Health & Fitness Business '07: Kettlebells center stage, small tweaks to familiar gadgets keep accessories category moving

At this year's Health & Fitness Business Expo, the once-incidental category of accessories has continued to quietly emerge as one of the growth spots in the industry's future. Everybody's heard the predictions -- that consumers will continue to buy products and services aimed at improving their health and longevity, creating over the next few years a $1 trillion "wellness industry," as espoused in the show's keynote by Paul Zane Pilzer. And while even the most wellness-minded consumers won't buy hundreds of stationary bikes or rowing machines in their lifetimes, retailers and manufacturers can count on them to buy plenty of yoga mats, medicine balls or other smaller pieces of gear.
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At this year's Health & Fitness Business Expo, the once-incidental category of accessories has continued to quietly emerge as one of the growth spots in the industry's future. Everybody's heard the predictions -- that consumers will continue to buy products and services aimed at improving their health and longevity, creating over the next few years a $1 trillion "wellness industry," as espoused in the show's keynote by Paul Zane Pilzer. And while even the most wellness-minded consumers won't buy hundreds of stationary bikes or rowing machines in their lifetimes, retailers and manufacturers can count on them to buy plenty of yoga mats, medicine balls or other smaller pieces of gear.

This year, kettlebells, which were a big zippo last year in the exhibit hall, muscled onto the show floor en masse, with not only the big accessory players showing product (packaged with education) but also smaller players exhibiting kettlebells, albeit less slick in their manufacturing and with lower prices.

"It's one piece of equipment, and it's easy for a user to progress and advance based on skill level," said GoFit's Paul Goldberg, vice president of sales, about the old Russian training balls with handles rise to prominence.

Aside from the new category of kettlebells, SNEWS® can't say it saw much else that was new and wowie-zowie but did see new tweaks to the familiar in packaging, aesthetics, education and partnerships. A couple of companies -- Natural Fitness and Aeromats -- touted environmentally friendly products -- a first in fitness but a trend the industry should start heeding. TKO was back on the floor post-bankruptcy with its accessory lineup, as was Aquajogger with its deep-water and aqua exercise gear.

(Several weeks of show coverage began Aug. 2, so don't miss any of the reports, podcasts or the two SNEWS® live daily HotSheet newsletters. We are covering, will cover, or have covered everything from general attendee information to education reviews to category reports. As always, SNEWS® gives you the best and most accurate and detailed show coverage anywhere. 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 -- anything's possible! But don't fret: Coming still in the next few weeks are articles and SNEWS® Live podcasts on strength, cardio, education, SNEWS® fundraising for Augie's Quest, celebrity athlete appearances and parties, and you never know what else! So stay tuned, this is just the beginning.)

Here's a peek at a few things the SNEWS® team saw:

Power it up: kettlebells and more
Several manufacturers have introduced beefed-up versions of the classic weighted exercise ball. Among the most notable examples at this year's show were the FitBall MiniMeds, one- to five-pound miniature medicine balls fitted with nylon webbing hand straps (MSRP $12-$19). The straps are adjustable, allowing users to securely grip the balls with their hands or even attach them to their ankles to use as leg weights. (www.fitball.com)

Over at GoFit (www.gofit.net), the buzz was over the company's new Iron Core Kettlebells, developed in cooperation with former bodybuilding competitor and kettlebell instructor Sarah Lurie, who's also featured in instructional DVDs included with each weight available in a variety of bright colors (10- to 45-pound kettlebells have MSRPs of $30-$90, all with floor-protecting vinyl dip and a wide handle). Nearly across the aisle, accessory supplier Spri Products had its own kettlebell rollout, offering steel/cast-iron construction with a black vinyl coating on the ball portion. Unlike other companies, both pounds and kilogram weights were printed on the Spri kettlebell (MSRPs $30-$160, for 4 kilogram or 2.2 pounds to 24 kilogram or 52.9 pounds).

Kettlebells also appeared in offerings from Ader Fitness and Apollo Athletics, which were mainly no-frills black cast-iron with a handle.

Weighted balls of a different sort were also big at Valeo (www.valeoinc.com), where the company was unveiling the brand-new Tanker T525, a double-handled core trainer made of hard molded plastic that you fill with sand or water to create a 5- to 25-pound weight (retail $49).

And at Hampton Fitness (www.hamptonfit.com), which a couple of years ago introduced colorful gel coatings on dumbbells, now has taken the bright and playful urethane to the grip positions on its new Gel-Bars (MSRPs $40-$84), and offers eight colors and eight different weights, from 5 to 25 pounds.

Altus has been thinking pink and introduced the Pink Product Line featuring bubble-gum pink body balls, weights and yoga mats. The Body Ball Fitness Kit (MSRP $20) comes with a body ball, 2-pound fitness ball weights, instructional DVD and chart, and pump. It also includes an inflation measuring tape so users know when they've pumped their body ball to the correct size.

Both Ball Dynamics and Aeromat offer mini Power Medicine Balls -- 2 to 12 pounds, going up in 2-pound increments -- with removable, cinch-down Velcro straps. Ideal for rehab, seniors and kids, they easily crossover to the fitness conditioning realm and can be held in hand or secured to a foot. Don't want the straps? They can be removed with an Allen wrench, giving the ball a smooth surface all around for traditional medicine ball use.

Tracking your ticker
The ever-popular category of heart rate monitors had its share of innovations, as well. Among the coolest: The yet-to-be-released series of Impulse Ana-Digit watches from Sports Beat (www.sportsbeatusa.com). Available in black, silver or a very snazzy red, these watches combine an analog quartz movement and classic stainless steel case that's water-resistant up to 100 meters with a backlit digital LED display that shows date, time and ECG-accurate heart rate (available in November, MSRP $180).

