IHRSA show '05: Tell me about the equipment and product

As we said in our story March 21, the IHRSA show's exhibitor space was sold-out and vibrating with energy, but that doesn't mean it was all about new product every time you turned around. In fact, new stuff that created a buzz was at a premium in most aisles. If anything did manage to do that, it was the highly secretive world launch of Technogym's Kinesis system.
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As we said in our story March 21, the IHRSA show's exhibitor space was sold-out and vibrating with energy, but that doesn't mean it was all about new product every time you turned around. In fact, new stuff that created a buzz was at a premium in most aisles. If anything did manage to do that, it was the highly secretive world launch of Technogym's Kinesis system.

Cardiovascular manufacturers are still searching for The Next New Thing since the elliptical in the mid-90s, although Nautilus thinks its TreadClimber and SportsArt says its X-Trainer are candidates. We'll leave that for you to judge. You know it's a slow year when Precor is making a huge to-do about how it now put on one elliptical model both the incline feature called CrossRamp and upper body arms for a total-body exercise, formerly only available on separate units.

Strive Smart Strength did introduce its first cardio piece -- a treadmill (guess the company will have to change what it calls itself); TV screens are getting bigger and clearer (are we sure users really want them or care about them?); a good number of companies are updating or re-tweaking a line; and there's a lot more interactive-type, exergame pieces coming out oriented toward entertainment and fun, although honestly some are just trying too hard.

Strength manufacturers continued to throw curves -- literally -- at club owners and fitness retailers at IHRSA. Despite the extra time and extra costs of production, gone are the days of square single station, multi-station and free weight benches, racks and supports; oval tubing and rounded corners are hot in the strength category as we've mentioned in the past few years. Cable machines are also still being introduced, some with functional training and bilateral movement -- several with dual weight stacks -- continuing to take more booth space. While some pure traditional strength manufacturers such as Magnum and Core Fitness (Med-Ex) continue to show established lines, others new to the strength game such as Star Trac and Precor showed the re-branded and tweaked lines acquired in the last year or so (Flex Fitness and Icarian, respectively) -- but haven't gotten around to new products … yet. Matrix is another that spent some time tweaking, with its G2 strength line looking the same from the outside but having all kinds of new touches from seats to bolts, and longtime manufacturer Paramount rolled out the first full-scale showing of its new XL line with 16 of the 19 new pieces in its booth.

Accessories and all that other hand-ex and miscellaneous gear isn't to be ignored. In fact, we perhaps saw more cool or new stuff in that "other" category than any other. As usual, there were also plenty of bar, drink, shake, goo, juice and potion companies to keep you snackin' non-stop.

Even companies that didn't have anything new ended up pretty stoked about the attention they received.

"This is only our third year, but it is by far the best of the three," said Jesse Campanaro, director of business development for efi Sports Medicine, which was showing its Gravity system and running demos and classes. "It has been an awesome show for us."

Let's take a look at a few companies and what they showed. Remember, we aren't going to mention everybody because we don't have that much room and, heck, we can't be everywhere at once. If the company is here, it's because we thought what it had or was doing was worth a few words and it caught our eye for some reason. If a company is not here, it either was more bark than bite, didn't have anything particularly new or smashing, or we were just plain brain-dead or blind and missed it.

Body Bar -- Body Bar, long known for its one weighted bar product that is now being knocked off by everyone, had THREE new pieces of gear -- two of which it is exclusively distributing and the third a new Body Bar product that is now -- this is important -- patented. The Body Bar Flex looks and feels just like a regular bar but only weighs a pound and can indeed bend and flex so it can be wrapped around the body, hung from the neck or used as an assist for flexibility, strength or balance training. It comes in 3- and 4-foot lengths and lists for about $25. The company (www.bodybars.com) is also distributing the Smart Bells (www.smartbells.com), which are slightly curved and weighted discs with handles on both ends so you can hold it in both hands and move it around your body. They come in 3- to 15-pound sizes, with the 3-pound one listing for $90. Then there's the OmniBall, patent pending by Aileen Sheron, with an omni-directional rolling ball about 4-inches in diameter with a backing that has a strap so you can cup it in your hand, rolling side facing out, and hold it without gripping it. At 4 pounds (list $99.95), it can be used for all sorts of strength exercises, including abs and core, and can be an assist for stretching too.

