CHICAGO — One of the most sought-after — but elusive — elements of any trade show business (or any business for that matter) is the “buzz.” It's the electric feeling that a truly transcendent event is in progress: the exhibit floor comes alive with the crackle of commerce and the seminar rooms reverberate with dynamic new ideas delivered by leading minds in the field. Well, earlier this month, the buzz was in the air at Club Industry 2002, which is run by Club Industry parent company Primedia Business Magazines and Media. And that buzz spread from the show through the whole industry.

“Club Industry pulled out all of the stops. I heard so many positive things at the show this year,” said John Aglialoro, chairman of the board and CEO of equipment manufacturer Cybex International. “There is a vibrancy coming into this industry and you can feel it at the show.”

From the keynote address by four-time Super Bowl winner and NFL Hall of Famer Lynn Swann to the more than 7,000 attendees and exhibitors swarming the aisles creating a vibrant flow of traffic in the nearly 900 booths of the 230 exhibitors — Club Industry 2002 was a success for the show staff and the industry as a whole.

“Club Industry 2002 brought an added burst of needed energy to the commercial fitness market. There was a new vibrancy as owners, operators and managers looked to new options, such as adding a spa or services by exploring the Club Industry Spa Experience. It was also gratifying that so many professionals saw the value of the most diverse and focused seminar program available,” said Herb Greenebaum, marketing manager for Club Industry 2002. “Suppliers were encouraged by the strong interest in the many new and existing products, demonstrating that our industry is running several steps ahead of the economy. The enthusiasm surrounding Lynn Swan's appearance shows that community service continues to be dominant theme in the post-9/11 era.”

The show floor success spilled over into early morning workouts, where attendees extensively test the equipment through sweat equity, actually getting on the equipment and putting them through their paces. “Club Industry 2002 produced an exceptional turnout for the Early Morning Workouts — one of the most active I've seen at any morning program in years at any industry show,” noted Steve Rhodes, VP of sales & marketing for Paramount Fitness.

Perhaps the hottest new show feature was the Club Industry Spa Experience, a special booth for attendees to learn more about the growing trend of adding a day spa or spa services to fitness facilities. It drew non-stop traffic by offering free hot stone neck massages, gel manicures and pedicures to attendees — plus a drawing for a free 7-day, 6-night getaway for two at a luxury spa resort. But the majority of those who stopped by were interested in more than just the giveaways.

“More than 50 percent of the owners and managers who visited are in the planning stages of adding a spa,” said John Atwood, director of marketing and sales for Universal Companies, which sponsored the attraction. “I am impressed with the level of decision makers from private clubs, franchise operations, universities.”

But what really creates the buzz are still the basics; a chance to see new equipment, find the latest trend and learn to do business a little better in one of the more than 100 conference sessions.

More than 1,300 attended the conferences, which is up considerably over last year's approximately 1,050 attendees, showing a continuing desire for cutting-edge information and education for the maturing fitness industry.

Starting with the keynote by Swann, where nearly 500 attendees packed into the room to hear the chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports speak, to the panel discussions and other sessions, many were at standing room-only capacity.

“We come to Club Industry to check out the latest trends: what are the most innovative new machines for our strength and conditioning program? What are the most important new directions in group exercise — what can we bring back to meet the needs of the people we serve?” said Colleen McMahon, assistant director of Wellness/Fitness at Indiana University. “This is where we come to build relationships.”

SHOPPING SPREE

There is no denying it. No matter how tough economic times are we love to — and often have to — shop. That was abundantly clear last month at Club Industry 2002. With more than 7,000 shoppers and vendors jamming the exhibit hall floor, the McCormick Center was turned into a vibrant exercise equipment showroom.

With nearly 900 booths of the 230 exhibitors, the choices for shoppers were plentiful, especially as there was a dearth of new programming opportunities at this year's show, unlike recent years.

