Health & Fitness Business ’10: MMA, balance and, yes, nailbeds give accessories an edge

In a tough economy, the Big Purchase may not happen…but a smaller one might. So it was no surprise to see the Health & Fitness Business show floor flooded with small-purchase items. Read on to find out what SNEWS found that may pump up your mix.
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In a tough economy, the Big Purchase may not happen…but a smaller one might. So it was no surprise to see the Health & Fitness Business show floor flooded with small-purchase items, from mats and balls, to weights and balance boards. Without one overriding trend, the accessories mix turned into a jambalaya of fitness stand-bys and new crazes.

“Mixed Martial Arts,” aka MMA, was the current training trend most likely to have a direct affect on fitness retailers since its proponents must be in top shape to compete and often train a la Rocky without the use of traditional fitness accessories. The fighting discipline is outpacing boxing both in TV interest and in fans wanting to follow the workout regimens of top-shape fighters. To wit, schools like UFC champ Ken Shamrock’s Lion’s Den MMA and Fitness in Reno, Nev., have adherents looking to mix fighting with fitness (www.kenshamrock.com).

Amber Sports (www.ambersports.com) offered both boxing and MMA gear, but told us that MMA was driving the demand. Items like MMA training gloves (MSRP $65) and Muay Thai Kick Pads (MSRP $70) are low-cost essentials. But MMA folks are also interested in standard fitness gear like Amber’s Space Saver VKR Tower (MSRP $140) that they can use for pull-ups and dips in a confined space.

“Once they become addicted to MMA, they start to cross over to more general fitness as it becomes part of their training regimen,” said Sanjay Gakhar, Amber’s vice president of sales and marketing.

Exhibiting for the first time at the show, Alpha Strong came on strong (ooo, bad pun…) with an MMA-style training accessory -- sandbags and sandballs. Simple and light, the duffle- or gym-bag-sized weight bags offer a creative, portable workout.

“The goal is to play. People want something more out of their workout than just running on the treadmill. This offers a whole new way for them to move,” said Chip Conrad of BodyTribe Fitness (www.physicalsubculture.com) in Sacramento, Calif., who was at the show with Alpha Strong to demonstrate how the bags could be used. He tossed them, hefted them, twirled them and explained how they can make for dynamic workouts.

Alpha Strong’s “Thy Beast” bag holds 40 to 80 pounds of sand (understandably, not included), packs up into travel luggage and retails at $150 (photo, right, Thy SandBall, 10-30 pounds, MSRP $89.95; www.bealphastrong.com)

The Burn Machine’s Speed Bags (MSRP $129-$149; www.theburnmachine.com) offered a similar easy-to-transport workout and capitalized on the popularity of CrossFit-style cardio-strength workouts. The speed bag is a simple but effective device that uses ergonomic grips that twist as you move them forward to replicate pushing a speed bag. The brand’s Asymmetrical Barbells (MSRP $159-$299) likewise are easy to transport and allow for customization of weight. The resistance cables and handholds can be twisted in order to provide stretching strength exercises that are more dynamic than machine reps. They use a sliding counterweight and ergonomic grips to create a cardio-focused strength workout.

Balance it out

While not necessary for ultimate fighting, balance training was as popular as ever on the show floor. Spri’s new accessory, the Step360 Pro (MSRP $150; www.spri.com), allows for CrossFit-reminiscent workouts that combine core strength, balance, cardio and strength routines. The device is a balance board and platform in one that allows for use with strength pulleys, plus users can add more or less air to the inflatable rings underneath the board to make the workout easier or more difficult.

For a simpler version, Fitter’s standby, the Pro Wobble Board (MSRP $70-$80; www.fitter1.com), offers balance training, as well as training for young, new-school trends like parcour, and can be a favorite in laid-back offices. But look again: The products in its new collection of Soft Boards (MSRP $39.95-$99.95, photo - right) are made of dense foam and are more accommodating, especially for the less-experienced or beginners. The foam helps a user feel more cushioned and eliminates the CLUNK when you “fall off” your balance.

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While sales of big machines may be slow, retailers can still count on selling items that help maintain, augment and service high-price-tag equipment, especially if users are keeping them longer. Lube-N-Walk was seeing lots of interest in its Treadmill Care Kits (www.lube-n-walk.com; MSRP $19-$35) from dealers who wanted to be able to keep customers coming into the store, as well as clubs looking to maintain equipment.

“Sales are up for us,” said Charles Williams, president of Lube-N-Walk. “It’s an easy add-on sale. Most retailers keep it right by the treadmills.”

Perhaps the most unique accessory we saw on the floor, certainly one that “stuck out” (ooo, another bad pun…) was the Padma NailMat (MSRP $69; www.padmanailmat.com). Yes, it is a yoga bed of “nails” -- actually a soft mat covered with “flowers” of hard plastic that are said to stimulate acupuncture points on the back and neck when you lie down on it. The mat is based on traditional beds of nails used by yogis in China and India.

“It can be intense at first, but once your body gets used to it, you may even fall asleep on it,” said Padma’s Charlotte Fors.

We admit, it was not as painful as waiting for a cab at Vegas’ McCarran Airport. Actually, surprisingly relaxing.

--Doug Schnitzspahn

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