Health & Fitness Business '06: Strength equipment showing more color, a focus on convenience

While it quickly became evident there weren't too many earth-shattering innovations in the strength category this year once the 2006 Health & Fitness Business Show got underway in Denver in August, there was still plenty to talk about and to covet.
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While it quickly became evident there weren't too many earth-shattering innovations in the strength category this year once the 2006 Health & Fitness Business Show got underway in Denver in August, there was still plenty to talk about and to covet.

Compact, versatile and transportable aren't necessarily terms one would traditionally associate with home gyms, but at this year's show, there were several companies that were looking to change that. Banking on the fact that not every home or homeowner has room for a bulky gym that's front and center for all to see, Tunturi, Avanti and ProSpot debuted collapsible, full-featured home gyms.

Functional gyms continue to dominate most booths, and made up for the predominant number of new products visible (or not visible as some were tucked away in private hotel meeting rooms, as was newcomer Torque Fitness that didn't have final product ready for a show floor debut. Look for a write-up soon on our private visit with Torque). Still clinging to the notion of fixed arm home gyms? Time to let go, as those days are disappearing under an avalanche of cables, multiple handle attachments, quick position conversions and rotating arms from nearly every manufacturer on the floor -- Vision, Lamar, Body-Solid, BodyCraft, Keys, TuffStuff, Vectra and more. Trouble is, while the industry continues to fall all over itself to introduce the next function in gyms called functional, it's forgetting one, very key point -- all those bells and whistles and functional features don't mean much if the consumer is still confused by them. And consumers still aren't sure where to start with them unless they have club experience, a personal trainer or are extremely self-motivated.

Certainly, one primary reason retailers and professionals like functional trainers is, when properly used, a good system will provide a great strength training program for any sport -- golf, climbing, basketball, etc. -- and for muscle training for everyday activities to improve quality of life. The problem is that to be effective, a person really has to know what they are doing. As we pointed out last year in our wrap from the show, a little education and even better POP and accompanying literature is in order, gang, if you want this category to really take off. (In fact, look to SNEWS® soon for a Training Center piece on functional trainers to help get this rolling.)

One thing has become evident in the strength arena, functional or traditional -- an increasing number of manufacturers are giving more than just lip service to concepts such as convenience, aesthetics and space efficiency. When it comes to making fitness blend into the home, Inspire (www.inspirefitness.net) continues to lead the way in how it will match colors, textures, wall paper, even drapes and other room décor with its gyms. One retailer told us, "I sold more Inspire gyms last year than I thought possible, simply because I could match the color of the gym with the color of the living room décor."

TuffStuff, Batca Fitness Systems, Lamar and others were all touting new gyms and Smith systems that featured space efficiency and, in many cases, the ability to tuck into the corner of a room without sacrificing performance. Batca, in particular, showed a gym that allowed the user to get into and out of the seat without having to negotiate around or over pulleys, bars or protrusions -- a nod to those less nimble users in the home gym set.

If you made it to the show, you may not have made it to every booth or seen every new piece with all there was to soak in -- or you may have not simply been able to wade through knee-deep crowds at some strength suppliers such as Lamar Health Fitness & Sport, TuffStuff and Vectra. So whether you were at the show or not, SNEWS® is here to point out some highlights. While not an all-inclusive list (hey, we only have so much bandwidth), here are some of the products and companies -- in alphabetical order -- that created a buzz on the floor and to our eyes:

(Several weeks of show coverage began Aug. 7, so don't miss out. Look for more through reports in mid-September as SNEWS® continues the best and most detailed fitness show coverage -- you won't find more complete or more accurate reports anywhere else.)