“I'm here both for Club Industry and the Medical Fitness Association (MFA) conference,” said Chana Smith, manager, Sports Physical Therapy Lakeland Rehabilitation Center. “I do the buying for my facility and it's great to be able to take advantage of the far larger exhibit floor that this provides. We plan on making purchases within the next few weeks and being here will make things a lot easier.”

And depending on what Smith or any of the other buyers attending the show were looking for, it was all on display from cardio to strength, nutrition to software and a myriad of other products and services to help members and businesses see improved results.

STRONG SHOWING

When it comes to a back-to-basics approach to seeing results the strength of any fitness facility is truly in its strength training area. People can jump rope at home, or head out for a run, but when it comes to building muscle and trimming body fat through strength training — as more experts highlight everyday — there is no substitute for a state-of-the-art strength training area.

For facilities looking to add to their offerings there was plenty to be found on the floor at Club Industry 2002. From free-weights to selectorized equipment, strength equipment was the pound-for-pound champ in the Windy City last month.

Leading the charge was Nautilus, perhaps the most well-known name in strength training. The company released a new line of commercial strength equipment, the XPLoad, a line of plate-loaded free-weight systems for what the company deemed as “serious strength training.” The line features a patented four-bar linkage system that ensures correct movement during exercise. According to the company, “Smart Arm” linkage technology allows for multiple movement paths coupled with accommodating strength profiles unavailable until now in plate-loaded units.

“The XPLoad line enables health clubs and other fitness institutions to complement their Nautilus selectorized and free-weight equipment with bio-mechanically engineered, plate-loaded strength training machines,” said Kevin Lamar, president of The Nautilus Group. “With these innovative new products, we are continuing Nautilus' over 30-year tradition of developing high-quality, result-oriented strength equipment.” There are currently eight pieces of XPLoad available with nine more scheduled for release at later dates.

Another name synonymous with strength training — and increasingly with commercial strength training — Hoist introduced two new pieces at Club Industry 2002.

One of the most talked about pieces of equipment at the show was the company's first to incorporate what it calls composite motion technology, the CF-2355 leg press. The company claimed that the patented drive system causes the exerciser's body to move in unison, and creates a new category for strength training products.

“We've broken ground on a completely new resistance and drive system for strength training machines. For the first time we have a mechanism with a fixed movement pattern that emulates the way a human body naturally moves,” said Joe Ellis, inventor of Hoist's composite motion technology. “Arguably there are other machines available that will provide a somewhat natural movement based on the exercise. However, they require the user to define the movement pattern and a vast majority of the users aren't familiar with how to use them properly. Composite motion removes the guess work for the exercise enthusiast at any level or ability.”

Banking on users becoming more accustomed to using all forms of natural-movement training equipment, Life Fitness expanded its cable motion series of strength-training products with the introduction of three pieces — chest press, shoulder press and total leg — at the show.

“We have been seeing an increase in the demand for strength products with greater functional capabilities that meet the training needs of advanced exercisers,” said Greg Highsmith, senior business director, strength at Life Fitness. “Our cable motion series is designed to integrate with our other strength product lines and enhances our ability to provide a complete strength-training package which addresses the needs of all members regardless of their experience levels or goals.”

HEART-POUNDING

Just because companies and facilities are seeing strong numbers for strength products, they are not forgetting the waiting lists and 30-minute limits in the ever-popular cardio areas.

Life Fitness, for instance, made sure to bring several new Lifecycles to the show.

At Club Industry 2002, Life Fitness unveiled its 9500RHR, 9100R and 8500R commercial Lifecycle recumbent exercise bikes. The new models boast the design shared by all Life Fitness commercial cardiovascular products. In addition, they have a contoured back-supported seat that positions the user behind the pedals and 34 seat adjustment options for customization regardless of user height, according to the company. For optimal comfort, Life Fitness said that the bikes' “wide ride” pedals measure five inches across (25 percent wider than previous versions) and have 11 strap adjustment positions.

