IHRSA '09 hosts product previews, prototypes, program launches

Despite some caution on both sides of the aisles, the IHRSA show with its focus on the commercial side of the fitness business managed to show off some new equipment, launch or update a few programs, and showcase some prototype gear. But, like last year, new product releases weren't the theme of the annual show March 16-19 in San Francisco, but rather a bit of an afterthought for many in a year of breath-holding about where the economy will head.
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Despite some caution on both sides of the aisles, the IHRSA show with its focus on the commercial side of the fitness business managed to show off some new equipment, launch or update a few programs, and showcase some prototype gear.

But, like last year, new product releases weren't the theme of the annual show March 16-19 in San Francisco, but rather a bit of an afterthought for many in a year of breath-holding about where the economy will head. Most companies showed off colors, updates, and various tweaks or prototypes, and perhaps just a piece or two -- although Matrix did indeed manage to roll out 40 new pieces in a spacious booth more than half-the depth of the entire hall. OK, so there are exceptions to trends.

"We have 40 new products…40!" said Johnson Health Tech President Chris Clawson, sounding as if he didn't quite believe it either.

Despite the sprawling nature of booths such as Matrix, as well as Star Trac, Technogym, Life Fitness, Cybex, Precor and even Nautilus, the show still realized less square footage in addition to the lower attendee numbers (10,000 or down close to 15 percent) and lower exhibitor numbers (327 or down 20 percent). IHRSA noted it ended up at 380,000 square feet this year; exhibits used both Moscone's south hall (260,000) and the secondary north hall (190,000), which had been packed to the gills two years ago in the same venue. Last year in San Diego, the show was just over 400,000 square feet with its 413 exhibitors. Interesting is that the average square footage per exhibitor is actually more this year or 1,162 vs. 968 a year ago. Could that mean that the big guys remained but what fell off the list were the small companies?

Most had positive words about traffic (except a few in the secondary north hall, of course). But the words coming from the smaller companies, we must admit, sounded the most sincere, partly because they rang true considering the economy and what clubs and commercial facilities were willing to spend -- not full updating, few new clubs, but a sprinkling of new pieces to keep members intrigued. In other words, onesie-twosie matters.

For example, LeMond Fitness, with a small booth against the back wall, reported non-stop interest and AbCoaster, also against the back wall, said the same. Both agreed that clubs are looking to cherry-pick pieces to upgrade their facility.

"We're slammed," said Clark Bartram, personal trainer and regional representative for AbCoaster. "I've never been in a booth where it's been active all day long…. Abs are always hot."

Small or complementary stuff matters

Forget laser focus on the big stars like ellipticals and treadmills. We saw more ab trainers, benches, balance trainers and just interesting stuff to complement workouts, and some companies took the lull in the industry as a chance to emphasize certain products.



iShape vibration – Whole body vibration that is truly different arrived at the IHRSA show with the iShape (photo to right), one of three products brought to market by Steve Lindenau with his company Teutonic Sales (www.teutonicsales.com). With studies showing benefits with certain uses and with certain demographics, vibration definitely has possibilities in fitness and training. This one is more than a vibration plate, like most others, but also has a stretch web behind it to allow vibration to be applied for upper body strengthening and flexibility work. The concepts are pretty limitless and the upper-body element felt appropriate too. A console leads a user through the chosen workout with pictures and written instructions (MSRP $5,500) (Click here to read a July 14, 2008, story about Lindenau's launch of the Teutonic company.)

Schwinn under its Nautilus umbrella rolled out a new indoor cycle (the A.C. Performance) that replaced its old one. It may look like just another indoor cycle, vice president Pat Warner explained, but there were small tweaks throughout based on real cycling training, he stressed (he is himself a cyclist who is training close to four hours a day). The company removed some adjustments, which were just too much for most people, and created a neutral saddle position. It also removed the brake pads and added magnetic braking, which allows for a smoother and less jolting stop when you need to pull up fast. The console has watts (for the geeks out there) but still has speed, calories and all that stuff most users want. The company redesigned the handlebar and it's made of a super lightweight aluminum (MSRP $1,800), while a steel model ($1,400) will lower the price a bit. www.schwinnfitness.com

Vectra added a fixed point on its VX-FT cable gym to allow a user to implement body weight training in a way it has dubbed "Body Resistability." Nearly invisible and unnoticeable, the patent-pending swiveling fixed point allows a user to do suspension training in all positions. Plus, there is a model with a dual stack (MSRP $4,900) vs. the current single stack (MSRP $4,100). www.vectrafitness.com

Vibram 5 Fingers footwear – We at SNEWS® had our first pair of prototype 5 Fingers nearly four years ago, but this is one if its first appearances at a fitness show -- if not the first. Very simply described, it's like a glove for your foot with each toe having its own pocket, but the glove has a flexible rubber sole just like a kayak boot or other soft shoe. From climbing to canyoneering, to yoga and sailing, the footwear has a range of possibilities, including martial arts and other group exercise classes. The booth was doing a bustling business at the show, even on the last morning! MSRP $75-$90. www.vibramfivefingers.com

Newbies back for more

A couple of new companies, products or programs from last year made it back with slightly larger booths and demos, including:

Helix – The "sideways bike" by Lenny Snyderman was back for a second year after debuting a year ago in a 10-x-10 booth. With models of the lateral trainer on hand for ongoing demos, it was easier to see the perpetual motion pedaling. Think of a stationary bike with both pedals on one side of the body and the handlebar turned to face that side. $1,999. www.Helixco.com

Kranking – Still in partnership with Matrix Fitness, Kranking this year was a section of that booth with ongoing classes, a visit by originator Johnny G, and rockin' and groovin' music that made passers-by stop and gape at the upper body trainers with a cool factor and group programming. www.krankcycle.com

RealRyder – This year Real Ryder brought out an army of bikes (that were in dueling position across the aisle from Star Trac's Chain Reaction fundraiser, unfortunately) and taught group classes on the bike that allows a user to lean it and steer it during a workout. The concept is tantalizing, especially for those who are locked in to indoor training. www.realryder.com

Green becomes a theme

In the past, we've seen one company here and one there that touted a green element to its equipment. This year, the story had legs that spread across the floor, reaching into various booths and across various categories. We expect this theme will not only continue but grow and gain additional viability.

