Three pieces of cardio equipment are expected in any fitness facility: treadmills, ellipticals and cycles. These are considered the big three of cardio equipment, and your fitness center should have at least two of them.

"At Classic, we provide a variety [of cardio equipment], but you must have treadmills, bikes and ellipticals to be competitive in our market," says Michael Caposella, general manager of Classic Athletic Club, Lyndhurst, N.J. Some fitness centers think the big three is all they need to offer for cardio exercise options, but that's a recipe for exercise boredom. Establishing your facility as a unique place to work out means offering members the unexpected, and you can accomplish this by offering different pieces of cardio equipment. Of course, ordering new equipment willy-nilly is bad business; instead, analyze your membership to determine which alternative cardio machines are best for the demographics you serve.

Nimkee Fitness Center, Mt. Pleasant, Mich., has 1,557 members. Its cardio equipment includes six treadmills and five stationary cycles, but no ellipticals. Instead, the fitness center offers a variety of other cardio options: three stair climbers, two VersaClimbers, a Reebok Body Trec, a StairMaster Step Mill, two Concept2 rowers, a Jacobs Ladder, a NuStep TRS 4000 and a StairMaster kayak machine. "We assessed the needs of our clients and the age groups that we service (ages 13 and up)," says Assistant Manager Diane Faix. "We then analyzed the most adequate equipment for cardio conditioning. We also looked at what other fitness centers have in their facilities, what newer equipment was on the market and how they would relate to [our] needs. Finally, we looked at the available space we have in our fitness center."

Unique cardio equipment can help keep your facility current or on par with trends. "We always try to stay on the cutting edge in regards to our equipment," says Caposella. Classic Athletic Club has treadmills, cycles, NordicTrack Incline Trainers, Precor elliptical crosstrainers, StairMaster climbers, Concept2 rowers and a U.B.E. upper-body ergometer. "We chose the NordicTrack Incline Trainers because we saw the variation in intensity levels they accommodate and, at the time of purchase, no other club in our area offered them," says Caposella. "Once in the club, we listen to the members' needs and also monitor the utilization of all equipment. If they are used [often], we prioritize our next purchases."

Age-appropriate options

Chances are, you're already equipped for older populations, says Caposella. "As long as you have treadmills, which is the lowest intensity you can offer in a cardio exercise, you can service any population from there," he says. However, if a large portion of your membership skews older, try adding equipment specifically designed for an older user. The NuStep is one option, but don't forget about upper-body ergometers, which are especially useful for users in wheelchairs.

"We have a variety of age groups, with the majority being 20 to 40 years of age," says Faix. "Most of our cardio equipment is geared toward this group. We do have some seniors who use the facility, so we made sure to accommodate them with the purchase of a NuStep and two recumbent bikes."

Look out the window

Take your facility's location into account when ordering unique cardio equipment. If you're nestled among mountains, consider adding climbing simulators, like a VersaClimber or Jacob's Ladder. If you're a stone's throw from a river, invest in a rowing or kayak simulator machine. Don't forget to remind your members about the cross-country ski season if you live in a snowy region, and be sure to have plenty of equipment around to help them train. "We are near a river and many lakes and, hence, have two rowing machines and one kayak machine," says Faix. "We also have one Body Trec, which simulates cross country skiing, as we have much snow here in Michigan."

Don't trip up on trends

Some fitness centers have members who prefer bare-bones equipment, with no bells or whistles to distract them. Others serve members who take pride in their cutting-edge interests - the more gadgets they can plug into the treadmill, the better. The newest trend in cardio equipment is MP3-player compatibility. For a facility that has a robust membership who are in their 20s and early 30s, this equipment caters to them perfectly. But, if your fitness facility is bursting with baby boomers, it may be wise to save your money and go the traditional route.

Overcoming reluctance

Be aware that, no matter how well a piece of alternative cardio equipment fits your members' needs, it may not be popular at first. Caposella notes that, when it comes to using fitness equipment, "Some [members] like the change and others do the same thing each time." It's up to you and your staff to introduce members to new equipment in a safe, non-intimidating way, and encourage them to incorporate it into their workouts.

"Most members are reluctant to try new or different pieces of cardio equipment that they are not familiar with unless specifically challenged to do so," Faix says. To help members overcome their reluctance, Nimkee Fitness Center has taken steps to nudge them further into new cardio waters. "We offer incentive programs where members have to perform a certain activity to earn points, and we will incorporate all of our machines in this," says Faix. "For example, they may have to use the Jacobs Ladder for a minimum of 5 minutes to earn the points for that specific day." This helps introduce members to the equipment in short bursts of time, and rewards them for their efforts.