The company also unveiled its 9500XXL Lifecycle upright exercise bike. The XXL has a vertical ratchet seat adjustment that accommodates athletes ranging in height from 5 feet 6 inches to 7 feet tall, which is 7 inches more than the current Lifecycle upright exercise bikes. All the new bikes are equipped with Life Fitness' universal console, which is standard on the company's commercial upright Lifecycle exercise bikes, total-body elliptical cross-trainers and stairclimbers, making programming easier and offering greater programming options for members, the company said.

While Life Fitness focused on its core Lifecycle products at the show, treadmills were still in abundance on the show floor. And with several association studies showing that treadmills still reign as the most popular piece of fitness equipment, why not?

Recently acquired Precor had one new model and several updated treadmills in its booth.

The new C966 low impact treadmill targets what the company calls elite athletic programs and facilities,” with its 4 hp motor, which operates at speeds of 0.5 mph to 16 mph and at inclines of -3 to +15 degrees.

“Precor has made some exceptional, tough treadmills over the years, but we've gone all-out to make the C966 deliver unmatched running performance,” says Chris Torggler, Precor vice president of commercial sales.“The C966 has the power and systems to handle the speed and duration of the most elite training program.”

Star Trac also had an updated version of its Pro Elite treadmill, which made its debut last March. The Pro Elite still features many of its original features such as a weight scale, entertainment keys integrated into its IntelliTrac display and two personal fans built right into the console. Through a partnership with SingleTap, it has developed a system for wirelessly exchanging data between palm-powered handhelds and both the Pro Elite and Pro treadmills.

Through this technology, treadmill users will be able to bring their palm-powered handhelds to the gym to download and monitor all aspects of their workout, while enjoying the capability to pre-program their own custom-designed workouts in advance, according to the company.

SingleTap and Star Trac had been working on the Pro Partner technology for more than a year.

“We wanted to find new ways to use technology to make exercise a habit-forming experience while providing a host of user-friendly features,” said Greg Wallace, electrical and software manager for Star Trac. “Our research found that many of our users were also palm-powered handheld owners so it was a logical next step to enable handheld owners to use their devices at the gym.”

NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK

Two companies were making their debut — of sorts — at Club Industry 2002.

Pulse Fitness debuted its F series of cardiovascular equipment. The “F-Range” as the company calls it consists of five pieces: stepper, upright cycle, recumbent cycle, treadmill and elliptical trainer. Highlighting the line is the Ascent treadmill, which features double emergency stop systems, speed increments of 0.1 mph and an incline to 15 percent.

Vision Fitness also had its new line of cardiovascular equipment geared for the light commercial market, showing for the first time at Club Industry 2002. The line included a treadmill upright bike, recumbent bike and a self-generating elliptical machine. All are compatible with the company's iNetTV, a 12.1-inch active matrix flat screen. The screen is cable-ready and comes with integrated hook-ups for VCR, DVD video games and compute, allowing a more personalized entertainment experience for members.

HOT TECHNOLOGY

While dot.com and other technology was not in over abundance at the show this year, perhaps mimicking the downturn seen in the dot-bomb era, there were some innovations such as the aforementioned Star Trac technology and Vision's iNetTV.

ASF International launched its new interactive marketing programs, which combine proven fitness marketing campaigns and the latest in technology, according to the company. Most programs are tracked electronically and campaign analysis is available via the online ASF client business center.

But perhaps the biggest technology buzz was for the Visual Fitness Planner Sales Pro (VFP). Receiving mention by Michael Scott Scudder during the free panel discussion focusing on innovations that will impact the industry, the VFP booth was heavily trafficked, according to company officials.

The VFP is a software program using a 3-dimensional model to visually demonstrate a body's potential for change. The potential for facility owners and operators, according to the company are to utilize the VSP as a retention tool, a sales tool and in the community as a marketing tool.

There are more products than we can recap here from new flavors of Dr. Smoothee to Heart Set on Fitness' new sales and retention program to Stott Pilates' stackable reformers and innovative handles from Multi-Grip and much, much more. Those who attended the show were able to see these and others first hand. Those who couldn't, now have an idea of what they missed and what they can hope for more of at next year's shopping spree.