As new technology gains a foothold in the fitness equipment market, it can be difficult to sort through the newest products to determine the best fit for your fitness center. One of the first steps is translating technobabble into helpful, easily identifiable categories.
There are lots of terms floating around - exertainment, interactive, exergaming - but they are not interchangeable. In fact, each has its own definition, according to Lisa Hansen, co-director of the XRKade Research Lab at the University of South Florida, Tampa, Fla.
Exertainment. Exertainment options are traditional exercise pieces that have a television screen or other technology device that allows the user to be entertained while exercising. Examples include iPods and cardio equipment with TVs.
Interactive. Interactive pieces allow for activities that require the user to interact with a device in some manner while exercising - not just be entertained by media, and not necessarily in the form of a game. Examples include Human Touch's iJoy Board and Expresso's S2u stationary cycle.
Exergaming. Exergaming combines gaming and physical activity with technology-based activities - participants use their bodies as a controller. Examples include Konami's Dance Dance Revolution, iTech's XR Board, Source Distributors' GameBike, FIT's 3 Kick, the Cybex Trazer, SportKAT's Korebalance, the Motivatrix Workout Master, the Virtual Rower, SSD's XaviXsport, Sportwall, InterAction Lab's Exer-station PRO and Makoto.
The XRKade Research Lab uses equipment in each category to study how technology can be used to help children become more physically active. Children from the ages of nine through 15 visit the lab on a regular basis to participate in activities on various pieces of technologically enhanced fitness equipment. The XRKade Research Lab opened in January 2007 with a donation of equipment from a variety of manufacturers. What researchers have learned there reinforces what forward-thinking owners and managers have experienced in their own fitness centers - and also reveals a few surprises.
Perceptions trump sweat
According to Hansen and Steve Sanders, director of the School of Physical Education & Exercise Science at the University of South Florida, when people combine technology and exercise, they seem to forget they're working out. In fact, XRKade's research shows that exergaming can alter participants' perceptions of exercise, and even their own exertion levels. "We have found that kids' heart rates on some of the exergaming equipment were extremely high, but the RPE (rate of perceived exertion) was extremely low, suggesting that they are getting a very good workout, but do not perceive that they are working very hard," say Sanders and Hansen.
For this reason, the popularity of technology interwoven with exercise is undeniable. "Whenever they are presented with a choice between conventional or interactive cardio equipment, club members almost always select interactive," says Steve Rauch, operating partner of LifePlex Health Club, Monsey, N.Y. "The ability to have control over entertainment is by far and away the reason for its popularity. Personal choice ensures a member may enjoy various forms of entertainment while working out."
You can't disguise exercise
One major mistake fitness professionals make, says Hansen, is thinking that technology is a way to distract the user from their exercise, or trick them into doing something they don't enjoy. Approaching fitness technology in this way bypasses the key ingredient to exercise adherence: intrinsic motivation. Rauch agrees that some fitness facilities and manufacturers are using flawed tactics to market these products - especially to children. "Many of the options out there are trying to package an arcade in a fitness club, but children know the difference. They aren't in an arcade or sitting in front of their computer, so it becomes difficult to engage them when the setup is so similar," says Rauch. "Repeat attendance suffers greatly from this attempt to disguise."
One reason this approach doesn't work is because, in Rauch's experience, children don't easily jump from their favorite video game to exergaming fitness equipment. There is a definite learning curve that, if left unaddressed, can make the more high-tech equipment languish on the fitness floor. For this reason, says Rauch, "the 'manual interactive' fitness equipment, such as rock climbing and Sportwalls, prove to be more popular than the technological items like GameBikes equipped with PlayStation 2."
However, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially considering Hansen's theory that technology should complement traditional fitness activities, not replace them. "Club operators and equipment manufacturers have to find ways to blend the technology ... with good old fashioned fun," Rauch says. "Just because a piece of equipment or a facility has all the new bells and whistles does not guarantee success. They must provide structure, substance and direction to this new form of ... fitness. We find ways to incorporate our less-technological equipment into new-age programming. For example, we combine belaying and repelling on a rock wall with sessions on a GameBike equipped with PlayStation 2, or Cybex Trazer with Dance Dance Revolution and a game of hoops."
Like LifePlex, fitness centers are finding new ways to combine tradition with technology. One facility straps heart rate monitors to its young members and offers them a ticket for every 15 minutes they keep their heart rate in a pre-set target zone. Tickets are then redeemable for prizes. This encourages children to try traditional equipment while their favorite exergame equipment is in use.
Integrating technology with traditional fitness activities is a huge challenge, but overcoming it is essential for your facility's future success. The "gamer" generation will grow up, and the goal is for them to transition into members of a traditional fitness facility. It's your job to provide the tools for them to make that transition not only seamless, but inevitable.
In the meantime, take care not to box yourself in. "Many of the turnkey packages available are too limited in their ability to evolve," says Rauch. "Our children's Fitness, Function and Climbing Center - called FunXions at LifePlex - is equipped with a wide variety of interactive activities ranging from rock climbing walls to virtual reality equipment."
The reason for this is simple: "The younger generation has more of a 'what's next' attitude; they want to be challenged and they want room to be creative," says Rauch. LifePlex was designed to make the most of current and future technology to meet the needs of its young members. "We constructed an open floor plan across 7,000 square feet, in which only our feature rock climbing wall is permanently installed. This has allowed us, in our first three months of operation, to reconfigure the space as our target market has shown us what is successful and what needs work. The open floor plan and the benefits of our flexibility allowed us to double our summer camp business in the first year."
With all the focus on children, it's easy to dismiss new technology as little more than expensive toys to entice the kids into a fitness facility. This idea isn't necessarily wrong, but it is overly simplistic. "It certainly appears that interactive fitness activities for children are going to become more and more popular as new equipment is developed and as prices for home models come down," say Sanders and Hansen. "We see exergaming having enormous potential to excite and motivate children to become more physically active." However, ignoring the same technology's potential to motivate adults to exercise is a mistake no fitness center should make. Sanders and Hansen say they believe technology has enormous potential to motivate exercisers of all ages. "The populations that we are currently working with in our lab are from nine to 15 years of age. However, we believe that exergaming has potentials for all populations - even [older] adults," they explain. "During one of our studies where we had parents working with their children, the kids were ready to go home after the hour-long session, [but] we could not get the parents off the equipment. Clubs can cash in on this movement by creating an atmosphere where parents and children can participate together as a family to be physically active."
As with any new horizon, there are unique challenges facing fitness centers that invest in this kind of equipment.
Instructors. The role of the instructor is different in a technological environment compared to a traditional fitness floor. Much of this technology requires only an introductory demonstration, and peer teaching is adequate for success. An instructor's job, then, morphs into that of a facilitator, and involves motivation, assessment and facility management - which may even include troubleshooting the equipment.
Additionally, as technology advancements approach light speed, certifying bodies are trailing behind. As of yet, there are no certifications for a technology fitness instructor, and that presents a host of challenges for managers looking to hire employees who are qualified for a position the industry hasn't yet defined.
Space. "Considerations related to space and cost certainly need to be taken into account," say Sanders and Hansen. Technologically enhanced equipment can have a bigger footprint than traditional fitness equipment, and have more electronic requirements. "Most popular equipment for kids appears to be linked to screen-based activities," they explain. "If there is something for the kids to watch on a screen while exercising that is interactive, it is popular, especially with the teenage groups." Also, new technology doesn't offer many multi-station options, so more equipment is often necessary to accommodate more users. "It certainly is important to understand what each piece of equipment has to offer," say Sanders and Hansen. "Many pieces are not necessarily 'multi-functional,' like a lot of traditional weight training machines in a club. Make sure you are educated about and understand the pieces that are most appropriate for your population."
