Health & Fitness Business ’10: Simple cardio innovations add spark

The economy has not been kind to big purchases like treadmills and ellipticals and it seemed most companies dialed back launches and new stuff to focus on add-ons and upgrades. SNEWS cruises the HFB show floor to find a few highlights.
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The economy has not been kind to big purchases. Think treadmills and ellipticals that may ding the pocketbook for $1,000, $2,000 … or more. That just means that innovation, when it comes to cardio machines, has gotten smaller, simpler and cheaper to help keep customers interested.

We did not see a bevy of brand new machines on the Health & Fitness Business Expo floor, Sept. 22-23, in Las Vegas, where it was co-located for the first year with the sprawling Interbike show. Instead of many unveilings, forward-thinking brands improved what they had to offer with simple, inexpensive upgrades, additions or tweaks.

That meant that rather than big new machines, the floor was filled with those with add-ons and upgrades, many of them fueled by new technology. Some manufacturers tapped into new training trends popularized on TV, looking for ways to allow machines to multi-task. Others decided to hitch their wagons to new SmartPhones and tablets. Still, others looked to integrate the function of cardio machines with virtual-reality screens taking advantage of Google Earth and GPS technology. Some stayed simple and stuck to space-efficiency.

Interval training

One of the biggest trends in personal training has been combining cardio and strength circuit workouts in the gym (think CrossFit here). Putting the two together in intervals while monitoring your heart rate burns calories and increases the intensity of the workout as opposed to the old plan of switching strength and cardio days. Octane Fitness caught up to that trend -- but we’ll bet it won’t be the only one soon -- with its Cross Circuit+ cardio and strength training program (MSRP $199; www.octanefitness.com), a simple kit of resistance bands that attach to its Q series ellipticals and allows users to engage in a strength routine between cardio intervals while the electronics in the elliptical keep running to monitor the workout.

“We love variety,” said Tim Porth, vice president of Octane. “We are big advocates of not doing the same thing for 30 minutes.”

While not including a strength component, BodyGuard also looked at improving interval training with its new Turbo Training feature on the T460 Elite treadmill (MSRP $4,699; www.bodyguardfitness.com). The feature allows for acceleration of zero to 10.5 mph in 10 seconds to better accommodate sprint-and-recover sessions that burn calories and improve speed. For safety, the machine arrives with the Turbo mode deactivated so users must manually activate it and go through a couple of warnings before they can use it.

“It really allows users to replicate sprint intervals they do outdoors that they were not able to do on a standard residential tread previously,” said Justin Richardson, U.S. sales director for BodyGuard.

Considering how many times we’ve attempted intervals on treads that take 30+ seconds to accelerate, this could be an athlete’s dream machine.

iEverything

A hot electronic item also arrived as an integrated feature with equipment: the iPad. At this point, we found it on equipment from Diamondback, BodyGuard and Mad Dogg’s Spinners. But you betcha they won’t stand alone long in that field.

Diamondback Fitness (www.diamondbackfitness.com) glommed on to the hot item when it comes to electronics, the iPad. The brand debuted a new series of machines -- the 910Sr Recumbent (MSRP $899), 910Er Elliptical (MSRP $1,699) and 910Ub upright bike (MSRP $799) -- that feature holders and docks for the iPod, iPhone and, yes, iPad. While the machines do not integrate with the units -- in other words you can’t yet share information between an Apple device and the console -- they do recharge and allow a user to browse electronic media or watch an email mid-workout. It’s a lot easier to touch an iPad screen than it is to turn the pages of a print magazine with sweaty fingers -- although we won’t be checking our emails during a workout anytime soon.

Cardio_diamondback_console.jpg

Diamondback figures that the integration of the Apple devices doesn’t just catch up with a hot item like the iPad. It also speaks to the trend of customization. “People want to bring their own personal electronics with them when they workout,” said Diamondback’s Brian Davidson.

BodyGuard’s T460 Elite treadmill, mentioned earlier, also includes docking for iPad, iPhones, iPods and other SmartPhones. Much like Diamondback’s model, its machine does not use the personal electronics in lieu of the console, but instead holds the devices for use while working out, allows a user to play music and watch TV or movies and recharges them. However, Bodyguard is in the process of rolling out a Smartphone app, which will allow a user to synch the device and the console, which should debut in the next three to six months. The idea is not to run the machine through the device, but instead to allow users to choose their own apps according to personal preference.

“We can’t really compete or stay up-to-date with software companies, but we can make it easy for users to integrate different apps. We can meet a user’s needs instead of ramming a specific app down their throat,” said Richardson. “We made the decision that we can't really compete with someone like Apple when it comes to software. But we hope to be able to better compete with big brands that were developing their own console software. It sort of levels the playing field.”