Sports Beat also announced its new licensing agreement with the popular "For Dummies" series of books and products, unveiling a series of five HRMs, one with a built-in pedometer function, each packaged with a "Heart Rate Monitors for Dummies" book and instruction manual (MSRPs $40-$90).

Mio (www.miowatch.com) recently released its new Eurofit series of HRMs -- the Breeze, Drive and Motiva (MSRPs $70-$100), with sleek new styling and interchangeable bands. The top two models also feature Mio's new Calorie Countdown technology, which tracks calories consumed and burned.

The big news at Polar (www.polarusa.com) is the company's new collaboration with Podfitness.com, which delivers a free trial membership to personal training programs, which can be downloaded and played on any MP3 player. The company also recently introduced its new Activity Watch, which is the first timepiece to measure calorie burn without a chest strap, instead measuring active steps and active time via sensors in the watch itself (MSRP $200).

Wobble and balance
Indo Board developer Hunter Joslin was in the Fitter International booth talking about a curriculum he has developed for school P.E. programs using the balance trainer board. Normally packaged with just the oval board and long balance roller, Joslin has created a program of progression that also includes an inflatable balance cushion, lesson plan and instructional DVD (kit MSRP $120). One of the only cushions on the market that has a mouth valve to fill it up, users can easily increase or decrease the amount of air in the cushion as their balance skills improve. Once they've mastered the cushion, they graduate up to the more challenging roller.

Joslin told SNEWS® during the HFB show, "We need to bring interest back into P.E. so kids will do it. If we bring fun into P.E., fun equates to activity and fitness."

Ball Dynamics' new 5-in-1 wobble board (MSRP $130) comes with three different rocker boards and two fulcrums for progressive use for beginning to advanced balancers. All can be stacked together in an accompanying wooden rack.

Bosu was hawking its "new school stability ball training" concept with the Ballast Ball, a six-sided ball with a proprietary sand-like material inside. The "specially formulated" material is said to enhance workouts with the added weight, and offer visual cuing and audible feedback as it swishes around inside the ball. Also, the material provides ballast so your ball doesn't wander away during a workout, and multiple balls can be stacked on top of each other and won't roll away. The ball weighs 4 pounds and the sand adds another 2.5 pounds. The Ballast Ball (MSRP $60) comes with an instructional DVD and pump.

Eco-friendly
Launched 10 months ago, the goal of newcomer Natural Fitness is to be as eco-friendly as possible in its premium eco-fitness products. Products in the company's yoga line (mats, block, strap and mat bag) are 100-percent sustainable and made of natural rubber, bamboo or hemp.

"As the green movement gains momentum, people are going to decide it's time to make a difference with their dollars. We want to be there when they look," Dave Parker, Natural Fitness' director of operations, told SNEWS®.

While Natural Fitness' fitness products line -- which includes exercise balls, medicine balls with handles, a balance disc, resistance tubes and soft weighted balls with MSRPs ranging from $13-$80 -- are made as environmentally friendly as possible, some of the products are not fully sustainable, for example the stability balls. Parker told us as new eco-friendly materials become available, the company will adjust products accordingly. To compensate in the meantime, the company will plant a tree in South America for every fitness product sold.

Another eco-friendly mat maker is Aeromat. It debuted the EcoWise Yoga Mat (1/8 inch x 24 inches x 69 inches) and the EcoWise Yoga/Pilates Mat (1/4 inch x 24 inches x 72 inches). Made of closed cell foam, the mats are free of latex, PVC and chloride. They also come in dual textures: parallelogram for comfort and support, and wavy for traction and stability.

Odds 'n' ends
Medi-Dyne Healthcare Products
(www.medi-dyne.com) introduced its new SoftMoves adhesive gel pads (MSRP $7.99), small shock–absorbing pads designed for the ball of the foot or heel that can be worn in any type of shoe (and even attached directly to the foot).

Already covered and reviewed in SNEWS® but new to retail fitness, Bionic Gloves (www.bionicgloves.com) were on the floor. The gloves, developed by a doctor and based on the sciences of ergonomics and anatomy, have strategically placed padding and seams to eliminate the pressure points associated with almost any activity that involves a gripping motion, including playing golf, riding a horse, driving a car, lifting weights, even working in the garden.

Is it a mood ring? Is it a heart rate monitor? We don't really know since the manufacturer, Komate Industrial Co. couldn't really show us or tell us much about its Mimi-Me category. Showing only a prototype of the RF Ring Heart Rate Monitor, we were left as puzzled as you now likely are. A ring that is mood-ring-like with a flat sensor on top, we couldn't even get more out of the company's website (www.komate.com.tw) since it was mostly in Taiwanese. We have to wonder why Komate was there although a representative promised more information.

And putting a new spin on a couple classics, Spri introduced the Slanted Riser for aerobic steppers. The angled pieces add a new dimension to workouts and fit any step platform made in the last 15 years. Additionally, GoFit's "why didn't we think of it sooner" product was the beaded, adjustable 14-foot Double Dutch Jump Rope (MSRP, $15) for the jump rope craze. It makes us smile just thinking about it.

Remember, 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. SNEWS® started detailed show reports on Aug. 2 and we will continue to cover categories in separate reports ongoing for the next few weeks. Among them of course are, of course, the strength and cardio equipment reports, as well as others on education, fun and all that other stuff at the show.

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