Body Masters -- Despite filing Ch. 11 reorganization in January, the company came to IHRSA with guns blazing bigger and brighter than it has in years. Body Masters unveiled its first complete line of equipment in 15 years. The Body Masters Aurora is a 13-piece line of single-station machines. The single-station line consists of several leg units, a 90-degree chest press, an overhead seated row, abdominal machine and more. All units feature gas-assisted seats, smoked weight-stack guards, angular mounted weight stacks and oval tubing.

Cateye Fitness -- One of the interactive game/exercise companies, Cateye Fitness had a prototype for a recumbent Game Bike Pro. Around for a few years -- and longer than many others -- Cateye has been one of the forerunners in the category.

Cybex -- Lots of surprises if you could make your way around the flags and desks: While riding the success of its Arc Trainer, Cybex hasn't lost sight of the strength needs of clubs. Highlighting the show was it Total Access line of strength equipment. The line is built to international standards to be compliant to those with disabilities. Also showing at the Cybex booth was the Lock 'n Load technology from Lamar Health, Fitness & Sport that allows users to change weights on selectorized machines with the flick of a simple rocker-like switch. Although not officially inked, the licensing deal between Kevin Lamar's company and Cybex was far enough along to have three pieces there showing the technology -- and a constant stream of manufacturers coming by to check it out. Also, hidden inside the booth was one lonely Trixter X-Bike manned part of the time by company co-founder and CEO James Nicholson-Smith switching off with the North American Sales manager Alec Dinner giving demos. Why? As Nicholson-Smith said about the bike and any relationships with others: "We don't know where we're going to end up yet." But wait, there's more…. Also on each side of the large booth was a Trazer station (www.cybextrazer.com) -- the interactive reaction-training, fitness game that we have said before should hook anybody. You don a belt and face a large TV screen that picks up your location based on a sensor unit on the belt. You watch the screen and move as it tells you to.

EnduroShot -- One of the many products coming along that touts "energy" but also has caffeine. Nevertheless, Enduroshot -- a 2.2-ounce shot of liquid -- is also packed with B vitamins and more than 50 enzymes. This one also uses sucralose as a sweetener so it's calorie-free. The company, Peck Food Group (www.peckfoodgroup.com), said the barely five-month-old product will boost energy without the jitters or crashing that comes from sugar and caffeine-loaded energy drinks. Retail is $2.50 per shot bottle.

Expresso Fitness -- Another launch of an interactive gaming product came from Expresso Fitness, out of the high-tech Silicon Valley of California. One integrated unit, the upright bike called the Spark (list $4,800) has a built-in TV screen where users follow trails and roads in virtual reality games and tours. If there is more than one bike, they can be linked to allow users to race each other. Down the road will be the ability to race and compete with other users around the country. "It's an idea whose time has come," said President Brian Button about the product. www.expressofitness.com

Hampton -- The gel-grips introduced at IHRSA by Hampton were also a bit of a buzz. Not rocket science but a couple of years or so in the works to get it right, the company proclaimed "The Iron Age is Over" with its cutely named Jelly Bells. The Jelly Bells came in six bright colors that code the weight and had a truly different racking system aimed at group exercise. Imagine the top of a large salt shaker that rotates to have a large open hole or rotates to close. This was a round bin with a sliding top that circled it -- rotate it one way and the opening to each bin could be closed and locked or unlocked to slide open for class access. Other bars, bells and plates also incorporated the gel-grip technology, also in various colors to code weight that were just soft enough to beg to be touched. If you missed 'em, take a look at the New Product section at www.hamptonfit.com. We also think that women will find these more attractive.

Keiser -- We must have been blind at past shows, but we finally saw the TrekMill by Keiser, which was first shown a bit over a year ago. It's one of those stubby little treadmills geared for walkers and hikers, going up to a 50 percent (yikes!) incline. If someone is just going to walk, a treadmill like this that is more compact than any other on the market, could be the key, especially at a list of $4,000.