Guidelines. For most of the industry, technology of this sort is uncharted territory. Familiar precautions should be taken before giving the green light to members, but there are other considerations that fall outside expected parameters. "We have found, especially with children, that there is a tendency for kids to not want to stop, and they continue to participate for longer and longer periods of time," say Sanders and Hansen. "In this time of inactivity among children, this is actually a nice problem to have. Parents and club professionals, however, should certainly provide guidelines for length of participation."
The future is now
For facilities interested in attracting young, tech-savvy exercisers now, with hopes of transitioning them to the traditional fitness floor as adults, the future is now. "From the standpoint of operating a diverse facility and appealing to a broad demographic, interactive fitness equipment in some form helps us meet our goals," says Rauch. "Like most facility operators, we want to keep pace with advances in our industry, and refer to our clubs as cutting-edge. LifePlex Health Club's goal is to identify specific market segments through multidimensional programming. This allows us to appeal to a broad market with a wide range of programming, while identifying those programs [that] will generate traffic and revenue. Interactive equipment in the current marketplace is an essential tool to accomplish these goals."
As manufacturers push more boundaries with new and better equipment, fitness facilities are getting more creative to find ways to make technology meet their members' needs. It's impossible to ignore that technology is redefining fitness as we know it.
Purchasing GuideAV Now Inc. 800 491-6874; www.avnow.com, www.flexmix.comThe FlexMix Mixer is designed specifically for group exercise, but can be used in any application. It features two mic inputs and three music inputs with separate treble and bass controls for each group. It has front mic and music inputs (iPods and MP3 players) for instructors who bring their own gear, and comes with an iPod connection cable. There is a hidden master volume control on the back of the unit. The FlexMix Mixer is made in the U.S.
Cardio Theater 800 776-6695; www.cardiotheater.com Cardio Theater's full line of exercise entertainment systems enable users to listen to individually selected audio/visual entertainment choices while exercising on cardiovascular equipment. Users can select any one of up to 32 different audio/visual sources.
Cobalt Flux 801 598-6325; www.cobaltflux.com The Arcade 6EX system consists of low-impact platforms that are water-resistant and come with practice pads (color coordinated for dance steps and aerobic activities). The pads can be interfaced with a monitor and PlayStation 2, which are not provided.
Connect18 415 355 9755; www.connect18.com The Connect18 program transforms a facility's cycling studio into a departure point for educational journeys around the world, all led by existing staff, using standard cycling studio equipment. Connect18 provides a fitness and learning video program that leads users on virtual tours of the world. Available programs include Experience The Spanish in Mexico Tour, Experience The Wine in California Tour and Experience The French in Guadeloupe Tour. All tours combine scenery, interviews, learning activities, road footage, music and simple exercise routines.
Cybex International 888 462-9239; www.cybextrazer.com The Trazer is a computer-based system that uses movement tracking and virtual reality technologies to create programs that measure functional and sports performance movement skills. It measures agility, coordination and balance, reaction time, quickness, speed, movement power and optimal center of gravity control for power and stability. The Trazer also estimates calories used and, if used while wearing a Polar or Polar-compatible heart rate monitor, measures average and peak beats per minutes. Performance training games are Trap Attack, Jump Explosion, Spike Dodge, Goalie Wars and Fun Fusion.
Expresso Fitness 888 528-8589; www.expressofitness.com The new S2u virtual-reality-enhanced stationary cycle integrates fitness and computer systems, and offers customized programs to motivate riders. It has a fully integrated design, advanced drive train technology and new game options such as Expresso Chases. The first Expresso Chase, titled Proving Grounds, takes place in a fantasy world based in ancient Asia. Riders pick up coins and chase dragons to score points. The S2u features state-of-the-art software, a 17-inch high-contrast LCD screen, steering, shifting and customization options.
