Health & Fitness Business '09: Cardio sticks mostly to freshening up, but still takes steps forward

With the economy still trying to rev up again, this wasn't the year for big news and innovative introductions from cardio manufacturers. Add to the economic hiccup a smaller Health & Fitness Business Show, some extra inventory still lingering here and there, and cautious buyers wary of consumer buying. What that means is although cardio companies still eked the category forward at the Aug. 6-7 show in Denver, it was mostly with conservative offerings of design tweaks, add-ons and updates.
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With the economy still trying to rev up again, this wasn't the year for big news and innovative introductions from cardio manufacturers. Add to the economic hiccup a smaller Health & Fitness Business Show, some extra inventory still lingering here and there, and cautious buyers wary of consumer buying.

What that means is although cardio companies still eked the category forward at the Aug. 6-7 show in Denver, it was mostly with conservative offerings of design tweaks, add-ons and updates. A few new lines and a sprinkle of new technologies hinted that work in the back room hasn't stopped, of course -- and may be priming for a change in consumer buying habits.

Here's our run-down of the trends and other highlights we saw on the floor.

Bargain shopping?

Deals were being offered around the floor -- some more of a deal than others.

Stamina Products is offering a deal in an attempt to clear out its warehouses: While supplies last, dealers can get a Viper Leverage Gym (that bright orange behemoth of a full-body strength machine) for free with the purchase of the Avari GX 8 Elliptical for $515. Original cost of both machines together is $1,650, for a savings of more than $1,000. www.staminafitness.com

In another two-fer deal, Body-Solid is offering the combo of its Best Fitness Sportsman Gym and Best Fitness treadmill for $700, but you must buy by Aug. 31.www.body-solid.com

A rep in the LifeSpan booth said that with an MSRP of $799.99, its TR200 Fold N Stor walking treadmill (see picture to right) -- although not a new product -- had been getting renewed interest. The pared-down machine with a smaller footprint has 10 incline levels, a max speed of 8 mph, comes fully assembled and has a one-year warranty for parts and labor. www.lifespanfitness.com

Vacu FitAmerica, the U.S. distributors for the product out of Poland, also tried to win hearts, legs and wallets with a 25 percent discount on its allegedly cellulite-smoothing Vacu Fit Elliptical (sales pitch: "It reduces the appearance of cellulite"). Original price: $17,000; with the discount: $12,750. The rather…um…bizarre machine combined an elliptical trainer with a purported vacuum suction device said to eliminate cottage cheese thighs and inches while you work out. Sales manager Krista Ricchezza showed us how: You climb into a rib-high, rocket-ship-like pod wearing a special skirt resembling a paddle skirt. Then, like with a paddle skirt, you snug the skirt's edges over the edge of the pod to create a closed chamber. Inside the chamber, you are standing on the elliptical pedals, but your arms and upper body are sticking out above it all. And away you go! One SNEWS® reporter emerged from a three-minute trial run strutting her thinner thighs…. www.vacufitamerica.com

Making multi-taskers happy

We get the feeling that the new TV stands and mounting brackets -- bars that attach TVs to cardio equipment -- were some companies' conservative answer to what to debut in a down economy. Nevertheless, the kits will surely appeal to an increasingly multi-tasking exerciser. Maintaining its show support with the second-largest booth at the show, party sponsor SportsArt Fitness introduced the Universal Entertainment Mounting Bracket (MSRP $329 to $379) that fits onto 24 pieces of its cardio equipment. (www.sportsartfitness.com) Also going AV but differently: BodyGuard's AV System is a rolling, stand-alone adjustable TV/DVD stand (MSRP $699).

Landice's Vesa-D mounting bracket (MSRP $250) allows you to attach your own TV up to 20 inches. Then there's the Landice Walk Station (MSRP $350), which attaches to any treadmill. A small table-like platform lets you work away on a laptop with a place for a mouse even while working out, and other areas let you keep accessories like water bottles or PDAs close at hand (see picture to right). Everything the multi-tasking fitness enthusiast could want. (Click here to see an article on treadmill trends in the SNEWS 2009 Fitness magazine with a short section and video about similar workstations.) 

