THE NEWEST TREND IN FITNESS FACILITY EQUIPMENT is mixing entertainment with exercise. Participants are no longer satisfied to just run or bike to keep in shape--they are looking to get their minds off everyday life.
"Exercise equipment today is vastly different than lo years ago," says Mike May, director of communication for the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA). "Machines are more attractive, portable, and gender-neutral. They are also easier to use."
Though the equipment itself might have changed, the categories of fitness equipment have not. Treadmills have been the No. 1 fitness machine category for at least 10 years, accounting for 25.9 percent of the $4.22 billion industry. Elliptical machines are second, with $892 million in sales per year, and exercise cycles are $455 million in sales.
With these challenging economic times, fitness facility managers should be looking for the latest trends that will keep members coming back. Below are three big trends to look for to keep the fun in fitness.
Tried and True
May says the treadmill has its obvious advantages, and should remain a core part of any fitness facility. "It applies to different people, whether you are a walker or a runner," he says. "If you can put one foot in front of the other you can do a treadmill."
But that doesn't mean that the treadmill hasn't changed with the times just because it is king of the hill. These days, treadmill manufacturers are mixing entertainment with a qua]fly workout. Newer models have TV monitors that are cable ready-managers can just plug them in and they are ready to broadcast news and favorite shows. Many also integrate iPod or MP3 connections into the machinery so users can listen via speakers or their own headphones.
John Miller, executive director of the South Davis Recreation Center in Utah, agrees that the treadmill reigns at his fitness facility. With his rec center seeing a 28 percent increase in members from last year, he knows how to keep participation high.
"All our machines come with a TV and iPod connection--we make sure we had those here and the patrons really enjoy that," says Miller. "It was a little more money but we felt like it was going to be worth it to our users."
According to May, many treadmills today also give interactive information such as distance, time spent, calories burned, and heart rate. This information can be stored so the machine remembers users and can track their progress.
"Treadmills just appeal to so many people in so many ways, that I don't think it will ever be beaten," says May.
Bells and Whistles
But treadmills and their users can't have all the fun. Elliptical and stepping machines today are also trending toward giving users a fully interactive experience. "This category is just filled with machines that gives user lots of data," says May. "Some even act as a companion who is tracking your progress, and is always there for you."
A new product called iFit actually serves as a personal trainer that works with an elliptical or stepper. The machine has a SD card slot--when an iFit card is inserted, users will hear the voice of Jillian Michaels, a trainer from the TV show "The Biggest Loser," coaching them along. In addition, the card also directs the machine to speed up or increase the incline, just as if a personal trainer was there with the user.
Colleen Logan, head of marketing for ICON Health and Fitness, says it adds a personal component to a workout, without having to pay a lot of money to hire a trainer. "The SD card cost $29.99, and contains 24 workouts that progressively get harder," she says. "A recreation center could purchase the cards and rent them out to users, or have the users purchase them on their own and just use them in the machine. This technology allows the center to make the rules, but the users benefit."
In addition to coaching companions, ellipticals and steppers are also being outfitted with gaming systems. If users can pedal at a certain speed, it engages the game and allows them to play along as they work out. "Some machines have games like Tetris, where as the users pedal faster, the reward is that bricks fall slower," Logan explains. It is operated by thumb controls on the machine. Other games such as Texas Hold'Em or Blackjack are integrated through a touch screen.
"In the end what we want to do is make sure people are engaged in their workout and have something to keep them motivated," says Logan. "The ultimate goal is to give people a variety of experiences."
May also cautions managers to remember that they need to make the most out of the space they have, and to continue to find news ways to engage users. "The importance of a daily workout has never been higher," he says. "The human body was made to move and the way our professional lives have evolved we are mainly sedentary. That makes the importance of trends in this industry very high."
Free to Be
ALTHOUGH THERE HAVE TRADITIONALLY just been three categories of cardio, the company Freemotion is hoping to introduce a fourth with a new machine named after the company that invented it= The new Freemotion machine is similar to an elliptical in that it has no impact to the body, but has an adjustable path. "Rather than being fixed, the Freemotion machine lets users determine their own stride from one inch to 44," explains Logan. "The benefit is that it feels more comfortable to a wider range of people."
With an adjustable path, a user can decide what stride length is comfortable for them. in addition, they can customize their workout--one day they may want a shorter stride to simulate running and the next, a longer stride for walking.
Logan says, "it provides a wide variety of movement, which is key to good exercise." And to keep your members coming back for something new.
Roberts, Rachel. "Keeping fitness fun: you can send video on your phone. Download movies from your computer. Even watch cable TV while flying the friendly skies. So why shouldn't recreation center customers stay connected while they burn calories?" Parks & Recreation Oct. 2009: 44+. General OneFile. Web. 10 Nov. 2009.
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