By Therese Iknoian
For the complete story, see GearTrends® Fitness 2007, p. 38, "Take the A-Train"
Now that the category/evolution has been lit up, the leaders are going to struggle to make noise about why their product is better.
>> Precor's new commercial AMT (a.k.a. Adaptive Motion Trainer, list $8,000) allows users to switch instantly from one stride-motion to another, from climber to elliptical to running in air, without hitting any buttons. Instead the user just changes his or her stride and the machine adapts to them (get it? adaptive motion?). It is the brainchild of Bob Rodgers, a well-known industry inventor, who Precor said showed the company a prototype two years ago that had two planes of resistance -- horizontal and vertical. The two planes are what allow the immense range of user-controlled motion. Then, working with Kathleen Knutzen, Ph.D., at the biomechanics laboratory at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash., outside of Seattle, the AMT prototype Rodgers had come up with then underwent several changes in geometry.
Precor focused on the committed exercisers, since they are not only opinion leaders, but also represent a large chunk of the elliptical user group, Precor's Bell said. "We originally thought it would be limited to the hard-core exercisers looking for a harder, more intense workout with a higher (perceived effort) and calorie burn than ellipticals and bikes. But in testing, it went much broader," she said. "Users told us that they hate doing the same thing every day. On this, I can make it different ever day."
The really different part of the AMT is a circular graphic on the console that represents the stride length the current user is achieving. It holds the user's hand and makes what could be a complicated and overwhelming piece into a friendlier and more understandable workout.
>> With less bulk and height, the new Matrix Fitness Ascent Trainer ($7,000) is already being called an "elliptical variation" by Johnson Health Tech's North American head Nathan Pyles, adding to the debate about whether the A-Trainers are a New Thing or a simple Elliptical Evolution.
"It's still an elliptical," he said, "but it has a more fluid motion. We wanted to improve on the pendulum-swing of the Cybex. Ours is more of a foot-over-foot." At first glance, it looks like a standard, front-drive elliptical, but the articulated rear legs and gearing gives it away as something different. Matrix will, of course, focus on commercial equipment, leaving retail models to Johnson Health Tech retail companies, Vision and Horizon, to introduce in 2008.
>> First shown to the trade public in mid-2006, the Life Fitness Summit Trainer ($4,500 to $6,300) is a tall piece reminiscent in shape and height of the old StairMaster Gauntlet now known as the Nautilus StepMill -- except it has pedals that move back and forth on a fixed inclined ramp. In contrast to some of these A-Trainers, the emphasis in the Summit motion, said Bob Quast, senior director, cardiovascular product management, is on the hamstrings in the back of the upper legs, which are often under-worked and therefore prone to more injury.
>> On the retail side, the Hiker from Lamar Fitness on first glance looks like a front-drive elliptical, except the feel can change from walking to stepping to climbing based on jiggering with incline and resistance. The stride length is chosen for you for each of those levels. As a home model ($2,700; with upper-body arms, $3,000), it has been designed to start with a much smaller footprint and height.
>> Of course, the Cybex Arc Trainer -- one of only two with a non-circular stride along with the Life Summit Trainer -- was introduced in 2002 to the trade as an alternative to the elliptical, but it has somehow until now never been thought of as an elliptical. One interesting note is that, compared to all other equipment, when a user changes his or her bodyweight on the console to start a workout, the corresponding resistance also changes so if you weigh more, yes, you gotta do more. The numbers do more than control mostly bogus calorie counts blipping around on most other types of equpment. With a list ranging from $5,000 to $7,000 for light vertical and commercial models, the new toned-down home model has a suggested retail of up to $3,500.
Don't miss the full story, “Take the A-Train,” in the GearTrends® Fitness 2007 issue. To download the full issue, go to www.geartrends.com/magazines.