Pilates, ellipticals, balance equipment forecast to grow by trainers

Pilates and mind-body equipment, as well as balance trainers, ellipticals and other small accessories are among those pieces forecast to grow in popularity over the next year, according to an annual survey done by the IDEA Association's annual Programs & Equipment Survey.
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Pilates and mind-body equipment, as well as balance trainers, ellipticals and other small accessories are among those pieces forecast to grow in popularity over the next year, according to an annual survey done by the IDEA Association's annual Programs & Equipment Survey.

Some of the smallest and some of the largest equipment were both named by respondents, who are all business and program directors at clubs and studios that are members of the IDEA association. A 15 percent response rate represented 286 surveys from both the United States and Canada in this 11th annual report.

The highest growth predicted by the respondents was in Pilates and Gyrotonic equipment (67 percent tagging them both for growth in the coming year). Both balance trainers of all sorts (from discs to boards) was forecast to grow by 63 percent, although 75 percent reported they already used them in their facility. Also foreseen as growing 63 percent were elliptical trainers, with 71 percent already having them available. Two other items tagged for growth were: foam rollers/small balls, 52 percent growth with 72 percent already in use; and indoor cycles for classes, 50 percent growth, but only 41 percent saying they already use them.

One interpretation of the growth of smaller accessories was the increase in teacher education on them, which allowed instructors to realize their potential and want to take them back to classes and sessions to use with students and training customers. For example, the survey noted that the use of weighted bars has doubled over the last nine years, and they are now offered by 64 percent of respondents; stability balls are not far behind. One respondent noted that the smaller pieces are "highly functional" and are applicable to many audiences, making clear that the message of training "function" has not been lost on instructors and trainers.

"With exercise becoming a permanent, regular part of life for more people, professionals and consumers alike welcome variety and change," reported respondent Lynn Frank, group fitness director with Andy Parker's Health & Fitness Center, Poway, Calif., to the IDEA Fitness Journal. "These 'toys' provide a great variety of options and gainfully serve an exercise population that is ever-increasing and diverse."

The piece of equipment that showed the largest overall growth expectation was interactive computer training programs -- 46 percent said this would grow in use, although a mere 8 percent is now using them. In a similar vein, computer workout tracking is only used by 17 percent currently, but was forecast for 45 percent growth.

Mind-body equipment and programs, including yoga and Pilates, have not seen a drop although the brisk increase from 2000 to 2002 seems to be leveling out a bit, the survey found. And large pieces like treadmills and ellipticals are considered a given at facilities, but have seen less overall growth since they are more expensive.

Wrote author and survey coordinator Patricia Ryan, one important lesson is that teachers need training with a piece to understand how to use it and to want to use. "The programs and equipment rising quickly to the top are surrounded by extensive and ongoing teacher training," she wrote.

But what is interesting, she noted too, was the apparent de-emphasis in cardiovascular training or at least its lack of mention as a growth area.

"Is the industry offering consumers enough classes for cardiovascular conditioning, an important component of fitness?" Ryan wrote. "Or is it sufficient to provide treadmills, elliptical trainers and stair climbers and rely on people to train aerobically on their own?"

SNEWS® View: It is quite clear that any new piece of equipment -- or at least one new to club trainers and instructors -- needs to have a program of training for the fitness professional so it can become a part of an instructor's repertoire with consumers. The trickle-down is, of course, that the piece then also needs to be offered at retail WITH some kind of instruction or programming to help the consumer use it on his or her own. We most certainly applaud this trend in smaller pieces of fitness equipment and accessories, as seen at the Health & Fitness Business Show in Denver in August (Spri introduced its downloadable workouts, and GoFit has been a leader in packaging workout DVDs with its equipment). However, this does not just apply to the small "toys," which are indeed key components to training and maintaining fitness, but also to the big stuff.

The industry has perhaps taken it for granted that someone knows how to walk or run on a treadmill, stride along on an elliptical, or pedal on a bike. True, the consumer does. But variety and the motivation that comes from variety is what keeps most consumers going. Although it may seem like a no-brainer to those in the industry to use resistance, inclines, upper body and speed to vary a workout to make it harder, easier or just plain more fun and different, it is not at all clear to the public. As we saw at the Health & Fitness Business Show, more equipment suppliers are starting to realize that offering interactive programs and training as a part of the equipment is one way to allow their pieces to stand above others. And we do not just mean a "glute walk" or "5K run." Or music on a CD. Yawn. Everybody has that. How about downloadable programs that offer the voice of a real person to "coach" someone through a workout on the equipment? With the proliferation of MP3 players and iPods, the supplying companies may as well be right in line to help offer this kind of education, rather than waiting for others to step in, as they are now starting to. We saw several at the show that are smartly headed that way (Bodyguard, for one) and we expect more to follow.

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