Konami -- Out of Japan, Konami (www.konami.com) runs a chain of sports clubs as well as being a major player in the video gaming publishing business. For a first-timer, it had a large and impressive booth on the back aisle with an array of equipment it actually isn't selling, a company representative said, yet but had some of the largest and clearest screens around. Guess being a video game expert helps. The company was fishing around to see if there was enough interest and if it could hit the right prices to come into the market. Meanwhile, it was introducing a class version of the Dance Dance Revolution video dance arcade game that has been an international pop phenomenon. You follow a screen to move your feet on a square divided into nine smaller squares that you stand on. The arcade version is all about dancing with the feet, but this class version added lots of funky martial-arts like kicks and hits that we're not sure we liked. But DDR is something to reckon with. According to reports, in January 2005, cumulative sales of Dance Dance Revolution had exceeded 2.5 million units in North America and over 7.5 million units worldwide. That's a lot of dancing -- exercise in disguise.

Life Fitness -- With perhaps the most expensive booth at the show with huge aluminum girders, high-tech lighting and sheer "walls," Life Fitness created a clubby feel and traffic was not in short supply. From early morning workout until the end of the show, club owners, trainers and retailers crowded the booth. Among the strength highlights were its new Ab Crunch Bench. With its patent-pending AbCam System, the new Life Fitness Ab Crunch Bench allows exercisers to perform an effective, natural crunch movement, which minimizes hip flexion, according to the company. We thought it felt pretty good, too. Also seeing plenty of action at the show were four new versions of its Cable Motion single-station strength-training products. The new Cable Motion pieces are chest press, pulldown, row and a shoulder press, and feature dual weight stacks and independent handles. In the cardio arena, the company re-introduced a phased-out elliptical (91x), which has a higher and shorter elliptical for a slightly bouncier ride and a shorter footprint. The screens on its new treadmills had a classy touch screen and a bright look. What did we really like? The ability for a club to patch a closed-circuit TV into the video system so, for example, the childcare room could be viewable by someone working out with a password. Now THAT'S thinking and sure to be a huge selling point.

Lifewave Energy Enhancer
-- A curious new item that is a tiny adhesive patch that contains amino acids, oxygen and glucose that the company said interacts with a person's electromagnetic field when worn on points often used in Eastern medical practices. Hmmm…

Motivatrix -- We have to mention this just because it was so, well, odd and could win the award for the most poorly designed booth. A new company with another dance product, Motivatrix had its ONE unit on a stage so no one could really get near it to see it and experience what it really did. Attracted lots of curiosity seekers but that's about it from what we could tell. From what we could ascertain, somebody stood on the pad under a large swag-lamp-looking pod that hung out from it (Beam me up, Scotty?) and followed the instructions and voice on the screen. A huge big thing. Maybe worthy of an arcade. www.motivatrix.com, in case you're curious but be prepared for an overdone flashy Internet presence too -- that doesn't even show the product as far as we could tell.

MyGym Fitness System -- While testing this gym-in-a-box concept for a soon-to-launch infomercial product and its IHRSA debut, the company realized that it had hit in a potential class concept, which was one of the few class concepts introduced at the show. It said people kept coming in for more testing because they loved the workout. Rubber resistance tubing of different strengths are built into a box that looks a lot like the original step and are also sold and used individually. MyGym (www.mygym.net) provides a 36-minute strength and cardio workout called BodyWave that utilizes all seven major body parts. The infomercial will be out by May.

Nautilus -- The company spent most of its energy on the launch of its new Nautilus Institute (see SNEWS® story, March 17) and had lined the front of its booth with an army of TreadClimbers -- its first commercial version. But no one else will be able to get a commercial one until at least June or July since the company has sealed an exclusive deal with 24 Hour Fitness for all of the first units produced through then or about 500.

Precor -- A new elliptical combined the CrossRamp with upper body arms, and the company made over its stepper so it fits in with the rest of the look of the line. Yes, some clubs still want steppers.

