Club Industry '04: What was on the floor?

Last week in the SNEWS® post-Club Industry show summary (Oct. 18: "Better, better, cheaper, cheaper … so now what?"), we pointed out that there seemed to be an awful lot of better-made stuff that was cheaper and perhaps tweaked a little aesthetically. But where was the beef, the new, the innovative?
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Last week in the SNEWS® post-Club Industry show summary (Oct. 18: "Better, better, cheaper, cheaper … so now what?"), we pointed out that there seemed to be an awful lot of better-made stuff that was cheaper and perhaps tweaked a little aesthetically. But where was the beef, the new, the innovative?

New products may not have been an over-riding theme -- aisle talk consistently harped on that lack -- but there were still a few categories that showed growth, a few product tweaks worth pointing out, and a handful of new things (or at least new to the industry) at the 2004 Club Industry show in Chicago that ran Oct. 14-16 at McCormick Place. And there are always those big "huhs?" in a few products too. That's the nature of the industry, ain't it?

What also continues to be the nature of the industry is this bizarre secrecy that borders on paranoia. Once again, we heard stories of people from Company X during the show or early morning workout being kicked out of the booth of Company Y. Geez, people, as if they can't get your equipment? You may as well show it to them so they get the true grit on it -- and swap tales in the meantime. We even saw a relative newcomer to one company dressed incognito (pullover over the company shirt) since as a new guy he could fly under-the-radar in other company's booths.

As always with SNEWS® stories about products and shows, what ends up getting discussed below are just highlights, things that caught our eye for some reason (good…or not). If your company or your product doesn't get named, it's because either something just didn't grab us, it wasn't considered a true highlight or wasn't new, or we were just brain-dead and missed it. Of course, we can't cover every last widget anyway.

The front row
The regulars were of course there. Star Trac was one booth back from the front, but its glow radiated all around -- there are so many smiles in that booth these days, you need sunglasses. And for good reason. In the last year, product revamps and intros from bikes to treads have been solid and well-planned. What's next? Hmmm, how about an elliptical? We hear other things are on the horizon too. Cybex, which a couple of days post show posted a pretty upbeat third-quarter report, once again took the prize for Humongo Booth of the Show, but it seemed a bit quiet -- other than that woman on the Arc Trainer who we think must have burned 16 gazillion calories. Did she EVER get off? The Arc Trainer, including the dual-motion one with upper body, still seems to be the company's biggest ride and it's using every last bit of it. FreeMotion Fitness had a booth packed with equipment and going's-on, but you had to search it all out since some stuff was hidden away in the back corner -- except that Dual Stack Cable Cross, which drew raves from all users and passers-by alike. Precor? Same, same. A few aesthetics tweaks in the "Icarian line" Precor brand strength equipment. A couple of random Stretch Trainers looking for business. And Jade free weights on a stand showing the possible colors and styles available.

Life Fitness had its front-row standard, without much new to talk about other than the 90 series ellipticals with a longer stride length (20 inches instead of 18) and closer foot pedals (2.8 inches!) that were introduced at the 2003 Athletic Business conference. (They do feel smooth and the added length translates into a more natural feel.) True Fitness put all is marbles in the new Z8 series ellipticals, a continuation of its Z series upgrades on equipment it's been slowly rolling out this year. The ellipticals, chosen as one of the show's top five new products by show staff, have a range of cool features and programs, including an electrically adjustable stride length that goes from 18 to 24 inches, and a feature called "Personal Power" that is said to calculate the appropriate workload for a user based on data input. The Nautilus Group, with Schwinn and StairMaster, showed its new and impressive Madison-Avenue-glitz booth to the club market for the first time; it has a gazebo-like central area (with comings and goings easily monitored by staff, you see) that highlighted the commercial model of the Treadclimber, which we think is bound to be a hit, as well as its adjustable-stride elliptical prototype. Magnum's not-new "Breaker Bench" got some attention for the support bars for the barbell on the Olympic-style bench that allows a user to bring the bar over his or her chest and lift off, then the support returns behind the head to remain out of the way. Magnum also had a new recumbent elliptical and upper-body ergometer.
 
Honest-to-goodness new and innovative
Last week we pointed out two totally new products, one from a totally new company. We'd be remiss if we didn't name them again in this week's story about products:

>> Lamar Health, Sports & Fitness, founded over the summer by industry long-timer Kevin Lamar, showed the prototype of a new "rocker switch" on a weight stack that was the newest and most innovative idea in a long time in any category and became a bit of a show buzz. Each plate on the stack has a so-called "Lock 'n Load" switch on it that resembles a traditional light switch. Flip it over and the weight is locked and loaded so when you press, push or lift, that amount will be what you lift. The patent is from Flex Fitness founder Mark Nalley, and under license started appearing on other companies' machines.

