HFB 2013: Beyond tech, latest cardio equipment targets active aging, light commercial markets

While hi-tech advances dominated the story in cardio, SNEWS spotted several other trends in the category worth noting from the trade show.
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While hi-tech advances dominated the story in cardio at this year’s Health and Fitness Business Expo, SNEWS spotted several other trends in the category worth noting from the trade show.

Attracting the active-aging crowd
Companies can’t let go of the baby boomers.

The term “active aging” was just about as prevalent as touchscreens on the show floor. Fitness equipment manufacturers and retailers are seeing increased business from senior-living and medical communities.

As the first wave of baby boomers enter their 70s, many are done with the intense, sweat-busting activities that they might have pursued up to their 40s and 50s, said Jeff Laborde, sales and marketing manager at Inspire.

“They have back issues and knee issues … they can’t use the elliptical anymore, or an upright bike,” he said. “But they still want to remain active as best they can.”

Enter the growing lines of recumbent-seated ellipticals, where older users can comfortably sit while keeping up on their cardio workouts. Sales of Inspire’s Cardio Striders (MSRPs $1,295-$1,795) are picking up after launching two years ago, Laborde said. And we heard the same story from Health Care International and its PhysioSteps (MSRPs $2,499-$2999), where hospitals and physical therapists have been some of the biggest customers.

 Inspire Fitness Cardio Strider CS2

Inspire Fitness Cardio Strider CS2

 Health Care International PhysioStep RXT

Health Care International PhysioStep RXT

Passive trainers — those that assist with motions — also are gaining ground, like Health Care International’s eTrainer (MSRP $1,499), which can be rolled up to an elderly person’s chair for rotating foot pedal workouts below and/or rotating handle bar workouts above.

 Health Care International eTrainer

Health Care International eTrainer

Did you see a few treadmill belts slowing rotating in reverse? That too is for the active aging crowd, the folks at Fitness Master Inc. told us — slowly walking backwards has proven to help older patients with balance.

Rower Resurgence
We saw a lot more excitement around rowers.

Manufacturers and retailers said the product category is making a comeback thanks to the surge in CrossFit, which use the equipment for workouts.

The equipment hasn’t changed much over the years, but one highlight is that brands are offering adjustable resistance. With most water rowers, for example, the resistance comes from the water inside, but once users fill up — that’s it, that’s their resistance.

Enter First Degree Fitness — now being distributed in North America by Fitness Distributors International LLC. Its dual tank distribution system allows users to move water in and out of the main tank on the fly to instantly increase or reduce resistance, said vice president James Bond.

Bodycraft, which continues to make inroads in the cardio category, will expand its line of rowers to three with the VR 400 model ($1,499) — sitting between its VR 100 and 500 versions. Like the VR 500, the 400 uses air and magnetic resistance, but it’s a manual mechanism (instead of a plug-in), so that the harder one pulls the more resistance is created.

There’s room to innovate in the resurging rowing market, Bodycraft CEO Alan Gore said. And … hint, hint … next up for Bodycraft will be a move into treadmills, he said.

Dual workouts
We told you about the rise in two-in-one workouts from the strength side a few weeks ago, and the trend is also rising in cardio.

While cardio has dominated fitness sales for the past few years, we get the sense that manufacturers see an avenue for strength to make a comeback, in large thanks to the rise of CrossFit and functional trainers.

To that end, we’re seeing more cardio pieces adding some strength components, even if its just a pair of powerbands attached to a bike for some arm curls or stretches while riding, as seen in BodyCraft’s R-25 Semi-Recumbent Bike (MSRP $1,499) with a the $100 add-on. Octane’s Cross Circuit kit with PowerBlock stations on its ellipticals is another example from a few years ago.

And Inspire’s CR2 CrossRow (MSRP $1,295) is looking to gain traction with both pulling and pushing exercises for a more compete workout. Upated for 2014, there’s now a ratchet assembly up top to know how much you’re adjusting the resistance.

Light commercial
Whatever you want to call it, the light commercial, institutional or vertical market category continues to be targeted by previously exclusive home fitness retailers and manufacturers.

During the recession, organizations like hospitals, schools, studios and condos were about the only ones with the money to afford fitness equipment and while the home market is now recovering, businesses aren’t about to give up their new-found customers.

We can’t count the number of new “light commercial” pieces we were introduced to at HFB 2013, but the trend among all was the story of durability, and how even some home consumers willing to pay more for a machine that will last longer and require less maintenance.

One company to call out is new-to-the-game Brigadoon Fitness of Fort Wayne, Ind., which enters the market after buying Hanson Fitness Equipment in 2012 and bringing on the seller Dan Hanson as its new product manager. Hanson showed off the company’s new Green Series 6000 treadmill (MSRP $3,495) for the vertical market. While it would seem Brigadoon has found a loophole to use similar Nautilus exterior components (you can make the comparison to the Nautilus 6 Series for yourself), Hanson opened up the machine to show retailers where Brigadoon upgraded components to make everything more durable and efficient, including the option for an AC motor version (MSRP $3,995).

���With durability comes efficiency,” he said.

 Brigadoon Fitness Green Series 6000

Brigadoon Fitness Green Series 6000

Take it outside

OK, we might be a little bias about this last trend.

SNEWS, after all, focuses on the outdoor industry as well. So when we spotted Stamina’s new Outdoor Fitness equipment lineup, we had to stop and talk. The idea is that some consumers either don’t have room indoors for big fitness equipment, or just prefer being outside for exercise.

The backyard can be turned into a home gym, said Stamina’s Taylor Hutchens

The brightly-colored stainless-steel pieces almost resemble playground equipment and debuted last year with a Power Tower (MSRP $399). New for 2014 will be an outdoor Bench, Dip Station and cardio Strider (MSRPs TBD).

--David Clucas

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