FIT Premium Interactive Fitness Equipment 888 750-4800; www.fitinteractive.com 3 Kick is a heavy-duty commercial grade machine with foam pads that can be struck with shoes, bare feet, or open or closed hands. When the user strikes the foam pads, lights and tones are randomly activated. A light comes on in the pad and an audible tone sounds; when the pad is hit, the light goes off and another comes on randomly. The score is based on speed, and more points are allocated the faster users move, making it easy to track daily progress.
Human Touch 800 742-549; www.interhealth.com The motorized iJoy Board balance trainer mimics movements of board sports. Users step onto the iJoy Board and press a button on the infrared wireless remote control to experience the simulated motion of a snowboard, skateboard or surfboard. By maintaining a board stance on the non-slip platform, users increase core balance and coordination skills while working muscles needed to perform board sports. Users can test their skills by varying the speed of the iJoy Board - slow, medium or fast - or choose the 15-minute program that varies the board's speed. It features an automatic shutoff after 15 minutes of activity.
InterAction Laboratories 240 264-3400; www.ia-labs.com The Exer-station PRO requires users to push a controller in the direction they want their on-screen character to move. Two microprocessors translate the force into actual movement in the game. The harder users push, the faster they go. There are several levels of resistance, so that head-to-head gaming can take place even when there is a large strength differential for the participants.
iTech Fitness 866 480-7781, ext. 1; www.itechtfitness.com XR-Board is a professional-grade boardriding simulator that allows users to experience surfing, snowboarding or skateboarding. The XR-Board is compatible with a PlayStation 2 and works with SSX, Tony Hawk and H20 games. The platform is made with a diamond-plated steel base and 2-inch rounded steel tubes. It has been remolded with a power block base to give it a more realistic carving sensation. Multiple versions of the deck and board are available.
Kidzpace Interactive Inc. 800 668-0206; www.kidzpace.com Kidzdance is an arcade-style dance pad that requires the user to match on-screen cues. The system interfaces with PlayStation 2 and XBox technology, allowing the user to play a variety of games using the interactive screen and floor mat. The Kidz Sport Bike is currently in the testing phase. It is designed for children ages six through 12, and offers the experience of controlling the cycle through a video-gamed course. The player is required to pedal and steer (which powers the system) through a choice of PlayStation 2 games.
Konami Digital Entertainment Inc. 888 212-0573; www.konami.com Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) is an interactive, 3D dance video game that uses popular music, incorporating more than 300 songs and 2,000 dance steps. DDR also features animated on-screen dancers. Users simulate the dance movements displayed on the video screen while moving onto lit panels on a floor plate.
Life Fitness 800 634-8637; www.lifefitness.com In a partnership with Apple, Life Fitness' new iPod-integrated 95 Series Treadmills feature iPod integration, a Virtual Trainer, extended running surfaces, USB connectivity for personalized workouts and graphic workout landscapes displayed on an LCD screen. With the option of two models, the 95Te with a 15-inch integrated screen or the 95Ti with an optional 17-inch attachable TV, users can control entertainment and workout content, as well as watch TV.
Lightspace Corp. 877 404-1700; www.lightspace-play.com Lightspace Play combines lighting and interactive technologies capable of storing and running a variety of games and interactive programs that can be used by a number of participants simultaneously. Lightspace Play includes an interactive floor surface comprised of 16-by-16-inch, programmable, LED-lit pressure-sensitive tiles constructed to fit a 10-foot-square space. Each tile consists of 16, 4-by-4-inch pixels that can display any color, pattern or image. The surface is able to detect location, movement and density of players. Reactions to player movements are displayed on the surface, and are accompanied by sound-effects.
