OVERLAND PARK, KS — Health club owners used to cram equipment into every square inch of the fitness floor. Because of the emerging popularity of functional training, however, more operators are investing in accessories, which have a smaller footprint and lower price.

For the price of one treadmill, an owner can outfit an entire club with a variety of functional training accessories, says Chris Poirier, general manager of Perform Better, Cranston, RI. Nearly every health club nationwide has invested in stability and medicine balls, tubing and bands during the past 10 years, he says.

Trainers are using some of the many available accessories in their personal training regimens. Some of the newest or hottest trends in functional training incorporate traditional sports performance products, such as agility ladders, hurdles and plyo boxes; high-performance resistance training devices, such as high-resistance tubing, bands and bodyweight devices; and alternative strength training products, including kettlebells, and weighted ropes and bags, according to Monty Kilburn, vice president of marketing, and Daryl Shute, education department coordinator for Power Systems, Knoxville, TN.

Functional training accessories can be used in an endless supply of exercises that fit almost every ability level. However, unlike traditional cardio equipment, which positions the body and defines the movement pattern, accessories require a higher level of training and instruction, says Kevin Dorsey, marketing manager for Lifeline USA, Madison, WI.

“If you're exercising on a treadmill or an elliptical, the machine will tell you exactly what you have to do,” Dorsey says. “It's not that easy to pick up a set of bands and know what to do without a trainer to instruct you. That can be a major barrier.”

Adam Zwyer, director of marketing and operations for SPRI Products, Libertyville, IL, agrees, saying that the downside is that members may not be getting the maximum benefit from the accessories unless they're properly instructed by a group exercise instructor or personal trainer.

“If someone grabs a rubber tube, the only thing they may know how to do is a bicep curl, and if they sit on a stability ball, they'll probably do a crunch, but that is about all,” he says. “That's where the trainers can thrive because they know 101 ways to use a stability ball.”

The secret to success in functional training is education, Dorsey says. He advises clubs to hire qualified personal trainers who understand functional and natural movement training and then provide maximum access to them for their clientele.

With so many accessories available, club owners may find it challenging to select the right products for their clientele and to dedicate the proper space for them. The majority of clubs are short on dedicated space for functional training, according to Bill Sotis, president and CEO of Lifeline USA.

Because functional training accessories often are used in group exercise classes, they typically are stored in or near exercise studios, but they also are integrated into the actual gym floor alongside the weight machines. Having an open training floor and unique storage options are key to successfully integrating these accessories, says Craig Descoteaux, head strength and conditioning coach at CrossFit Eclipse in Tulsa, OK, who uses kettlebells to train his clientele.

Integrating accessories on the fitness floor can lead to revenue-generating programming, increased member satisfaction and improved retention rates, Kilburn says. Functional training accessories also cost less than most equipment, which is a plus, now that many club operators are looking to save money.

The relatively low cost of functional training accessories can become the primary selling point for health clubs, says Gloria Miller, the club sales liaison for Ball Dynamics, Longmont, CO.

“With the economic factor in the forefront, most of the facilities are trying to generate more traffic into their facilities and improve their revenue stream,” Miller says. “With these accessories, health clubs can get more bang for their buck.”