Caposella relies on his staff to get members interested in trying out the variety of cardio equipment the facility offers. "[It] falls on the trainers to show the current members, as well as the new members during an orientation, the variety and their various benefits," he explains.

Analyze before you buy

Once you've analyzed your membership, take a look at the different cardio equipment on the market to see if one or more fits the bill. "Look at the safety of the machine, as well as the comfort level and ease of use," says Faix. "Also, look at the intensity levels that the machine offers, and how those relate to the age groups of your members." It all boils down to simple math: Adding alternative cardio machines to the big three can equal success.

     
 

Purchasing Guide

Concept2 Inc. 800 245-5676; www.concept2.comThe Model E Indoor Rower has enhanced technological features and a more accessible 20-inch seat height - 6 inches higher than Concept2's Model D. A double-coated frame, rechargeable battery and nickel-plated chain minimize maintenance. The PM4 monitor offers games, wireless heart rate monitoring and racing capabilities. Rowing offers cardiovascular exercise that is impact-free and suitable for all ages.

Cybex International 888 462-9239; www.cybexintl.com Cybex' CX 445T has the same compact footprint, streamlined user operation and design of the Cybex LCX 425T treadmill, but is built to the commercial level. It features heart rate monitoring and a safety lanyard, with speeds from 0.5 to 11 mph. The CX 445T was designed to maximize the useable running area.

Endorphin Corp. 800 940-9844; www.endorphin.net The 370 series of upper- and lower-body cycles feature independently operated flywheels. Four types of bi-directional, magnetic resistance modules are available. The upper-body cycle is height-adjustable, and the semi-recumbent seat rotates 360 degrees and moves forward and back to fit any user. The seat is also easily removable for wheelchair accessibility.

Fitness Master Inc. 866 434-8639; www.fitnexonline.com The Aristo CR-1 recumbent cycle by FMI features a patent-pending swing-arm step-through design, providing easy access for users of all sizes. The arm-mounted console can be positioned directly in front of the user, or 45 degrees to the user's right, allowing for an unobstructed forward view. The Aristo CR-1 features seven programs, each with eight resistance levels.

FreeMotion Fitness 877 363-8449; www.freemotionfitness.com The FreeMotion Incline Trainer has speeds from 0 to 12 mph, and incline from -3 to 30 percent. It is powered by the DRVS Direct Rear Velocity System, which, combined with urethane deck isolators, provides additional cushioning to create a softer running surface. The Trainer features the optional flat-panel LCD Workout TV console. FreeMotion recumbent and upright cycles feature QuickTouch functions to easily change resistance and choose programs, with water bottle and accessory holders. Each cycle offers the optional Workout TV console and a 12.1-inch flat panel LCD screen, which is integrated into the console.

Jacobs Ladder LLC 866 697-4100; www.jacobsladderexercise.com Jacobs Ladder is a rotating "ladder" that places the user at a 40-degree angle, putting the spine in a more neutral position and taking stress off of the lower back. Jacobs Ladder is self paced to ensure that the user is neither over-worked or under-worked. It is also self-powered to eliminate the need for an electrical outlet, and allow fitness managers to place it anywhere in the facility. Jacobs Ladder is manufactured in the U.S.

Keiser 800 888-7009; www.keiser.com The new M3 indoor cycle, awarded the 2008 International Forum Product Design Award, is the result of more than a decade of cycle development. Components, from the handles to the base, have been scrutinized and quality-tested. The M3 is constructed of corrosive-resistant materials, has a resistance system that doesn't wear and is virtually maintenance free. It has a smooth feel, quiet ride and is easy to use.

KHS Bicycles Inc. 800 347-7854; www.khsbicycles.com The newly redesigned Robix 3000B Studio Cycle is the latest upgrade to KHS' indoor cycle. It comes equipped with wide foot bases for stability, a single-unit brake and resistance ratcheting lever, an expandable, handlebar-mounted water bottle cage, and a lower step-through for easier mount and dismount. Robix provides a quiet, smooth and comfortable ride with its automotive-quality belt drive; a 47-pound balanced flywheel; an ergonomic saddle; and tight-fitted handlebar and seatpost adjustments. Additional features include dual-sided pedals and a new seat slider.

Life Fitness 800 634-8637; www.lifefitness.com The Elevation Series 95X elliptical crosstrainer features Life Fitness' latest entertainment and motivational technologies. The 95X is offered with three options: the Engage, Inspire or Achieve console. The Engage console features a 15-inch LCD touch screen with integrated TV, while the Inspire console offers a 7-inch LCD touch screen. Both include iPod integration, USB connectivity, a Virtual Trainer and Workout Landscape Perspectives. The Achieve console features an amber LED display with the six most commonly used Life Fitness workouts.

