No matter what show we go to, the small talk in the aisles and the booths always seems to be about product: Whadja see? Whadja like? What's new? What's cool? What do you think of that promo? What'd you think of that new class or color?
Although we agree that new product is always scintillating, we don't agree that spending huge money on bigger-than-life, buzz-making promotions is necessarily needed. This year at the 27th annual IHRSA trade show it was in fact a slow year for big, flashy promotions of new stuff.
Did that mean there was no new product? Hardly. You just had to look a little harder since most wasn't being touted with schmantzy promotions, massive signage or classes with decibels that knocked you over.
We did notice that although vibration trainers have come and gone and come and gone, Power Plate is still investing the most in the concept and its promotion. Other larger single-product players have disappeared or taken to tiny booths, and we even spied a couple of newbies attempting a vibration product. Does that mean it's coming back again? Also, two years after Technogym launched its lateral trainer (think skating on a machine), we saw a number of other versions of lateral training. The industry, which tried this concept a number of years ago, is drifting back in that direction. It's frankly hard to make a lateral trainer that doesn't have the potential to strain and overuse some part of the back, hips or knees, although we're sure it's possible. Plus, it's just not a comfortable and intuitive motion for most people. We'll see what happens with this generation, how long they last, and who else will enter the arena.
As usual, SNEWS® made its rounds of the San Diego venue March 6-8, but will never claim to have found the time to go into or even see 400-plus booths, but we make an effort to get around to the highlights. We will miss some product and introductions -- no doubt about that since we aren't super-human -- so we apologize in advance. Be in touch with after-the-fact information if you'd like to make sure we have it.
With that note, the highlights:
Expresso Fitness – It may not be in the star position on the floor or have the flashiest booth, but Expresso Fitness is steaming along with its interactive game bike technology. The company introduced a recumbent bike (list $5,300) that will ship in July that is like its upright. Users steer the handlebars to drive the game and win points. It's actually quite addictive. www.expresso.com
FreeMotion Fitness – Revamping its light commercial/vertical line, among others, FreeMotion came up with its "next generation" that is sleekly redesigned and aimed for an August delivery. Besides its lower profile look, the line had one of the tweakiest new things on the floor: A so-called QuickLoc selector system that gets rid of pins, cable, push pins and the like. A user just pulls out the lever (which is permanently attached), slides it to where he or she wants, and pushes it in, with the magnetized system guiding it to just the right place. There is no chance of landing between plates or otherwise not engaging properly. www.freemotionfitness.com
Helix – The Helix was one of the brand-spanking new lateral trainers -- but one with a difference. Instead of using a skating-like motion that forced a user to push off side to side, it used perpetual motion pedals placed next to each other. Imagine a stationary bike with both pedals on one side of the bottom unit and the handlebars facing to the side. That's about how it looks. You stand on the pedals and rotate them one way or the other. It's actually a retail unit (MSRP $900) and inventor Lenny Snyderman told us a club model is coming. www.helixco.com
Hoist – The weight system that Hoist initially introduced a few years ago as a kid's circuit with its "Roc-It" technology where the seat and the user also move in some way with the motion has now made the jump to a new plate-loaded circuit. Hoist showed eight pieces at the show with another three planned and more coming after that. Not only does it move (and make users smile) like the original, but it also has converging/diverging technology on the arms. The booth was one of THE places to be during the Early Morning Workout. www.hoistfitness.com
Kranking – In partnership with Matrix, Johnny G of Spinning fame came back with a new product (Krankcycle) and programming (Kranking) that is all about what comes down to a really super sexy upper-body ergometer with a training program developed by professionals and taught with a musical beat with interest. It was probably the only true flashy thing on the show floor, taking up its own booth on the main cross aisles across the aisle from the behemoth booth that Matrix had. Demo classes were non-stop and in high demand, taught by lead trainer and program developer Jim Karanas and other Johnny G protégés. We'll have to wait and see how clubs and others accept the program and the new product (list price of about $1,700 should also appeal to home use). Click here to see a Feb. 27, 2008, SNEWS® story.