For example, SportsArt Fitness showed its new "A-Trainer," or "alternative trainer" (not an elliptical, hiker, treadmill or climber but all of these things in some way) called the Pinnacle Trainer. As a self-generated machine, the poster called it "another Greenovation from SportsArt Fitness" since three years ago it launched its "Eco-Powr" motor that uses 32 percent less energy. Woodway also showed a manual treadmill it touted as energy saving with its 12-volt battery that basically regenerates with use -- the flier called it "the world's most efficient and environmentally friendly treadmill." But one unfortunate aspect is that you need some bodyweight to get 'er turning. Our rather lightweight SNEWS editor had to hit 15+ percent in incline to just walk continuously.

Green Revolution – This is a company that needs a second look. We recognize the technology of allowing the watts generated by an exerciser to be used as energy is still in its infancy, but we guarantee there is a future in this -- and a past. (Click here to see a Dec. 4, 2006, SNEWS story, "From workout to watts.") Jay Whelan, president of Green Revolution, showed SNEWS the generators that attach to equipment that "harvest" the watts and then transmit it to an electrical panel which automatically sends the power into the building's power supply. The watts generated are used then for the equipment, as well as for lights, computers, you name it. Working on the concept for two years, it launched as a test at a gym in Connecticut. If you are looking for an ROI for the system, Whelan acknowledged it will take awhile but, like solar, you are investing in your belief and the environment. www.egreenrevolution.com

A-Trainers expand

SportsArt Fitness' "greenovation" called the Pinnacle Trainer falls under the umbrella of "A-Trainers," a name created by SNEWS in its 2007 GearTrends magazine (now called SNEWS magazine). A bit of a lateral trainer, instead of allowing free movement back and forth, the prototype on display instead had tracks that curved slightly outward so users when they are in the back position must push out (using gluteal muscle) to move their feet forward. You can use short steps, long steps, use less push or more push, having it your way in terms of training.

Exergaming not going away

One of the leaders, Expresso Fitness (www.expresso.com) launched a youth-sized bike to accommodate younger pre-teens on their cycles with screens where users play video games and pedal up and down hills. In addition, iTech Fitness showed its "XRkade," which is an active gaming area. Designed for schools, clubs or community centers, the arcade has games from other manufacturers, such as Cateye's GameBike and the Trazer, as well as interactive games the company has worked to develop. www.itechfitness.com

Star Trac debuted a final version of its eSpinner, a bike with a console that allows someone to do their own Spin class virtually, and Matrix introduced the Tomahawk MyRide that also lets users take an indoor cycling class whenever they want via a console.

Also of note…

Other pieces and companies attracted some attention.

Hoist Fitness – Expanding on its "rocking" line of equipment where the seats move with the user, the company added the motion to several circuit pieces in the Roc-It selectorized line. In addition, although not at the show, the company noted it has now debuted the rocking motion in home equipment, including a new V Rox gym, which is much like the V5 gym (MSRP $4,000) but with the added motion of a leg curl and leg extension. Also a new gym called V Core has multiple levels of instability for the user based on how someone sits or uses a seat, making the seat more like a stability ball but safer to use (MSRP $3,500). www.hoistfitness.com

Matrix Fitness – The breadth of 40 new pieces, Clawson said, was to fill in gaps in lines, update consoles, add touch screens, and add iPod/30-pin connectivity throughout. But in addition to that, the company introduced a sleek collection of "G7" selectorized strength machines that had a less-intimidating height of 4 feet, with ergonomic handles that were all shaped a little differently based on the position of your hand required for the motion. www.matrixfitness.com

Movement by Brudden – From Brazil, the Brudden company showed a new selectorized line that hides all the weight stacks behind walls that can be as far away as 50 yards. Users then use a touch screen on the equipment to choose and adjust their weight and do their workout. Called Next Movement, the line is a prototype we were told and no prices were available. For the gym that's configured appropriately, it opens up the floor and makes the machines a little less intimidating. www.brudden.com.br/site/Movement/Ingles/index.php

Technogym – Taking its Kinesis strength concept further, Technogym now has a stand-alone Kinesis that is much like a cable gym. Moving beyond an entire wall, the Kinesis I would be great at personal training studios as well as physical therapy centers. Although in a back room, the company also showed a home version that is a sleek, gilded piece of furniture that can be had through Neiman Marcus. Want a gold leaf home gym? It's yours for somewhere between $15,000 and $20,000. www.technogym.com

X-Force – Back in a corner on the main floor was one really huge launch, especially considering the current economy. Mats Thulin of Sweden debuted the new X-Force line of circuit equipment that with a selectorized stack allows the user to emphasize the down or negative part of the exercise. The stack automatically lifts and tilts then, just as the user will begin to lower the weight, it returns to vertical so you add about 40 percent additional weight. "You don't have to think about it," Thulin said. The debut was a big one with 14 machines that average $9,500 each or nearly double what a normal selectorized piece may run. Said Thulin, "It's not a machine, it's an instrument." The IHRSA show was his company's debut to start getting feedback and decide whether he'll go with a distributor, dealers or otherwise. The first line will be installed in Iceland in about December 2009. www.x-force.se

--Therese Iknoian

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