Marpo Kinetics 925 337-4205; www.marpokinetics.com The Viper LT Rope Climber provides an upper-body workout, and eliminates the need to use separate machines to exercise different muscle groups. Its levitating seat with counter-weight-stack provides a simulation of rope climbing. Seven resistance settings and up to 250 pounds of weight assistance make Viper accessible and effective for a wide range of users. Keeping users close to the ground eliminates safety concerns associated with ceiling ropes. A small footprint and no electricity requirements maximize floor space. The specially designed rope is soft, yet durable.

Matrix Fitness Systems 866 693-4863; www.matrixfitness.com The H5x Hybrid Cycle from Matrix represents the company's next generation of fitness cycle, featuring a step-through entry and 45-degree seat adjustment. The H5x is backed by Matrix's Customer Advantage Program, which includes a three-year warranty on parts and labor.

Med-Fit Systems Inc. 800 831-7665; www.medfitsystems.com The Lamar Stride Well is a seated, recumbent, quadrilateral elliptical with Easy Glide entry and exit, and an offset monitor mount, to allow easy access by older and rehabilitation patients. It has five-point stabilizing casters and adjustable rubber encapsulated arms and foot pads. The backlit LCD monitor is easy to read and offers numerous programs. The 5-volt transformer preserves exercise parameters, so no minimum work output is required. The channel-lock seat features molded foam with built-in lumbar support. The Stride Well has integrated transport wheels, and a 350-pound capacity.

Motus USA 866 668-8766; www.motususa.com Motus USA's commercial treadmills feature patented triple-shock absorption system; anti-microbial handlebars; LCD TV entertainment with up to 125 channels; Polar heart rate monitors; and large, touch-sensitive keys for easy viewing. Motus USA is an ISO9001 specialty manufacturer of ellipticals and cycles. Its alliance with the National Sports Institute (NSI) affords it access to NSI's exercise and design studies. Motus also partnered with Samsung for LCD screens, Mitsubishi for electric AC motors and Hyundai for some electronic components.

Multisports Inc. 800 877-0588; www.multisportsfitness.com Multisports has manufactured commercial cardio equipment for almost 20 years. Products include the Elliptix series of elliptical crosstrainers, and a large selection of commercial group cycling bikes, including the Enduro-Cycle, with flywheels ranging in weight from 42 to 66 pounds.

Nautilus 800 675-0171; www.nautilus.com The TreadClimber TC916s has a dual-motion design that combines low-impact walking with gradual hill climbing, and features eight programs and a user capacity of 400 pounds. The cordless recumbent R916 cycle features a step-through design, blue-coded adjustment points, integrated water bottle holders and is pre-wired for the Nautilus NV915 15-inch LCD television system. Remote Operation Control technology allows users to control their workouts in a reclined position, and the seat slide uses linear bearings for adjustability and stability. The cordless upright U916 cycle combines similar features with a ratcheting seat adjustment and ergonomic handlebars.

Noramco Fitness 800 827-2017; www.noramcofitness.com All models of Noramco Fitness treadmills feature a 600-pound user capacity, all-steel frame, patented flywheel system for smoothness and motor life, no-maintenance deck and belt system, and flip-up grips for runners and power walkers. They run on 110-volt power. Programmable models have up to 11 profiles, including three user-customizable and two heart-rate-controlled programs.

NuStep 800 322-2209; www.nustep.com The TRS 4000 is a versatile crosstrainer that provides a complete workout for all major muscle groups. The 10 different workloads provide a challenging workout for exercise enthusiasts of any age group. The TRS 4000 offers upper and lower body conditioning without stress on the joints and muscles.

Octane Fitness 888 OCTANE-4; www.octanefitness.com The Pro4500 elliptical crosstrainer offers SmartStride interactive ergonomics and electronically adjustable stride length. SmartStride custom fits individuals by monitoring the exerciser's pace and direction, and adjusting stride length accordingly. Users can also change strides from 18 to 23 inches with the touch of a button, as well as take advantage of workouts and virtual coaching using X-Mode, GluteKicker and ArmBlaster programs. This unit includes Body-Mapping Ergonomics to replicate natural movement, patented MultiGrip handlebars and digital contact heart rate monitoring.

Precor 800 786-8404; www.precor.com The C966i low-impact treadmill features a "wrap around" console with an easy-to-use display, "canti-levered" handrails and an optional Cardio Theater screen. Tap Control buttons confirm commands with a sensory "click." The new IFT Drive delivers speed changes and cuts power consumption. Ground Effects and Integrated Footplant decrease impact and deliver a responsive feel at speeds of 0.5 to 15 mph, at -3 to +15 degrees of incline. The 21 courses include pace, personal profile and segment time. Precor treadmills have a self-lubricated bed/belt.