While most brands were integrating personal electronics primarily as entertainment or personal modifications, LifeCore made the electronic screen experience an essential part of the workout with its new LC-Amada Sport Virtual Reality Indoor Cycle (MSRP $4,995; www.lifecorefitness.com www.lifecorefitness.com). The virtual reality bike, which was developed with Dutch company Amada Sport (www.amadasport.com), integrates a video screen with the resistance of the bike. For example, you can look at the course of the Tour de France and the unit will adjust the resistance of the bike to match the grade of the road. You won’t be able to cheat when the resistance grows as you pedal up the Alpe d’Huez. Users can even map a ride on Google Earth and the bike will provide the appropriate resistance to simulate the ride.

The reality of what’s on the screen reminds us of what we saw on Kettler machines at a debut of that company’s programs in February 2009 at the ispo show. (Click here to see that SNEWS story.) Although Kettler was not in the fitness hall (the company exhibited in the bike hall only since it does business in both segments), it still has that programming too.

I wanna ride my bike

Combining Health and Fitness Business with Interbike meant that there was some focus on bikes and related gear on the show floor. While some exhibitors thought the shows could have been better connected -- something show management is considering for 2011 in Anaheim in August -- they did see more energy in the past, especially from bike retailers whose cycling customers also want to keep legs and lungs in shape off-the-road.

For example, indoor stationary cycles and bike trainers continue to evolve.

Drawing on Raleigh, its parent company, and its experience as a bike manufacturer, Diamondback Fitness debuted the 910Ic (MSRP $899), an indoor cycle that offers 32 levels of resistance and 18 workout programs that are controlled electronically through the console.

Lemond Fitness made waves not with a bike but with a trainer. Based on the concept that Greg Lemond first employed when he developed a trainer in his early racing days, the Revolution (MSRP $449; $549 with rear cassette) uses direct drive instead of rollers, which means a user removes the rear wheel of the bike and attaches it directly to the trainer so that the bike drives the machine. Compatible with a road or mountain bike, the trainer’s large, weighted flywheel gives the feel of a rolling bike (www.lemondrevolution.com). It utilizes what Lemond calls High Inertia Technology in the flywheel and progressive wind resistance for a realistic pedal rhythm -- much like a real bike, it will continue to spin even when you are not pedaling. That natural resistance allows a user to focus on maintaining proper pedal cadence and power output in the same way as on the road. In fact, Lemond is also offering an additional wireless power meter to track those metrics. At $349, it is far below the cost of SRM wireless power meters for road bikes.

In a statement, LeMond said: “Bike trainers have to be comfortable and must directly lead to better performance on the road in order to be effective. Alternative magnetic, fluid and mechanical trainers create resistance that feels like riding in sand or mud. The realistic feel of the Revolution makes all the difference in having a positive training experience. Once you get on it, nothing touches it.”



Efficient … and what’s that Shifter thing?


For a few years the feeling seemed to be, equipment had to be bigger to represent sturdiness and durability, but the home user doesn’t necessarily want King Kong lurking in the living room. Hence, the trend back toward smaller pieces. The trick is making a piece smaller without losing a good, smooth, non-rickety feel.

Forget bells and whistles, Fitnex’s new elliptical (MSRP $1,399; www.fitnexonline.com) is simple and petite-looking, with a smooth ride and has a super small footprint to boot. The E55SG manages a 20-inch stride on a piece with only a 54.5-inch length and a 25-inch width without the wobbles and groans often experienced with smaller pieces.

Of course, there’s always something new -- even when folks are walking around saying there isn’t. We happened across a prototype of a product called The Shifter, which we found out later on its website stands for (get ready), “Super Heightened Instant Force Transfer” (www.theshifter.com -- sounds as if somebody had too much time on their hands). Not sure how to describe it except it looks like an elliptical (sort of), and moves like an elliptical (except the “pedals” are independent), and it has a front drive but one that looks like a bike tire hub and bearings on steroids pieced together in the garage. The group was there with the brand-new piece fishing around for companies interested in licensing the piece for production. And, if that doesn’t work, Shifter’s Bernie Darcy told us, they’ll just do it themselves.

Check out two new SNEWS TV episodes that feature mostly cardio equipment. Click here to see a “What’s Hot” piece with treadmills from BodyGuard and PaceMaster (and strength pieces from Vectra and Body-Solid). And click here to see a “What’s Hot” episode on ellipticals featuring Fitnex, Vision, Octane and SportsArt.

--Doug Schnitzspahn with Therese Iknoian

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