>> Hidden away in a downstairs meeting room, albeit open to all, SportsArt Fitness showed something it called an "X-Trainer," that resembles a recumbent bicycle but feels a bit like a recumbent elliptical (List: $3,700). It has independent arms so you can push and pull for an upper-body workout while "pedaling." Its walk-through design and highly adjustable and independent (foot from arm) resistance levels should make it a good seller. SportsArt also showed nearly half of its sleek, Euro-designed, single-station strength line that can toe the line in classy appearance next to Technogym and Matrix.

To that all-new list that seems to have some inherent value is a company called StairGlider, which was founded by Brad Schupp, the son of a co-founder of StairMaster. Basically, it's an after-market device (list $1,000) that can transform the front end of an old StairMaster climber to an elliptical. For a "tack-on" piece, it felt pretty natural and smooth and if enough clubs have not-so-popular stair climbers hanging around, Schupp could sell a few.

Indoor Cycling
How many bikes can the indoor cycling market handle? We guess more, including the cycling companies that say they are bringing their "authentic" heritage and manufacturing ability indoors -- Translation: they want a piece of the pie. CycleOps, from the Saris Cycling Group of Madison, Wis., is one of those. Three models, all new, with a 48-pound rear flywheel and available Nov. 1. Top-of-the-line model with all kinds of gidgets and widgets (including a power measurement, but we're not sure how many indoor cyclists know or care about power) lists for $1,700. Others are $1,300 and $1,000 and felt smooth enough, not to mention looked sleek too. EB Fitness is a new name for the new indoor bikes from Eastern Bikes. Tucked into a postage stamp booth, the bikes were, well, bikes -- smooth, plain, 38-pound flywheels, etc. But the $600 list price tag makes you wakeup and offers additional attraction.Â

Multisports, so far back you needed to drop breadcrumbs, had eight, count 'em eight, EnduroCycles crammed into its booth. Flywheel size differs (42 to 66 pounds) but other than that it was difficult to differentiate. Lists range from $520 for a light commercial model to $1,160 for the big guy. Another new offering was a third and higher-end Spinner bike (Spinner NXT, now one step above the Pro and Elite) from Star Trac with an aluminum frame that looks beefy and sturdy but is actually lighter and now has a five-year warranty because, guess why, it won't rust. The seat pole has alphanumeric markings so you can actually get it where you want it time after time. Some companies that don't do this oughta get a clue. Matrix's X-bike changed to a fixed gear, adding a brake lever on the top -- we think, sadly removing the feel of true outdoor biking that is one way the X-bike remained in a class of its own (aside from its upper body movement that simulates mountain biking). It now adds to the ride the momentum that comes from that heavy flywheel making the ride easier and a bit artificial feeling -- but it seems it's what the industry is used to and Matrix believes it will help sell bikes. Trixter's X-bike will continue to be available with a free wheel. SNEWS® has dropped into X-Bike consumer classes at clubs and chatted anonymously with students, who said now that they're used to the X-bike feel, they will never ever go back to the other.

Still on the floor is, of course, LeMond's RevMaster from Life Fitness (with its relatively new Pilot that gives great feedback on a ride), Tomahawk in its license agreement with FreeMotion Fitness and touting higher handlebars for special populations, The Nautilus Group's Schwinn cycles, and Keiser cycles, where the booth seemed somewhat deserted. How many classes can you teach to fellow instructors?

The "virtues of vibration"
Well, that's what they call it. We're still trying to figure out this whole … trend? From the first company that showed up about 18 months ago out of Europe, Power Plate, suddenly there were three companies touting vibration devices that sorta look like bathroom scales on steroids but jiggle the bejeebies out of you. VibroGym, also out of Europe, says it is the original and apparently entered the North American market on the tails of some kind of spat with Power Plate folks. Vibraflex says it's been operating in the medical arena for while. All tout a range of benefits from toning and strengthening to stimulating bone growth (to counter osteoporosis). They all say they have research backing it up, but we have yet to see solid, peer-reviewed, long-term, well-done studies. Oh, and then we have Heart Rate Inc. founder Richard Charnitski adding vibration to one of his VersaClimbers. Hmmm… We'll watch, look, listen and try to find true research. Really.