Water, water everywhere

Water rowing technology isn't new, but in a show with only 65 company booths, SNEWS thought it was notable that three companies were showing equipment with water resistance. Category leader Water Rower (www.waterrower.com) showed off its patented flywheel technology that "emulates the exact dynamics as a boat moving through water" in an array of rowers for home and commercial use. First Degree Fitness (www.firstdegreefitness.com) had its current line of water rowers, cycles and upper body exercisers with long-time "fluid technology" as resistance (see picture to left) -- not much new, except new marketing director Bill Van Eron, with experience at HP computers and other firms, promised the Australia-based company would be doing a bigger push in the United States soon with its own North American website launching in September.H20 Fitness, a division of HealthCare International (www.hcifitness.com -- the company that still brings the Monark bike), brought along its RX series of water rowers for home, light commercial and club use, but focused on spotlighting its electromagnetic Proteus PAR-5500 Club Series Rower. The Proteus, the company said, combines both water and magnetic resistance for a smoother feel and a better workout.



Newcomers to the cardio category


Even with a down economy a few companies decided cardio was a segment to get into.

TKO traveled further from its mixed-martial arts, boxing and free weight roots this year with the introduction of its sleek and simple Cardio Systems line. For light commercial and home use, the 3U Upright Bike, 3R Semi-Recumbent Bike and rear-drive 3E Elliptical Trainer have a few bells and whistles -- all three pieces' consoles are mounted on an accordion-like platform that can adjust to reduce any glare, and the elliptical and semi-recumbent bike have patented stride length and seat angle adjustment capabilities, respectively. The company said it wasn't ready to release MSRPs; the line will be available for retailers for the fourth quarter of 2009. www.tko.com

Perhaps known best for its storable Cardio Gym systems (www.cardiogym.com) that incorporate upper body strength work with a cardio workout on a recumbent bike, parent Australian-based company Avanti Fitness debuted a small selection of new treadmills (MSRP $1,299 to $2,299). "Avanti is huge in Australia," said Connie Miranda. "But it's hard to compete with some of the established brands in the U.S."

So maybe going to the dogs will help? Avanti introduced a first for the HFB show -- a treadmill for your pet (MSRP $999) that you control from your own machine. For all those customers who won't spend a grand on their own equipment, maybe they'll spend it for one for Fido or Fluffy? This item has a 1 HP continuous duty motor, goes up to 10 kilometers per hour (6.2 mph) for all those speedy pets out there, folds for space saving, and has a running area of about 12 inches by 47 inches. And if Fido misbehaves, you can rev up that motor with a flick of your finger to make him toe the line -- or get flung off the back.

Elsewhere on the floor, a few highlights seen in cardio equipment:

With one of the three largest booths at the show, Accell Fitness with its Bremshey and Tunturi brands unveiled a tweak to the ellipse on the four-machine front-drive Bremshey Orbit elliptical line. ("It was feeling too flat," confessed a rep in the booth about the former mechanics) The company also showed an overhaul of its Tunturi line of treadmills. The line, including models T20, T30, T40, T50, T70 and T80, range in price from $1,699 to $3,999. They feature a new console with a dial-select knob for scrolling through the menu then clicking to select; larger speed and elevation buttons; and the company's patented Position Speed Control (PSC) feature, which increases or decreases your running or walking speed if you drift out of the "sweet spot" on the belt surface. The company also added a Bremshey Sport "Sprinter bike" in the spinning bike category for MSRP $899. www.accellfitness.com

After a significant overhaul of its cardio line in 2008, the changes at BodyGuard this year were mostly aesthetic, with an updated slogan, logo and colors, said the company's U.S. sales manager, Justin Richardson. BodyGuard also debuted a three-minute DVD called the Bodyguard T460 Treadmill eXperience that allows customers to learn about the machine in-store as they're testing it (which, was pointed out, could work for training store sales staff, too). BodyGuard dealers can receive the full package -- treadmill, TV and training DVD -- for free as part of a special flooring program, said Richardson. www.bodyguardfitness.com

OK, so this isn't the first year Body-Solid (www.bodysolid.com) has offered cardio equipment, but with its revamped elliptical line (see picture to right), it might see broader reach in its future. Sold under the company's Endurance brand, the E300, E400 and E5000 are equipped with the increasingly popular center-drive technology -- licensed by a number of manufacturers from the same patent -- which allowed the rep in the Body-Solid booth to brag that the E300 and E400 are so compact that they'll fit on a 3x4 exercise mat, yet still handle users who weigh up to 300 pounds. The E300 and E5000 feature a fixed 21-inch stride; the E400's stride length can be adjusted from 17 to 23 inches. Also offered was a center-drive model under its Best Fitness brand.