Landice – Now with a fully ready ElliptiMill, Landice has solidly broken out of its "treadmill company" mold. The ElliptiMill is basically an elliptical trainer (but don't tell people that if they want to pretend it's an odd-looking treadmill) with a different take on calculating pace and energy use. The company's theory is, you can't really know how "fast" you are going (compared to running or walking) since the movement is different. So once you input your weight and select an effort level, the computer figures out your effort then cross-checks that to the equivalent effort if you were on a treadmill and the speed you would need to go. The unit then tells you how fast you'd be going and how many miles you'd have covered. Interesting concept, for sure, to calculate what is basically a metabolic pace. A lively and interactive console also allows you to race a virtual person. List prices varies with features and ranges from $3,700 to $4,700. www.landice.com
LeMond Fitness – Co-owner Greg LeMond was on hand in the company's partner booth, Life Fitness, introducing a new, sleeker version of the Revmaster ("sexier," as LeMond put it). Now it's black with a few yellow touches, has a forged steel crank, a better braking system, even more adjustments and rounded tubing. List is $1,300. www.lemondfitness.com
Life Fitness – The company took its truly outstanding integrated screen and integrated iPod control technology into its bikes -- as if that wasn't expected. It also announced a partnership with Vivo Technology to allow Life Fitness product users to upload, download and plan workouts from the website onto USB sticks and put them on its equipment. That allows users, of course, to do that but also trainers to plan and give workouts to clients. We especially liked the ability for people to upload their workout schedules to their MS Outlook just like any important appointment! The system is expected to debut this summer. www.lifefitness.com
Matrix – Taking one of the largest booths in its history, Matrix introduced not only the Kranking program, above, but also a functional trainer with a swiveling accessory panel and a foldaway step. The battle is certainly on for presenting more options in a smaller footprint while keeping the trainer nice-looking and appropriately functional. Matrix should play a part in this functional cable trainer game with this unit. www.matrixfitness.com
Nautilus – The typically big booth for Nautilus was sadly emptier than in the past or than other booths. The turmoil, both in management and financially, of the last year may have fueled a wait-and-see attitude among some. And its TreadClimbers were nowhere to be found since the company pulled them commercially to make sure they were right and ready for commercial wear-and-tear. Nautilus did retool its StairMaster steppers (first time since the company acquired Stairmaster in 2002) and its StepMills so they had the same look and feel of the rest of its pieces. Its dial-up "One" selectorized equipment introduced last year still was catching buzz, however. www.nautilus.com
Octane Fitness – Its new "xRide" recumbent elliptical added a seated workout option to its purely elliptical line of equipment. It had a solid feel and the upper-body arms didn't just flip back and forth with the pedals but actually required a user to, yes, use them. The commercial version lists for $4,500 (not to be out until Q4), and you just know a retail version will be released too. www.octanefitness.com
Paramount Fitness – After working on cardio additions to its strength line for quite awhile now, Paramount finally launched its treadmills officially. Both models are designed for heavy commercial use. Click here to see more. www.paramountfitness.com
Precor – After introducing its daring and out-of-the-box AMT last year (with a big promotion), this year the AMTs took over the booth with 24 pieces. That was so all the company's customers and others in the industry could all have an opportunity to try them, we were told. The ellipticals -- you could count them on one hand -- were second fiddle. Although the AMTs were pretty full most of the show, the company has always hung its hat on its ellipticals. In other new stuff, the company also introduced its first new logo in 26 years, and it unveiled an official partnership with Apple to allow it to use the 30-pin iPod docking (last year it was generically MP3, noting to SNEWS® that since it was in Microsoft land, it decided staying generic was the way to go -- guess times have changed). www.precor.com
Protein Tastees – So in between all the big booths, forged steel and flashy new cardio product was a small tasting booth in a side aisle that was swamped. Protein Tastees are a new cracker that is, as it says, stocked with protein, but they taste just like crackers. We particularly liked the regular flavor and the sweet-tinged cinnamon ones could win over hearts too. Look for a 28-gram serving or about one ounce to have 110 calories, 28 calories from fat and 10 grams of protein. Only thing missing is whole grain, but we were told that would raise the price too much. Now a consumer price would be about $1.50 for a one-ounce pouch. www.harvestgrove.net
Real Ryder – Another of the hits on the show floor because it was really different was this new concept in an indoor bike that tilts and leans from its stand just enough to give a reader a real-road feel. The inventor was a competitive road cyclist who wanted to really get a road/trail-training feel indoors and this is what he came up with. We weren't able to try it, but the concept is intriguing. At $2,000 list, it's pricier than other indoor cycles, but there is a bit more going on. Of course, any indoor bike like this can work for home use. www.realryder.com