A stretch in time…
We loved the fact that stretching isn't a non-subject in the industry anymore. That goes hand-in-hand with the industry aging and becoming more aware itself of solid and balanced workouts that look at all aspects of fitness. True still had its True Stretch cage, which is divine, but, well, huge. Life Fitness still has its partnership StretchMate, which looks more like a huge spider web where the web is made of a slightly stretchy material (it's what stops planes landing on ships, by the way). It's also divine and a bit more forgiving. We hear a smaller home model may be in the works. New was a so-called ProFlex (list $400) that comes from the golf industry (what? From golf TO fitness??), which offers a great, measurable, biomechanically correct stretch. Missed it? It was in the back corner of the FreeMotion booth as the first step to its new partnership, with the company called Sport Specific Systems, the company behind Butch Harmon Golf. We adored the stretch and can see its benefit. What's perplexing us, though, is the similarity of this to the old MedX stretch device, which is also now the Core Super Stretch… Of course, also on the floor can be found a plethora of cords, bands, mats and the like that also are low-tech, but still very workable, stretch devices.

Getting playful: Just add kids … or adults
Can we say we adore this trend, if you can call it that. Perhaps you've seen the Trazer, now in partnership with Cybex, which is an interactive device that has you hopping and leaping in front of a TV screen -- fun and a workout too. That's the really high-tech. In a partnership with Matrix is the SportWall company that has slightly lower-tech high-tech (can you say that?) fitness games that also train coordination. Especially popular was the SportBall wall that had panels imbedded with sensors at which players would throw balls (plain or weighted) or whack with noodles, trying to beat the clock, a score, or a partner to get them to light up or go out. Seen at the early morning workouts were two women whacking away at the sensors, then in frustration -- and laughing -- turning to whack each other with the noodles instead.

Another newcomer to the industry was the DXR, or Dance Exercise Revolution, in partnership with Broadcast Vision. You've perhaps seen or heard about Red Octane's Dance Revolution. This is the fitness industry's version. Like Trazer, you watch a TV screen. Different is a dance pad you move on, sorta stomping different areas to a modern beat. Even klutzes can look like dancers since it sorta leads you in a rhythmic movement. We watched little kids not wanting to stop while dancing and stomping, even crying when mom wanted to move on. Heck, we'd cry too. All these games can make fitness fun -- either as a workout or just as a supplement.

Since this newbie is so low-tech, it seems funny to mention it here, but it IS a game: A so-called Heavy Hoop, aka weighted Hula Hoop (www.heavyhoop.com). The hoop is just as you remember it, but weights 3 pounds, which actually makes it a bit easier to keep on your waist and moving. Yes, we tried it. Inventor Wendy Iverson, who was "eye-catching" in her low-cut rather exposing top and tights, already has a fitness program in the Iowa schools using the hoop. Her business partner, Buzz Barlow, said a QVC commercial will be out soon. Suggested retail: $70. But a lot of bucks worth o' fun.

Strength training
We seem remiss in this arena. Why? Well, guess there wasn't a whole lot of shaking and strengthening with new stuff going on. Other than FreeMotion's Dual Cable Cross, which was perhaps THE strength talk of the show. Troy Barbell was there, but in a much smaller side booth with just a few accessories, dumbbells and its TroyBar (a weighted bar best suited for group exercise), which comes in a whole bunch of weights and sizes. Folks on the floor were talking about the "great workout" they got from the Strive Smart Strength circuit.

The Body-Aline was one of the top five new products picked by show staff. We're still trying to figure it out. It's a chair with arms coming out around the side of it like shoulder-high arm rests. You hold them and lean back to train back extension then, while in the extended position, do a shoulder retraction movement. And you can have all that for $300 to $350. Sounds like great posture training, but as if we don't have pieces like that? www.body-aline.com

Etc, etc, etc.
At the show for the first time was Aquajogger (www.aquajogger.com) with its line of flotation belts and other stuff designed for deep-water running and other water workouts. It's the original, but has focused more on running and other specialty areas. Look to see it around the club and fitness market more.

Bodyguard was also taking a place to show club owners and trainers it's serious about its light commercial and commercial product. Dave Taylor is now director of sales and says the company was at Club Industry partly to rebuild brand awareness.

One of the other products named as "top five" by the show was something called AeroAbs by Heavyhands (www.aeroabs.com). You know how beetles look when they're on their backs with arms and legs swinging around? As far as we can tell from the website (since there were no videos or demos at the show), that's sort of the workout, but using Heavyhands weights. End of commentary.

In the not-so-new-but-sort-of arena was a treadmill from Woodway -- it's the first significant redesign in the 30-year history of the company whose name stems from a translation of its German heritage as Waldweg (which really translates as forest trail, but we won't say anything). It maintains all the great features of the original but mostly updates its look to one that better reflects the aesthetics and small features necessary today; everybody knows Woodway had fallen behind a bit in that regard. But the Woodway remains the standard for a workhorse of a treadmill -- and now it looks great too. List is $9,850 with a "mini" one coming out soon with a list of $7,000.

Speaking of treadmills: Star Trac also tweaked its treadmills so the belts are now waxless, and they can hold users up to 500 pounds. Really. 500 pounds. That's a sad statement on the state of our country and how much work the fitness industry has ahead of it.

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