Stability training is a main component of physical fitness, so it makes sense that selling the equipment from large to small could be good business in tough economic times.
From inflatable cushions and half-balls to full balls and wobble boards, balance-training gear can be used to improve performance at sports or increase just function in daily life -- and fitness retailers can cash in not only by carrying the gear but also by learning how to sell it.
Interest has continued to gain steam over the years, despite the training concept not being new, said Michael Wolf, president of Lotus Balance Boards (www.lotusbalanceboards.com).
“Maybe it’s the invention, and explosion, of the BOSU ball and rubber inflatables being used at every gym and hotel,” Wolf said. “Balance training has always been an important element in training. It exercises your core and fires every, single muscle fiber in your body – including your brain – and I don’t know of any other exercises that do that.”
But carrying the equipment doesn't mean watching it go out the door; knowledge is required.
Chris Poirier, general manager at the retail store Perform Better in Cranston, Rhode Island, said educating consumers on this fact is key to successful sales.
“You’re not going to gain general fitness or increase ones athletic ability by just doing balance training alone,” Poirier said.
What took so long?
Louis Stack, president of Fitter International (www.fitter1.com), a long-time retail and etail specialist in balance-training products, said back in the 1980s, isolation training was all the rage.
“People were still buying workout stations to isolate one or two movements,” Stack explained. “You’d sit on a bench and do one pattern of movement for 13 stations and at the end you’d magically put it together and supposedly have a functional body. That wasn’t working very well.”
Functional training, which includes balance training, started to become popular and along came items like the Core Board by Reebok and the BOSU ball, Stack said. Later Reebok came out with the CorePod, which has an embedded inflatable ball in the center of the board.
“BOSU is probably one of the best products that has really helped completely shift the pendulum toward functional and integrational training,” Stack said. The functional training started to become popular with aging baby boomers, he noted.
Now, functional training is here to stay, said Hunter Joslin, president of Indo Board (www.indoboard.com, photo, left), a balance board company. “It’s amazing that it took this long for the industry to focus on it,” Joslin said.
Retailers and fitness industry professionals alike say it’s smart for retailers to have small pieces of balance training equipment in stock and know how to sell them, especially since consumers are a little more conservative in their spending in tough economic times.
SNEWS noted in a 2003 report of the Health and Fitness Business Expo that accessories like balance-training equipment could help fitness retailers become a one-stop shop for people’s everyday fitness needs.
Sales of these accessories can be successful, “If you have at least a working knowledge of how the different products work,” Indo Board’s Joslin said. “The trend in fitness is away from the big machines for the home. In the recession people are reticent to spend a lot of money. If you have equipment that is relatively inexpensive that can be used at home, there is a good market.”
That’s been the case in Denver, said Tyler Pederson, a manger at HealthStyles in Denver, Colo.
“Some people can’t afford to purchase a $2,700 Power Plate” vibration piece, Pederson said, “so the value they can get out of a $120 BOSU ball makes them pretty happy.”
Also, fitness retailers could take advantage of the growing popularity of stand-up paddleboarding, the new stay-fit craze among some of Hollywood’s sexiest stars, by carrying balance boards.
“The key element of performing (SUP) is balance,” Lotus Boards’ Wolf said.
There have been a few companies out there with a fresh look at the stability-training category – including Vicore (which recently developed an stability-training fitness bench, MSRP $495 for Core Bench) and Spri (which has balance-training items like Step360 Pro, MSRP $150).
But a new kid on the block, the Core-Tex (www.coretexfitness.com), is the next big thing. The piece is a bit pricey (MSRP $595, photo, right) but it offers customers a variety of challenges with its emphasis on movement rather than just finding balance and being still.
“It actually started out with a desire to make the hips and lower extremities move in a functional way, said Anthony Carey, CEO of the company and inventor of the product, which premiered at the 2011 IHRSA show and was also at the recent Club Industry Show.
Roughly speaking, the product is like a plate on top of a bowl. The plate moves 360 degrees in different directions while the exerciser does planks, lunges or other exercises atop the plate, engaging many muscles at one time. Standing on the plate, it slides around under your feet, hits the "stop" at the edge of the "bowl," forcing you to get moving again in another direction and constantly activating your core.
Another newcomer is the BallBike (www.ballbike.com) Pro (MSRP $1,599-$1,899, photo, left), which premiered at the 2011 Health & Fitness Business show in Las Vegas in September. The recumbent bike uses a stability ball as a seat.
Coming full circle
Stack noted balance training wasn’t always just a fitness craze. In fact, it’s been used for a very long time in the world of rehabilitation and physical therapy, said Fitter International’s president Louis Stack, who added that his company is offering products for that arena again.
Lotus Board is also looking to break back into the rehab market. Wolf said he’s developed a balance dome to be used with his board’s keyhole feature. Instead of the standard cylinder, the balance dome fits into the keyhole making it easier to balance without falling for those who have a hard time with the traditional cylinder.
The domes, expected out later this year, eliminate the balance tube from slipping out from underneath you, Wolf said. He designed the product with a speech therapist, who said it was a good sensory integration tool for child development and occupational therapy.
But no matter if they are used for rehabilitation, performance improvement, or training, accessories used to hone balance and stability will always be in demand, Wolf said.
“Balance training has been around for many, many years,” Wolf said. “The added attention now is nice, and I don’t think it’s going to go away. I think it’s going to grow.”