Help members overcome intimidation and confusion when it comes to new or unusual equipment. Mixing things up can help them reach their goals and overcome boredom.

Intimidation: That's the No. 1 reason members don't use a new or "unusual" piece of equipment. They are in a routine, they like what they are doing ... even if they aren't seeing the results they are looking for or become bored. It can be hard to change fitness habits, but should fitness professionals ignore such stagnant behaviors? Of course not! Encouraging members to try and, more importantly, incorporate new equipment into their workouts can help them reach their goals, and keep from getting bored.

Multi-planar resistance


Fitness professionals know how great multi-planar resistance training is (like machines incorporating cable pulley systems), and members may intellectually understand those benefits, too. However, convincing exercisers who can't lift as much weight on a multi-planar machine as they can on others types to switch can take a little work in the form of education, demonstration and coaxing. Jimmy Donnellon of FreeMotion Fitness, Colorado Springs, Colo., says confusion and/or fear keeps members from cable-type machines. "When they have the freedom to move in different directions and at different angles, [exercisers] can be confused," he says. "So, they stick with what they know. They know [the] bench press and other traditional strength equipment." They stay with it because it's comfortable. "Talk to [clients] about why the [multi-planar resistance] machines benefit them," suggests Donnellon, and help your members incorporate these machines into their workouts. "Show them how they can focus on real-life movements like golf or tennis," he says. "Show them how to hold the handles and simulate the movement." They can twist, bend and move like they can in everyday life. There is a learning curve, so you'll need to work with your members a few times to make sure they understand what they are doing and why, and use the correct form and weight.
If they are still a little shy, Teale Dotson, a personal trainer in northern Virginia, suggests incorporating multi-planar equipment into their existing workouts as a supplement. "This type of equipment helps people get past strength plateaus ... because it works the stabilizing muscles," Dotson says. For someone who is having trouble pushing past a certain weight or is having joint pain or instability, this is key to furthering their workouts. You may either incorporate specific multi-planar exercises into their daily routine, or mix it up so that they have a day solely focused on multi-planar activities.

Another tactic is to offer sports-specific clinics to help athletes get ready for whatever season they are approaching, or hold a push-up competition with the weightstack maximized and the handles low. If nothing else, it will show your members how an unstable surface makes multi-planar exercises more challenging, even when they are using less weight.

Virtual reality fitness


People who like video games will likely love virtual reality fitness, such as Cybex' Trazer line of fitness "games." Combining the benefit of real-life movements in a variety of planes with the fun of gaming makes virtual fitness a hit with people of all ages.

"It has a fairly broad spectrum of marketing," says Steve Suchanek, director of product management for Cybex, Medway, Mass., "from kids to performance training to rehab." Suchanek offers examples of athletes assessing their abilities within their sport and then developing a program for improvement with the Trazer, and older adults who have difficulty walking assessing and improving their motor skills by watching their movements on the virtual reality screen. Users are encouraged to think of their bodies as the joystick in the virtual reality workout.

While the Trazer can be placed almost anywhere larger than its 9-by-10-foot imprint, it is most often placed in a converted racquetball court. While some users may appreciate the privacy, other members may appreciate it, too. Suchanek says both kids and adults can get pretty animated in cheering for someone who is using Trazer. Say Suchanek, "It's just like a PlayStation, so kids can figure it out." Also, adults enjoy it because they can work hard and train functionally, and they are engaged. It just can't be compared to a traditional piece of cardio equipment.

Overtime Fitness in Mountain View, Calif., offers Trazer. General Manager Paul Rakitin says kids get a great workout, and they like the feedback they get at the end of their games. From calories used to how they compare to the top-10 highest scores, children are motivated to do well at the games, and that carries over into their exercise routines.

The Fitworks Fitness Centers at the University Hospitals of Cleveland, Ohio, also use Trazer with both their sports performance and rehab programs. Says Team Leader Gordon Wyman, "As athletes, their goal is to get better, and our goal, as physical therapists, is to get them stronger." Virtual reality fitness helps accomplish both goals. The Fitworks Fitness team uses a variety of drills, such as plyometrics, lunges and shuffling, to mimic athletic and functional motion. They are finding that the Trazer is applicable for everyone. Once the protocols of age, height, leg length, etc., are plugged in, users must self-correct improper form as needed for the drills to continue.

The core of the issue


Members may also find core training equipment and classes a little intimidating. Remember how confusing Pilates was before giving it a try? That same intimidation is felt by people who have never tried things like stability balls, BOSUs, core boards, foam rollers, etc. The fear of falling, not succeeding or just looking silly can be a big impediment.

Especially with stability-based exercise, remember your client's muscular strength and abilities. People who are not very strong will tire out more quickly and feel more intimidated. These people need to start on equipment that has less movement, such as a balance board that moves only in two directions, as opposed to a wobble board or core board that moves in all directions. "I start my clients off in front of a Smith machine or ballet bar so they have something to hold on to," says Dotson. She also suggests choosing equipment that has adjustable heights, such as a wobble board, so that you can keep clients new to this type of exercise lower to the ground for their comfort and safety.

Dotson also likes foam rollers, not only for stretching but for their stability challenges when used in conjunction with strength movements. Having clients lay on their backs with the roller under their spine, she teaches chest exercises without weights initially, so that clients can feel the neutral spine alignment and stable neck position. A foam roller is something many of your members would not try without the comfort, encouragement and education of a trainer.

You'll need to work with your members to make sure they understand what they are doing and why.

Educate and encourage


As you add new pieces of equipment to your fitness or group exercise room, you'll need to teach members how to use them. People like feeling confident and successful, which is why they so often stick to the same routine. Educate and demonstrate the benefits of your new equipment with reading materials, workshops, demos and free training sessions to get them acquainted with the equipment. Don't forget games and fitness incentives such as workout bingo, competitions, etc. Sometimes a challenge lights a fire, and that prized club sweatshirt can be just the thing to get your members to try a new exercise or piece of equipment.

In addition, use the angle that trying new exercises will help members to push past plateaus and lift more weight. Perhaps you'll convince them that their shoulders, ankles or knees won't give them nearly as much pain if they recruited more stabilizer muscles. Or, you'll help them see that exercise can be fun again, and variety (of equipment) is the spice of life! Figure out what motivates each of your members, and speak to that motivation.

There is a wealth of resources available on the web, from equipment websites to other fitness centers. See what others are doing, and then tailor that to your population.