SpinFitness – The company-formerly-known-as-Mad-Dogg-Fitness relaunched itself as SpinFitness, using its "Spinning" heritage but allowing it to now go into other directions. Rebranding included SpinYoga and SpinPilates, but that's not to indicate they are combo classes. Rather they are using the Spin identifier because nobody really knows Mad Dogg. www.spinning.com
SportsArt – The company not only lined its booth with its adjustable-stride ellipticals, but it also showed off its new 15-inch bright and attractive integrated TV screens. It was all part of its continued "Escape Ordinary" campaign. www.sportsartfitness.com
Spri Products – Still the go-to source for rubber resistance products, Spri formally introduced its new slanted riser made to go with the original steps. The riser, launched softly last year and refined a bit since the prototype, is a bit of a no-brainer: It's a simple plastic riser that allows the step to slant in any direction, one-sided or two-sided, making it more versatile. With a list of $60, they'll likely run out the door. www.spriproducts.com
Star Trac – This was a new-new-new story that started with a sweeping new gargantuan booth, new equipment, new interactive touch-screen technology that was sweetly elegant, and a new company direction (based on its "Expect Different" campaign) that is trying to be more about getting people active while challenging others in the industry to take part. The company has also forged partnerships with other national brands such as Hansen's sodas, Asics and Nature's Way vitamins. The new eSpinner is taking its indoor cycle technology and combining it with touch-screen technology to take its Spinning workouts onto the cardio equipment floor. A user could ride alone or even watching a class with a favorite instructor. Click here to see a March 5, 2008, SNEWS® story.
Stott Pilates – Quite a leader in Pilates equipment, some may forget that the company also has a huge library of educational DVDs that cover workouts using all kinds of equipment too, including the likes of Pilates Rings but also foam rollers, balls and the like. The company had again added to that suite, which are very consumer friendly in their approach yet professional in the taping (we know that from personal experience). www.stottpilates.com
True Fitness – Although its TrueStrider center-drive elliptical was still on the floor, it will be phased out for the single-drive CS1 model. Less inertia needed to get it moving. Slightly lower cost ($5,400 list), less maintenance with one drive. www.truefitness.com
Technogym – Still working to become a much larger player in the United States, Technogym has nonetheless unveiled two new products to the U.S. market that start to cover a long-ignored niche -- flexibility. Sure, there are ropes and cords and they are good to a point. There are certain sitting devices that do well but are limited mostly to posterior parts of the body. There are web-like and cage-like pieces, but a person stretching has to know what to do. These two pieces in the so-called FLEXability line are targeted to two lower-body areas: the anterior hip areas (hip, quad and hip flexor), and the posterior lower body (hamstring and glutes). They work fantastically and allow superior control by a user. One wonders if a club will want to invest in such niche equipment since they won't come cheap, but in most commercial settings unless stretching is a no-brainer and encouraged by the management, customers will never likely do it. We like the thought put behind these. And, of course, we fully expect the company to come up with additional pieces, particularly for the upper body. Oh, the company also showed an upper-body trainer called Top and a plate-load group called PureStrength. www.technogymusa.com
Vectra Fitness – Its VX functional trainer line found itself with more modules that can become a part of the system, including a dip-chin. The company sees more modules in its future, so a customer can pick or choose what he or she needs then have them put together in one unit. www.vectrafitness.com
Volume Fitness – Stuck in a small booth nestled against the back wall behind the walls of Precor, Volume Fitness -- although a new home equipment-focused company -- took the opportunity with the timing of the IHRSA show to introduce itself. Its range included 11 new pieces, including treadmills, bikes and ellipticals, with a feature it called iFollow on its treadmills where a user pushes a button and is asked to repeat certain upper body movements such as boxing or reaching to the sides. www.volumefitness.com
Workout180 – This was one of the simplest yet most versatile pieces on the floor and a launch to boot. It has applications for clubs, studios, trainers and the home. The piece can't truly be described: It's like a small step but its metal frame pops off so the step part in the middle can be used as a instability trainer (the base is rounded).
You can also attach tubes to it and even use the frame separately as push-up handles. Actually, the limits are only your imagination. An MSRP is about $200. It was invented by a former Miss Georgia and a Florida-based TV anchor who presented her idea to the PBS show "Everyday Edisons," which decided to go with it. www.workout180.com