TheLife Fitnessbooth was generally abuzz with ongoing talks by retail consultant Sandy Stein, a model of its new in-store concept, Centro, and products too. Still focusing on the cross-trainer, the company showed an adjustable-stride X8 Elliptical (see picture to left) -- features include a customizable stride length (from 18 to 24 inches), shock-absorbing foot pads (a carry-over from the X7 version), and a super quiet function. MSRP: $3,999 with the Basic Workouts Console; $4,299 with the Advanced Workouts Console. www.lifefitness.com

LifeCore also jumped on the center-drive technology bandwagon with its introduction of the space-saving CD Elliptical line. Products on display at the show included the CD 400 (fixed 21-inch stride; MSRP $1,599) and DC500 (adjustable 17- to 25-inch stride; MSRP: $1,999). The company also added an adjustable lumbar air bag to its LC1000RB recumbent bike (MSRP $1,699). www.lifecorefitness.com



Fitness Master
updated its cardio roster by adding the light commercial E55 Elliptical and freshening the styling on the Aristo CS-2 group cycling bike. The footprint of the E55 (MSRP $1,200) is two feet shorter than older versions and will be available in September, according to president Eric Dick. www.fmiamerica.com

If you remember the Randy Ross Stepper bike that tooled around last year's show (click here to see the 2008 SNEWS show report on cardio equipment), you may have had a sense of deja vu as you passed by the Street Striderbooth. This creation (see picture to right), the latest attempt to reinvent the (bicycle) wheel, is basically a rolling outdoor elliptical. With two front wheels and one larger rear wheel, you "pedal" by stepping on foot platforms like on an elliptical. Or attach it to a traditional bicycle trainer stand for a stationary elliptical workout. The EXT model has an MSRP of $1,999. www.streetstrider.com

Spirit Fitness(www.spiritfitness.com) introduced what the company is calling the "new generation" of elliptical trainers, the E-Glide (MSRP $2,499). Spirit's engineers have replaced a traditional front-drive system with a flywheel, similar to what you'd find on an indoor studio cycle. Other elements on the E-Glide mimic indoor cycling as well, such as a hand break, 60-level tension knob and RPM read-out on the console. A small footprint and less bouncy ellipsis motion could make it attractive to consumers seeking an alternative. Spirit also debuted its updated XTerra Fitness line of treadmills, ellipticals, steppers and bikes (MSRPs range from $1,100 to $1,800). Click here to see a March 20, 2009, SNEWS story discussing the company's new XTerra license. 

In the largest booth space at the show, Star Trac (www.startracusa.com) launched a light-commercial, high-end line of consumer treadmills for home use under its brand ST Fitness. Economy, schonomy, we're talking a booth filled with new stuff that didn't neglect aesthetics. The seven modern-looking machines feature a light color scheme, sleek console look, oval handrail tubing and low-profile motor shrouds. The top-of-the-line 8940 and 8930 (part of the line that has MSRPs from $1,495 to $3,595) have 22-x-60-inch running surfaces. Star Trac also debuted a line of ellipticals, treadmills and bikes under the Ironman Fitness brand, part of its re-introduction of that popular brand that it took over after acquiring the Ironman license after long-time licensee Keys went bankrupt. Click here to read a Feb. 16, 2009, SNEWS story about that deal.

--Beth Dreher


The SNEWS® team of seasoned reporters covers a trade show to seek out product highlights, indications of a trend (to a product category, a company or the industry) or products that are new to the market. In our post-show reports, we do not write about every last piece of gear or equipment we have seen, although, promise, we have most likely seen nearly everything. Even if not in a show report, you never know how information may be included in a future report, trend watch, product review or story. If you have any comments or questions, please email us at snewsbox@snewsnet.com.

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