Avanti -- An Australian company, Avanti debuted its fold-away Cardio Gym, which combines a recumbent bike for cardio work with a cable pulley system designed to develop upper-body strength. The pulley system is bilateral and, according to Lyon Alizna (yes, the man jumped from TuffStuff to here with dad's blessings), is ideal for various rows, curls, extensions, flyes and more. The company is playing to the consumer that wants full cardio and strength results in short time commitments -- boasting a 20-minute daily regimen to achieve complete results. The entire unit folds up into a case that resembles a metal storage cabinet best suited for the garage. Alizna told us the company is working on making the look a bit more aesthetically pleasing. MSRP $2,700. www.avantifitness.com.au

Batca Fitness Systems -- Ease of use is what captured our eyes most on the Fusion Home Gym, new from Batca Fitness Systems. Each action point is color-coded to make it easy for the eye to find the necessary pin to pull or lever to adjust. Most impressive was the seat that is perhaps the easiest one to get into and out of we've ever experienced -- no weight machine parts, arms or brackets to negotiate over and around. The small 4-by-6 footprint features direct cabling to all stations. With quick and simple adjustments, the user can move from machine-defined to user-defined exercise movements with the unit's arms. An optional integrated bench and leg press features quick adjustments for use with dumbbells and for ab crunches. MSRP $3,000 ($2,500, without leg press). www.batcafitness.com

BodyCraft -- The one item getting the most buzz was a new take on the multi-weight dumbbell, which BodyCraft is dubbing the "revolver dumbbell system." The system uses a revolver-like spinning cartridge to select the number of plates quickly and easily. It will be available in six months, we are told, with only a slightly rough prototype at the booth. A 50-pound set will retail for $400 and a 90-pound for $600. (Yes, the company is taking a hard look at the prices.) It is worth noting here that while there were other companies now showing versions of three-dimensional Smith machines, BodyCraft and Star Trac are the only two companies thus far with permission to use the patented 3-D Technology licensed from Max Rack Inc. (www.maxrack.com), we were told. In addition, BodyCraft has a patent pending on both the lock down pin and the hooking system for the bar. More attention to color and aesthetics are evident in the full line as well, both existing and new models. Alan Gore, co-founder of BodyCraft, told SNEWS® that the new looks and designs are the result of the company investing in an in-house designer for the first time charged with focusing on just that. Gore also noted that some of the company's new line would be made available only to special fitness brick-and-mortar retailers and not etailers. www.bodycraft.com

Body-Solid -- While the GDCC 200 is the company's latest in an increasing functional trainer line, the one product folks seemed most excited about was a bench -- the PFIP 125. It is a price-point bench (MSRP $145) that is collapsible and comes with luggage-type wheels so consumers can move it in and out of closets, under the bed, etc. www.bodysolid.com

Crossover Symmetry -- Is it an accessory or a gym? Actually, it's a bit of both since it's a box o' stuff that sets up with tubing systems into a strength-training system. Crossover Symmetry utilizes a double cord setup which allows the user to create a symmetric crossover movement to strengthen the rotator cuff and scapular areas. Taking a page from plyometric exercises, the system uses Crossover Cords that can be attached to a chain-link fence, door jam or other immobile object to create a dynamic, pre-activity warm-up to prevent injury, rehabilitate injuries and improve performance. We worked our way through a brief set that combined traditional movements with quick, explosive movements, we're sold and have ordered up a set to test here at SNEWS® headquarters. Each box comes with two light and two heavy Crossover Cords, a training booklet, a full-color weather-resistant chart and a DVD. MSRP $185. www.crossoversymmetry.com

Lamar -- Looking a bit like it was an escapee from a nearby science fiction movie set, the Tech Tower T2 is a cable gym in name only. The unit will stow compactly into a room's corner. Pivot swivel arms allow for an extensive range of exercises and movements, and "quick-snap" connectors (a catchier name is pending, we are told) allow for quick hand strap adjustment. The system includes a never-seen-before standing leg press attachment, which also can function as a pull-up assist. The use of Lamar's licensed switch-style selectors on the stack (optional) makes it very easy to quickly determine and adjust the weight desired for each exercise group. MSRP in the low to mid $2,000s with the exact price pending. www.lamarhfs.com