Makoto USA 303 766-3971; www.makoto-usa.com The Makoto arena is a triangle with 6-foot steel towers in each corner. The small and large arenas have a distance of 6 and 8 feet between towers, respectively. Each tower is electronically wired to emit randomly occurring lights in 10 locations per tower, and four tones that correspond to the target's height. Using hands, feet and/or a staff, users respond to audio prompts and attempt to hit the lighted area before the light goes off. Reaction time and accuracy are measured electronically, allowing users to compete with themselves or others. The speed of the prompts is adjustable for varying abilities.
Motivatrix 888 y-motivate; www.motivatrix.com The MX10 Workout Master personalizes and monitors users' workouts. Users can choose from aerobics, cardio or max-challenge workouts, select music and set fitness goals. Optical scanners trace users' movements hundreds of times per second, and a three-dimensional infrared sensor virtually identifies them. The motion-sensing technology reports users' speed, heart rate, training zone, calories, weight and work output, and evaluates their performance. Its body is constructed of steel and titanium.
MYE Entertainment LLC 800 779-6759; www.myeclubtv.com The Fitness Download Station service from MYE Entertainment and Netpulse has a touch-screen kiosk that works with MYE FitP3 digital players, enabling users to download cardio training, motivation and music programs. Programs from trainers and fitness-focused beats-per-minute music providers are automatically uploaded every month. Facilities receive unlimited downloads for a monthly location fee, and there are no servers to purchase or maintain.
Source Distributors 800 872-1105; www.gamebike.com GameBike and GamePad use a plug-and-play mechanism to plug into console games including PlayStation, Xbox and GameCube. The GamePad plugs into Dance Dance Revolution software, and is a 3-foot square surface composed of rubber material. Its polymer base with urethane-encased and nitrogen-filled switches has been tested to withstand greater than 450 pounds of force. The GameBike is a fitness computer with adjustable resistance. The steering mechanism allows riders to pedal and steer through console chase games.
SportKAT LLC 800 743-0575; www.korebalance.com The Korebalance is an integrated computerized balance training system. The software is pre-installed, and includes the Linux Operating System. Balance assessment and training modules are augmented by 3D software games shown on an adjustable 17-inch touch-screen monitor. The pneumatic pressure system allows for a 360-degree range of motion and a 12-degree tilt, while the handlebars allow for weight lifting (squats, shoulders, triceps, biceps, etc.) in conjunction with balance training. The surface has the capability to adjust to very firm or flexible, depending on the user's height, weight and ability.
Sportwall International Inc. 800 695 5056; www.sportwall.com The new XerDance dance pad is wireless, 30-percent lighter than other dance pads and provides more than 1,000 hours of use from a standard AAA battery. XerDance provides user feedback in terms of calories, steps taken, score and time elapsed. It features stainless steel panels, and its handles and a storage cart make it easy to move and store.
SSD Company Ltd. 877 527-3488; www.xavixstore.com Based on the XaviX multiprocessor chip, XaviXPORT combines human interface technology - for example, photo-sensor and infrared - to allow a TV to respond to users' actions. To play XaviXGames, players use reality accessories to hit a pitch, return a serve or bowl a strike while the system responds to the speed, direction and angle of their motion. Games include golf, baseball, bowling, tennis, and Jackie Chan's J-Mat and power boxing. XaviX applications are sold separately, and come with both a XaviX software system cartridge and wireless controller devices.
Supreme Audio 800 445-7398; www.supremeaudio.com Supreme Audio features a large election of complete sound systems; sweat-proof and waterproof aquatic wireless microphones; variable-speed, pitch-control CD players; variable-speed, pitch-control tape decks; amplifiers; speakers; mixers and portable sound systems for the fitness industry.
Technogym 800 804-0952; www.technogymusa.com The Active Wellness TV for Excite cardiovascular equipment is a touch screen LCD interface that orients users to their desired workout and entertainment selection. The Context Aware feature ensures that only the necessary buttons appear on screen to operate training information, TV channels and external media devices. The Active Wellness TV fully integrates with iPods, and users can play videos, select play lists and control volume through the touch screen.