Promaxima Strength and Conditioning 800 231-6652; www.promaximamfg.com Promaxima Strength and Conditioning distributes Stex treadmills featuring a 5.5 Hyundai AC motor, Mitsubishi/Toshiba Drive Inverter and more than 30 different programs. They also offer an automatic drive belt tension system and optional 17-inch LCD flat screen Samsung TV. Speeds range from 0.5 to 15.5 mph, and 0 to 20 percent elevation with a 500-pound user weight capacity.

Quantum Fitness Corp. 800 937-2282; www.quantumfitness.com Quantum Fitness offers its Q Series treadmills and Q Series Total Body ellipticals. Treadmills feature a 22-inch, extra-wide running surface, quiet low-friction belt system and multiple program options. The Stride Series ellipticals feature a small footprint, while still maintaining a 21-inch stride, a patented mid-drive system and low step-up height.

SportsArt Fitness 800 709-1400; www.sportsartfitness.com The 680 Xtreme treadmill features the ECO-Powr System to use up to 32 percent less electricity than standard DC-powered units, and has the CardioAdvisor heart rate training system and a 10.2-inch LCD screen. Xtreme Series recumbent cycles feature step-through access, adjustable seat back, one-touch pedal adjustment and CardioAdvisor heart rate feedback. The 570 model has a tri-color dot matrix console. The 580 has a built-in 10.2-inch LCD screen, multiple source inputs and two headphone jacks. Xtreme Series elliptical crosstrainers feature an 18- to 29-inch adjustable stride range, two-stage cushioning system footplates and two console choices.

Star Trac 800 228-6635; www.startrac.com The Elite, Pro and Pro S treadmills are built on corrosion-resistant aluminum frames and incorporate a 1/4-mile track display and SoftTrac deck system. The Elite and Pro models feature built-in personal cooling fans and 5 hp motors. Star Trac's E Series recumbent cycle has a walk-through design, arm rests, iPod connectivity and an integrated 15-inch personal viewing screen. A USB port charges personal media devices, including iPods, BlackBerry devices, MP3 players and cell phones.

Technogym USA 800 804-0952; www.technogymusa.com The Run Excite treadmill offers a 15-inch touch screen TV, Breezer fan, Fast Track controls, extra-wide console and flat motor cover. The treadmill microprocessor system monitors users' speed and weight to determine amperage draw, for an average consumption of 30 percent less energy. The Excite Bike and Recline 700iE are driven by a flywheel and single stage poly V driving belt transmission system. Both the Excite Bike and Recline have dual hand sensors, Fast Track controls, iPod-compatible Wellness TV and six program options, and integrate with all Technogym Excite equipment.

True Fitness 800 426-6570; www.truefitness.com The CS6.0 treadmill is built on an 11-gauge, welded steel frame, and comes with a 5 hp MaxDrive AC motor that drives a large running surface. It is equipped with CSAFE compatibility and a Polar wireless telemetry system. HRC Cruise Control is included, which lets users "lock in" on a specific target heart rate. The CS6.0 provides CSAFE power, and the console comes equipped with 19 workout programs, three of which can be custom built by the user.

VersaClimber 800 237-2271; www.versaclimber.com The 108 CM VersaClimber offers vertical training. With its new interactive voice feedback module, users are guided through a total-body workout - complete with motivational messages. It comes standard with virtual landmarks to climb, heart rate, variable resistance, padded side hand rails, time, distance, calories and more.

Vision Fitness 800 335-4348; www.visionfitness.com The T9700 and T9800 Series treadmills provide users with 16 different workout programs, including four heart rate programs, five user programs, six preset programs (including its Sprint 8 workout) and a manual option. Contact heart rate bars and constant feedback displays let users see their progress. The T9700 Series treadmills offer a 60-by-20-inch running surface, while the T9800 Series treadmills offer a larger 63-by-22-inch running surface, plus a 3.0 hp AC drive system with matching motor and controller.

Woodway 800 woodway; www.woodway.com Woodway treadmills feature a patented design - the running surface is a relatively stationary hard-wood deck over which the belt travels. Design specifications for the Widepath treadmill include a patented slat-belt transportation system, 110-volt power supply (dedicated circuit and NEMA 5-20R outlet receptacle required) and a steel frame with integrated black powdercoated side handrails. The Widepath has a contact heart rate handlebar, 0.1 mph resolution, 0 to 11 mph speed and 0 to 15 percent elevation.