ProSpot -- While ProSpot co-owner and equipment designer Michael Slawinski was clearly excited about the company's new equipment line makeover and name change -- the old P number line has become the Fusion HG line with more attention to aesthetics and smaller footprints -- he was most enthusiastic about the CoEx Trainer, a foldable home gym. When the lift-assisted bench is folded up into the storage position, the unit measures only 2-feet deep by 4-feet wide. The CoEx features the company's "Grab & Go" technology, a 100-pound weight stack, high/low pulley system, free weight barbell, multi-position bench, T-bar, lat bar and more. MSRP $2,700. www.prospotfitness.com

Quantum -- Suddenly in not much more than a year, Quantum is a player, a significant player, in the retail fitness world, although some of its products still lean toward light commercial and commercial quality (and prices). Its Total Power exercise system was one of the coolest things on the floor. With its self-adjusting seat, it had the ability from a seated position and using the speed-dial adjusting to do an entire range of shoulder, back, chest and leg exercises in a mere 3-foot-by-6-foot space. As a hydraulic device, it's also ideal for small hotel and vertical gyms (MSRP $4,500). In addition, its ABT (ab, back and leg) hydraulic gym took the same concepts into a smaller unit that hits fewer body parts (MSRP $2,500). www.quantumfitness.com

TuffStuff -- Space-efficiency was the buzzword in the TuffStuff booth, too, as the company showed us its CXT-1, a corner multi-functional trainer. While a corner unit isn't all that unusual, the ability to add a Smith Press System (CST-1SP) without increasing the footprint is. Using an angular 3-point contact design for stability, the unit tucks fully into a room corner, taking up a mere 6 feet of space along each wall. The wide base frame is easily accessible for wheelchair or rehab equipment, as well as any workout bench on the market. MSRP $2,200. $3,100 with the Smith. www.tuffstuff.net

Tunturi -- We first saw the new Tunturi BodyShaper home gym at Winter ispo 2006 (it was called the B60 home gym then) and reported its debut in our Feb. 13 story, "Fitness ispo show in Germany growing up, more legitimate" -- click here to read. The BodyShaper is Tunturi's first introduction of strength products for Accell. Extremely compact, the unit can be folded flat so it can be shipped and setup by the consumer, who simply unfolds it into a pyramid-like shape. Complete unit weighs just 170 pounds. Resistance is with a flexible rod system. The BodyShaper comes with an instruction poster, showing 18 exercises for chest muscles, shoulders, back, arms, abdomen and legs. MSRP $1,800. www.accellfitness.com

Vectra -- Perhaps not evident on a walk-by was the new functional trainer that Vectra had -- the VX-FT. Already getting raves for the VFT-100 trainer it introduced a year ago, this one is part of its modular multi-stack system so it can be tacked together as desired for more versatility. It was shown at the show as a four-stack system. The main difference between the current trainer and this one is the ability of the arms to move independently both up and down and side-to-side, each with one lever controlling that arm's entire movement. This one is expected to cost a few ticks more than the VFT-100 at $3,200 list and won't be available until the first quarter of 2007. www.vectrafitness.com

Vision -- Although Vision didn't introduce any new product, the changes the company made to the ST 200 functional trainer, as a direct result of retailer feedback, warrants a mention. Dan Finn, strength product manager for Vision, showed us the new package, which now includes a multi-swivel bar, a handle that imitates sport's movements, and five-pound add-on weight as standard, rather than optional accessories, as they were last year. The company also reengineered the upper guide rods with floating grommets to prevent the weight plates from sticking or experiencing rough transitions. Also, Finn showed us the seven regular pulleys had been replaced with V-Groove pulleys -- more expensive, but more quiet in operation. www.visionfitness.com

If your product or company wasn't mentioned here, that's either because it didn't strike our team as new or different, or perhaps we were totally brain-dead and missed it (unlikely, but possible!). Remember, more reports from the show are still coming in the next couple of weeks, including details on what we saw in the cardio area and in heart-rate monitors.

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