Small is big, or so says IDEA fitness programs/equipment survey

If you can hold it in one hand, it’s hot. That’s the apparent message from the 2004 IDEA Fitness Programs & Equipment Survey, one of the more comprehensive looks at trends in gyms and wellness centers across the United States. For the first time, the survey of 281 health clubs and studios took a closer look at portable equipment like foam rollers, small balls and balance tools.

If you can hold it in one hand, it's hot. That's the apparent message from the 2004 IDEA Fitness Programs & Equipment Survey, one of the more comprehensive looks at trends in gyms and wellness centers across the United States.

For the first time, the survey of 281 health clubs and studios took a closer look at portable equipment like foam rollers, small balls and balance tools. What followed was quite a surprise to the association ( Along with stability balls, resistance bands and yoga and Pilates gear, they showed strong currency.

That's not the survey's only lesson, though. Interest in stair climbers, upright cycles and steps and platforms may be waning. Computerized gadgets and software are being embraced by the few who have tried them.

The results, which were published in the July-August issue of IDEA Fitness Journal, are probably more accurate than previous surveys, according to Pat Ryan, IDEA's vice president of education, who did the study. This year included both more respondents and more voices from underrepresented regions, such as suburbs, small towns and the Midwest.

Among trends in programs and equipment, the survey found the following are on the rise or growing in some capacity:

>>Fusion goes big. The phenomenon of “fusion” – combining any and all tools and modalities together to keep exercisers entertained and challenged – is on the rise. For example, the combo of personal training with Pilates or yoga is viewed as on the rise by 35 percent of respondents. When the question is put to those who actually offer such services, the positive response rises to 57 percent. Clubs are "mixing everything together,” Ryan said. “They're taking people on equipment circuits. They're bringing in the new pieces to create a new training demand and to add variety.”

>>Personal training getting more personal. Still growing it seems, and in fact came in as the No. 1-growing program, with 49 percent citing a rise.

>>Pilates rises. While Pilates gear isn't overwhelmingly common, 63 percent of fitness centers offer Pilates-based programming, and 45 percent of clubs bank on such interest growing.

>>Yoga gears up. 63 percent say they provide yoga mats and other tools; 31 percent say demand is growing, and 48 percent of yoga-equipment providers say the same. When it comes to programming, 32 percent of all respondents believe yoga is growing, while 52 percent of those who offer it think so.

>>Balance equipment in balance. Unstable balance-training equipment like BOSU balls, discs, wobble boards and balance boards are present in 60 percent of clubs. The sector is perceived to be growing by 67 percent of those who have the items, and by 46 percent by all clubs.

>>Stability balls inflate. Eighty-seven percent of fitness establishments supply stability balls -- on par with barbells and dumbbells. Forty-nine percent think demand for balls is growing and 67 percent provide stability ball-based programs.

>>Therapeutic equipment getting prescribed. Foam rollers and small balls (medicine balls, Pilates balls and others) are offered by 62 percent of facilities. Thirty-eight percent of health clubs see use growing, while 58 percent of those who actually offer them think so.

>>Outdoors and special populations grow. Kids-specific fitness, seniors' classes and outdoor boot camps are seen as on the rise, especially by the clubs that already have them.

Perceived as more stable in demand are:

>>Resistance bands. These are available at 90 percent of fitness centers, more than any other tool. Thirty percent see demand increasing, while 40 percent see the sector as stable.

>>Computer-assisted fitness. Computer workout tracking, interactive computer training programs and nutrition analysis software are each in use by only about 15 percent or less of those polled. Of those, however, between 41 and 52 percent are passionate that demand is increasing.

>> Step aerobics, fitness assessments, and mixed- and low-impact aerobics, although all still offered by about a third of respondents.

The following equipment categories seem to be losing steam:

>> Elliptical trainers up, stair climbers down? “What people tell me is that people are moving over from the stair climbers to the ellipticals,” Ryan said. Forty-six percent of respondents say ellipticals are up, while 31 percent see stair climbers as stable and 26 percent see them dropping.

>> Upright cycles and steps/platforms. While both categories are heavily used (67 percent for cycles, and 75 percent for steps and platforms), both have detractors. Eleven percent says demand for upright cycles is dimming; 10 percent says the same about steps.

>>Declining demand was also seen in high-impact aerobics and boxing-based classes such as kickboxing.

Other than barbells/dumbbells and treadmills, other equipment areas are seen by those responding as mostly stable:Â

>>Barbells/Dumbells. In use by 87 percent of clubs; 38 percent see demand increasing and 37 percent see it as stable.
>>Treadmills. Used by 74 percent of facilities; 34 percent say their use is growing and 35 percent believe their use is stable.
>>Recumbent cycles. Offered by 68 percent of centers; 43 percent see their demand as stable.
>>Selectorized machines. Available in 68 percent of establishments; 39 percent see stable demand.
>>Pulley equipment. Sixty-six percent use the machines, while 33 percent see demand as stable.
>>Plate-loaded machines. Available at 62 percent of clubs, with 38 percent seeing stable demand.
>>Weighted bars. In use by 62 percent of facilities. Thirty-six percent see demand as stable.

The annual IDEA trends report sends questionnaires to the association's business members and program director members. They were all sent three email invitations in April 2004 and were asked to link to a web-based survey. The 281 respondents came from all four regions in the United States and Canada: northeast, 21 percent; north-central, 51 percent; south, 19 percent; and west, 32 percent. Some 38 percent are from small towns or cities, while 26 percent were from large cities. Although the preliminary data is in the July-August Fitness Journal magazine, more detailed results will be in the October issue of the group's Fitness Manager publication, with even more results focusing on personal training in the September IDEA Trainer Success publication. Inquiries should go to Patricia Ryan, IDEA vice president if education development at


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