IHRSA ‘11 product trends, Pt. 1: Suspended in thin air, tech gets hip, vertical climbing and more

With the withered economy, it’s been a few years since we’ve seen real, live, honest-to-goodness trends. But we did this year at the IHRSA show, from suspension, technology and vertical climbing, to green equipment and bouncy running platforms. SNEWS covers the trends and highlights in two partsl with the second part on April 11.
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With the withered economy, it’s been a few years since we’ve seen real, live, honest-to-goodness trends. Like stuff people are talking about. Like stuff people are asking about. Like stuff that manages to get you to say, ooo, cool.

But so it went this year on the floor of the IHRSA trade show in San Francisco March 17-18 with its focus on the commercial side of the fitness industry.

Suspension was all the rage. Who ever thought that getting tangled in something and hanging from it would get you in a tizzy. Technology – no, really?! – seemed to have really make a big foray into fitness with legit touch screens, interactivity and even the ability to tweet and friend.

Of course we saw all the splishes and splashes of other products around and about the show floor, too, but there was enough we didn't want to bury you here. Look for Part 2 of product highlights in the next week.

Hanging in there

Suspension training granddaddy TRX had a few new competitors this year at IHRSA with Lifeline USA, Icon’s FreeMotion Fitness brand, and SBT all debuting new suspended bodyweight trainers. It’s a trend that’s bound to be around a while, as we outlined in a recent trends story on March 9, 2011

LifelineUSA (www.lifelineusa.com) showed off its new Jungle Gym XT (MSRP $99.99), an update on the previous Jungle Gym, suspension training product. The new version features two separate 8-foot straps to allow for wider separation at the source and more adjustment of the forces on the body. FreeMotionFitness launched its Rip:60 (www.rip60.com) suspension product and training regimen (MSRP $120) with plenty of workout programs ongoing throughout the show. The rotating straps on the Rip:60 allow for quick shifting of bodyweight left to right.

And newcomer SBT (www.sbttrainer.com) with its suspended bodyweight training straps grasped attention with its bright-orange- and navy-blue-clad trainers, which matched the product’s color, working out in the back-corner booth. Not to be outdone, TRX (www.trxtraining.com) debuted its new Rip Trainer (MSRP $190, photo above, right), a suspension-training bar attached to a bungee-like cord at one end for rotational power, strength and core stability exercises. Users swung the resistance product like a hockey stick, tennis racket and golf club. The company, formerly Fitness Anywhere, also announced a name change to its product’s namesake TRX.

We noticed that these four players were spread far apart from each other on the show floor – perhaps to keep more lawsuits from flying as the companies bicker behind the scenes in court on who trademarked what and who copied who. Click here to find out in a March 14, 2011, SNEWS story about the battle over words between Icon and infomercial player P90X . And we just betcha this won’t be the last on that legal front.

Fit goes tech – hallelujah

At moments, IHRSA felt more like the Consumer Electronics Show, with a plethora of new touch screens on treadmills, bikes and ellipticals. The touch screens themselves weren’t necessarily new to the scene, but they were noticeably more prevalent this year, and manufacturers debuted expanded capabilities with the technology. It was a refreshing scene for an industry that is sometimes faulted for being behind the times.

The latest technological perk was the ability for users to seamlessly sync their workout regimens and results (in some cases, wirelessly) from the equipment to their smartphone, home computer, and even their Facebook account, and vice-versa.

Life Fitness (www.lifefitness.com) showed off its new Virtual Trainer app, which offers guided regimens and automatically keeps track of workout stats from compatible machines; or users can enter information manually. With subsequent visits, users plug-in their smartphone into the machine and it knows exactly where they are in their regimen, and the workout is tailored to keep them on track.

Get this: When Life Fitness recently debuted its Facebook addition to the app – allowing users to share their workouts and progress with friends – the company’s site traffic doubled by the next day, officials said.

Facebook connectivity is a particular perk to health clubs ordering the machines, said Yuko Tanaka, director of marketing at Interactive Fitness Holdings (www.ifholdings.com), which debuted the technology on its Expresso cardio bikes. Each Facebook post can be tailored to include the facility’s name, providing extra advertisement.

Matrix (www.matrixfitness.com), which introduced its first touch screens back in 2009, exhibited its latest Virtual Active technology on the screens -- displaying first-person video of moving through scenic outdoor areas, while automatically altering the speed of the video and incline of the treadmill or bike to match the terrain being viewed.

Precor (www.precor.com) provided IHRSA attendees with an effective way to interact with its new P80 touch-screen consoles (photo, above, right) at the show – it had a dozen or so on display separate from the machines at what it called “genius stations.”

Fitness equipment manufacturers, like Octane (www.octanefitness.com) and True (www.truefitness.com), said the growing use of touch screens on its machines will add value and longevity. Frequent software updates can be uploaded via USB or the Internet to keep the machine up-to-date, for example.

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“The meat of the treadmill isn’t going to change a lot, so this (the technology) is what we’re focusing on,” said Beth Norviel, director of marketing at True, which features touch screens as an addition to its treadmills and ellipticals.

Getting high

Since its debut as the Gauntlet in the mid-80s, StairMaster’s StepMill was a one-of-a-kind. But the patents ran out just over a year ago and a couple of companies are already jumping in the climb-high, climb-hard fray. Nautilus (www.nautiluscommercial.com) debuted its K2 vertical trainer (List $6,000) in a private room away from its booth. It claims a “less aggressive” 7.4-inch step height and a tread depth of 9.5 inches. StairMaster’s StepMill 5 has an 8-inch step height and a depth of 9 inches (List $6,000). Also readying its product in the category for later this year is Matrix, but details weren’t yet available.

With patents expired, there will be more, lay your money on it.

--Therese Iknoian and David Clucas

Look for Part 2 of our IHRSA product trends coverage in the next week, where we’ll take a look at green products, indoor cycles and a variety of other eye catchers on the IHRSA show floor.

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