simple dowel quickly converts the split steps to a single step for more traditional Chair exercises.
The clever and exclusive Cactus Resistance System features a spring tree that makes spring changes simple, fast and safe. The four color-coded springs (two heavy and two light) offer a variety of resistance levels suitable for any user. The vast array of exercises and resistance levels available enable any user, from beginning to advanced, to use the Combo Chair to develop balance, strength and coordination.
The padded handles are removable and easy to adjust (and lock) to any of three heights for support with standing exercises. The upholstered seat is well padded for optimal comfort. The stock upholstery is basic black, but owners have the option of choosing from five standard colors or a palette of 83 custom colors. Maple-faced hardwood laminate makes the Combo Chair one of the strongest and most stable available. The Combo Chair even has wheels mounted on the back for convenient portability.
The small 28.5-by-21-inch footprint can squeeze into even the smallest Pilates studio or exercise area. Owners can also take advantage of the Combo Chair's height, which makes it a perfect addition at the end of a Trapeze Table for more variety in your Pilates options.
Jacob's LadderJacob's Ladder is a total-body exerciser featuring ladder-type rungs on a 40-degree, angled non-motorized continuous treadmill. The result is a vigorous workout — with no upper limit on speed or intensity — that's challenging for even the most well-conditioned athlete.
Unlike ellipticals and stairclimbers, which don't usually perform as well with high-intensity workouts, exercisers can use Jacob's Ladder to increase anaerobic capacity. And unlike treadmills, they can do so with low impact. In fact, Jacob's Ladder was originally developed as a device to combine an alternative to running, with upper-body work, and with less back stress. Frankly, Jacob's Ladder isn't for everyone, and with the tagline, "The Next Level of Performance Conditioning," they seem to like it that way. The FBI, the Army, the Navy and West Point use it to whip agents and soldiers into shape.
Although the machine may look daunting at first, users simply snap on the control belt and start climbing. The higher the user reaches, the faster the ladder moves, and the more intense the workout becomes.
Fortunately, the inverse is also true. Users can even decrease the intensity by holding on to the side rails for just a lower-body workout. For safety, Jacob's Ladder uses a braking device that stops the Ladder when the exerciser reaches the lower rungs or stops climbing completely.
The 40-degree incline both lowers vertical loading of the spine (and hips, knees, etc.) while increasing recruitment of the deep abdominal wall — much like performing the "plank" abdominal exercise. But beyond the nearly comatose plank, Jacob's Ladder challenges core stabilization with upper- and lower-extremity movement — the way our core muscles need to work. Jacob's Ladder forces (in this case, a good thing) users into a constant 12-inch step, so they never have the opportunity to cheat into those far less-effective baby steps you see on some stair climbing machines.
The only power comes from the user, so, of course, with no motor, there's no motor to break down or maintain. Like most modern pieces of cardio equipment, Jacob's Ladder offers digital feedback, albeit simple and no-nonsense, of distance (feet), pace (feet per minute), heart rate (through telemetry and a heart rate monitor), time and calories.
Jacob's Ladder has a surprisingly small footprint at 31 by 76 inches that's comparable to most treadmills. The height of 65.5 inches, however, may be an issue if you have low ceilings.
FreeMotion Fitness — TreadmillFreeMotion Fitness, best known for its full circuit of integrated functional training equipment, has jumped into cardio training with the new FreeMotion Treadmill. The outstanding feature of the new FreeMotion Treadmill is its DRVS, or Direct Rear Velocity System. Unlike other treadmills that push the belt, this motor system pulls it. The benefit is more consistent belt tension that eases the stress on the bearing and rollers. And less stress equals less maintenance. In addition, the rear-drive motor system reduces belt wear and operates cooler and quieter.
The vector motor controller gives direct feedback to the motor, which lets it automatically adjust every time a user's foot hits the deck. The benefit to the user is a smoother-feeling workout. For the owner, it means less maintenance and a longer life for the motor. Urethane deck isolators further cushion the deck and create a softer running surface, which test subjects raved about. The walking surface is a generous 22 by 60 inches, with a maintenance-free, two-ply PVC belt. The belt is double-coated with phenolic resin on both sides of the deck, so owners can flip it over to double the life. And even when you do eventually tune up the belt and deck, it's specially designed so that it takes a mere five minutes to service and 30 minutes to replace. The treadmill sits a bit higher than most, so a step in the back makes getting on and off much easier.
Some test subjects reported that the display was more confusing than most, and took some getting used to. Along with the standard readouts of time, speed, incline, pace, distance, calories, heart rate and watts, the display also gives users vertical feet, segment time (for intervals) and even percentage of maximum heart rate.
A wide array of training programs include Terrain, three different Fit Tests, Walk/Run and Mix, in addition to the usual Manual, Pulse (using contact sensors and Polar wireless telemetry), Cardio, Interval, Quick Start and Cool Down. There's even an optional 12.1-inch, flat panel LCD screen.
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