PowerGrid Fitness -- A super-cool concept first shown at The Super Show in January 2004, PowerGrid's Kilowatt Fitness system was unfortunately hidden in the "showcase" room across the hall from the main floor. It's a great little interactive fitness system that feels like more of a game. You stand on a platform that looks a bit like a bike but without pedals. The seat is a pad you lean up against. The handlebar is the joystick with which you control the game going on the screen. You use a lot of muscle and even a two-minute game can get your heart rate going. A group system was introduced for clubs so members could compete. www.powergridfitness.com

SportsArt Fitness -- The company's first (nearly) full introduction of its strength line with sleek curves and thick pads drew plenty of folks to its booth -- even at the back of the hall. Many of the 18 single-station units now available (there will be 28) offer integrated incremental weights, magnetic selector pins, gas-assisted seats, and ROM and range limiter adjustments. Additionally, pressing stations offer split resistance and converging axis design. And they look really Euro to boot. In addition, the company had seven of its bike-like/stepper-like/recumbent-like X-Trainers with workouts and demos being lead by TV host Heather Hawk.

Star Trac -- If you could get into the booth's backroom, you would have seen one of the best ideas at the show -- Star Trac's new elliptical. The more expensive of the two prototypes -- both with front drives -- has a button you push that automatically stops the arm movement and pulls them forward and out of the way. What a concept to eliminate the swing and sway of those arms that can be dangerous and annoying when not being used. You could also use two other settings called SelectFit to either push more on the arms or pull more on them for a different upper-body workout. The ellipsis of the unit was shorter and rounder than some, offering a bit more of a bounce, albeit a really smooth bounce. The company said its research showed users like the "fun" of a bit of a bounce. They will run from about mid-$5,000 to low $6,000.

Stott Pilates -- The mind-body specialist out of Canada introduced gift packs that included various combinations of Pilates rings, stability balls, DVDs and resistance bands. The boxed sets, which will be perfect for retail or club pro shops, will retail for about $40 to $43.

Strive Smart Strength -- Also hidden in the showcase room across the hall, Strive's bright yellow equipment held its own as well as any. The company introduced its first cardio piece, a treadmill, with President John Salvitti saying the company planned to make it a marquis piece, get its feet wet in cardio "one smart step at a time," then work on completing more of a cardio line. It also launched a marketing campaign for its customers to build the Strive brand and bring in customers that can help clubs train its staff and market itself. "The show was successful for us in spite of the very poor traffic in the so-called 'Showcase Room' where we were placed and that most people did not know existed," Salvitti said. "I could only imagine how well it would have gone if we were in the main hall."

Teca -- Italian manufacturer Teca had a line of cardio equipment designed specifically to aid in the warm-up phase of training. The aptly (although not creatively) named Warm Up line features recumbent and upright bikes and an elliptical. Each piece of equipment measures body temperature with an infrared device fitted on it. Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to try it since every time we went by, there was no one in the booth. The company said that the warm-up protocol takes the body temperature from 37.0° C (normal body temperature) to about 39.0° C (ideal temperature for physical activity). Once warmed up, a user moves on to its "Switching" lineup of standing circuit machines. The Switching concept and class, which has gotten a buzz overseas for the last couple of years, offers 10 stations for strength training all done standing to improve functionality and core training.

Technogym -- One of the biggest buzzes of the show was the Italian company's Kinesis debut. All behind closed doors and by invitation only in the booth or in a separate room, Kinesis is a gorgeous environment with all the guts, plates and workings of the equipment hidden behind a wall. In this setting, the wall was a beautiful wood, the flooring was bamboo, there was incense burning and candles decorated the corners. The concept itself is sweet with four systems incorporated into it -- Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta, which each utilize a different direction of movement that is totally user controlled. Using one, you pull up, one you pull down, one you pull out and one can pull sideways, but it only stops when creativity stops. The systems moved smoothly and the environment made someone want to stay and play. It was being shown only to possible customers, with a few exceptions of course, and as of now it is only a club piece. It will need a lot of instruction and is well-suited to high-end clubs that have the space to dedicate an entire room to the system. We're sure it's not cheap. Buzz was helped along by the secrecy. There were no pictures of it, no brochures to take along, no previews on the website, and no photography allowed. It did of course continue the whole touchy-feely schtick that is Technogym's wellness emphasis -- "Kinesis moves the mind and the body." Although the movement felt beautiful, we're sure some will snicker heartily at all the candles and incense stuff.

TKO Fitness -- Small but vital, TKO re-did the surface of its medicine balls with a two-tone, swirly, colored surface that offers a more grippy rubber -- especially when a user's hands get sweaty.

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