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Strength Equipment Trends

Equipment manufacturers weigh in on current trends in resistance-training equipment, and make predictions about what the future will hold.

Although strength equipment may seem like a mainstay in the ever-changing world of fitness trends, over the past few years, resistance-training equipment has undergone some major changes. And, industry experts predict strength equipment will continue to evolve as member demographics and user demands change.

The look

What most members will notice right off about the latest strength equipment is how it looks. Explains Greg Highsmith, vice president, product management and marketing for Life Fitness (www.lifefitness.com), Schiller Park, Ill., "One change/upgrade we at Life Fitness think is in store for strength equipment in the next five years or so is actually something we've seen [already]. That is [that] strength equipment [is] becoming more aesthetically pleasing, easier to use and less intimidating, with more user-friendly designs and fewer adjustments." Gone are the days of bulky machines that take up lots of floor space and intimidate all but the most seasoned fitness center members. Steve Suchanek, director of product management for Cybex (www.ecybex.com), Medway, Mass., agrees: "The aesthetics of strength equipment will continue to evolve as the equipment becomes more of an architectural element that helps define the environment. Parallel to this, the ability to customize the look of the equipment to fit the d?cor will become increasingly more important." Many members are looking for a pleasant "experience" when working out, not a room full of mis-matched and weird-looking equipment. Manufacturers recognize this need, and are creating nice-looking lines of equipment that add to the member experience. Putting it simply is President of Strive Enterprises (www.strivefit.com), Canonsburg, Pa., John Salvitti: "Today's strength equipment needs to have a superior design and be simple to use." Members will notice the new look, and appreciate the easier-to-use designs.

Ease of use

Going hand-in-hand with the "look" of strength equipment is how it functions. Members new to exercise, those who need smaller weight increments or easier adjustments, or those who are in a hurry will appreciate the newest lines of strength machines that cater to the many new markets of strength exercisers. Says Suchanek from Cybex, "Equipment lines will become more targeted as customer groups become more sharply defined. The 'one line fits all' approach will fall to the wayside. This will bring about much clearer differentiation in lines, which will become simpler on one end and more versatile and performance-oriented on the other." As more people of all ages and fitness levels begin to exercise, strength equipment will have to adapt. Highsmith of Life Fitness agrees: "As more people understand the benefits of strength training and why strength training should be a key component of every exercise program, we are seeing a broader-than-ever cross section of people who are strength training. But because many people who are starting to strength train may not be inherently inclined to strength training, we need to make the transition as easy as possible for them with machines that are inviting and easy to use, so we reduce user intimidation." Children are included in the new-to-strength-training group, and manufacturers have taken notice. Strive has a whole line of strength equipment just for children. Explains Salvitti, "An emerging market is [for] children. ... As supported by professional certifying groups such as ACSM, strength training is as important for the average kid as it is for athletes. Strive has developed a complete kid's equipment line that targets all the major muscle groups in the same safe and controlled environment provided in our adult line. To ensure that kids have fun while achieving results, Strive also packages 'exer-gaming products' with [our] equipment to make the programming complete."

Express workouts

Although circuit training is not new to the industry, the popularity of 30-minute-style workout chains has prompted traditional fitness centers to offer similar workout stations within their facilities. This has had a strong effect on strength equipment offerings. Suchanek of Cybex explains that "circuit training is being incorporated into more centers for time-constrained members who are looking for a very structured approach." Recognizing this trend, Strive developed a circuit program that includes equipment, marketing and programming. Says Salvitti, "With our turnkey solution, facilities receive program training paired with a ... marketing kit to engage those who view fitness as 'complicated.' ... Our current circuit program can provide a full-body workout in as little as 20 minutes." Time seems to be the motivating factor for the re-emergence of the strength circuit. Highsmith of Life Fitness agrees: "Another trend that is affecting the development of strength-training equipment is the desire by exercisers to get the maximum exercise benefit in a minimum amount of time, which has led to the development of strength machines for express-type workouts." He explains that, with an organized circuit program, people don't have to wait for the next machine to become available - everyone moves through the circuit at once. This provides a total-body strength workout, and also a mini cardio workout if exercisers maintain an elevated heart rate throughout the circuit. Life Fitness' new circuit series encompasses the ideas of a new look, ease of use and the trend toward express workouts. Says Highsmith, "When it came to designing this line, our goal was to decrease user intimidation to strength training by making the machines small, attractive and approachable, without requiring user adjustments, yet still enabling each unit to fit a broad range of users, be comfortable and deliver an effective workout."

Trends for the future

No one can predict the future, but looking at what is happening now can give facility managers an idea of what the future of strength equipment will be. Something that is already occurring is greater diversity of equipment in order to meet the demands of many markets. Explains Highsmith, "One trend we're seeing in sales is fitness centers purchasing a greater diversification of strength-training product types, including traditional selectorized machines, ground-based equipment, cable motion machines, plateloaded equipment and free weights. We're seeing this for two reasons: an increase in the diversity of exercisers' goals and personal trainers needing a variety of equipment to satisfy the needs of their personal training clients." He continues, "It's important for health clubs to offer a variety of strength-training products with different features and characteristics to enable all of their members to achieve their strength-training goals, no matter what they are." Salvitti from Strive agrees that member goals are important when determining what type of strength equipment to buy. But, he states that equipment and proper programming go hand-in-hand: "The true future of strength training resides in the programming surrounding the equipment. Ultimate success is achieved when someone commits to a program that delivers a positive user experience and drives utilization on a consistent basis."
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