Editor's note: Gregory Florez is CEO of FitAdvisor, which provides fitness training and coaching to companies and individuals as well as product and technology reviews for consumers and the fitness industry. He is also our Focus On Technology columnist.
Innovation can be painful and often times unsuccessful. Fitness industry warehouses and health club storerooms are littered with the carcasses of innovative products that never lived up to their promises. Early versions of technologically sophisticated products were created in labs but didn't capture the zeitgeist of the real world. In essence the romance of technology overshadowed function.
The paradox of innovation is that companies cannot produce great new products without taking the risk of innovating. And many innovative products go through several versions before a company “gets it right.”
Some products, however, rise above the rest. Every year we look at some of the hottest products in the fitness industry. This year's hot products are all about innovation. The products range from traditional hardline pieces to portable training aids. Some of them have been proven but now include added innovations that make them more valuable to exercisers. Others are unproven products that bring something fresh to an industry in dire need of innovation.
Here, then, are some of the best recent innovations that we expect to make a difference for your members in 2006.
Ab Crunch Bench (by Life Fitness)
An innovative core training offering, the Life Fitness Ab Crunch Bench delivers a unique workout. The product uses a patent-pending AbCam™ System that enables users to maintain a smooth and natural crunch motion for effective, efficient workouts.
The biomechanics of the AbCam™ System offer a natural exercise that is ergonomically designed to maximize ab contraction and minimize hip flexion. The integrated weight horn allows users to add resistance for a more challenging workout without time-consuming changes. The ergonomically angled pads and foot pegs provide comfort and stabilization for a variety of users. E3 Integrated LCD™ System with Touch Screen Technology, an integrated touch screen LCD console (powered by an Intel microprocessor), is standard on all Life Fitness “E” models. This all-in-one system combines advanced exercise program control with premium personal entertainment and education.
My Take: The industry abounds with abdominal machines that don't work. This one does. The combination of thoughtful and proper biomechanics and technology make this easy-to-use product a winner.
Advanced Vibration Technology (by Power Plate)
Advanced Vibration Technology© exploits the body's innate reflexive response to disruptions in stability to stimulate enhanced muscle strength and performance. The Power Plate produces a vibration through which energy is transferred to the body. This mechanical stimulus produces a stretch reflex, which — depending on the frequency — results in rapid and intense muscle contractions 30 to 50 times per second. Vibration training on the Power Plate can improve muscle strength, flexibility, range of motion and bone density and can stimulate blood circulation, according to the company.
The principle goes like this: Just as the leg kicks forward involuntarily when the doctor strikes the lower knee to test reflexes, the body's muscles engage in an involuntary reflexive contraction in response to vibration's disruption in stability. The body's reaction to this mechanical stimulus is all natural and occurs involuntarily at the neural level.
The Power Plate claims to be a resistance machine providing an outcome similar to, and even more beneficial than, working out with free weights or weight-bearing equipment. The company claims that its product can achieve these results through super compensation of the muscular system.
My Take: Many in our industry are still skeptical about this technology, and it is indeed quite new. We've had several personal trainers and exercisers use it repeatedly and almost all have agreed that they benefited from the programs. They said it was quite different than traditional strength training, but that they did feel muscular fatigue following a session. It is a promising technology for a variety of users who are time squeezed or have physical limitations.
Kinesis™ (by Technogym)
This year, Technogym introduced Kinesis™, a system that uses cable devices to allow free and natural movement. The system comes in four modules — Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta — to allow a complete workout of the whole body using two patent-pending systems — Full Gravity and 3D Pulley System.
Full Gravity technology controls resistance, which varies depending on individual movements. The 3D Pulley System consists of sliding chains that enable movement over three levels and ensure minimal user effort. The equipment allows 360-degree movement — rectilinear, diagonal and circular actions — without cable interference with any part of the body. Each cable is hooked to an adjustable strap and the straps are positioned to enable the wrist to move freely. Each cable is independent, therefore a single weight pack, which is adjusted according to the user, will allow several people to train on the same module at the same time.
My Take: Cable equipment allowing free and full range of movement is not new. Technogym raises the bar considerably with better ergonomics and the ability of their equipment to provide each exercise with three levels of movement in addition to several other features that make sense to users.
Trazer (by Cybex)
With the Trazer, exercisers enter a virtual world to get fit. The Trazer uses reaction-based stimulus so users can interact in real-time with what's happening on screen. It couples visual and auditory cues with immediate biofeedback, which allows for measurement of movement skills and improves muscle and mental agility. While it may seem to be a product for the young only, the Trazer has also been used with older adults to improve balance and stability. In fact, the product won an award this year from the International Council on Active Aging for Innovative New Equipment for active older adults. The Trazer comes with a variety of programs for motor learning from beginners to athletes.
My Take: Hand-eye coordination and agility exercises have been used for decades by professional and amateur athletes. Several companies have created similar products over the years that work at some level but are clunky and price prohibitive. The Trazer is sleeker and more user-friendly with a higher variety of skill-building programs than other products. The Trazer is a must-have for any gym that wants to cater to the athletically inclined individual.
Syncro Float (by Pearl Izumi)
The Syncro Float was selected by Runners World as the “best debut” for 2005 and has been the shoe that has made Pearl Izumi a player in the running world. Pearl Izumi followed up this shoe with other shoes that were based on the syncroFrame technology, including the Syncro Guide (which is a stability and motion control shoe that launched this fall) and Syncro Pace.
My Take: This shoe has a well-fitting, seamless configuration that feels like it truly forms to the user's foot. The shoe also acts like it is made for high performance without sacrificing stability and comfort. Although fairly new to the running shoe category, Pearl Izumi has worked well with runners of all levels to create a product that feels like they've been in the game for decades. We also liked the shoe for elliptical training and exercises in addition to running.
EFX®576i Elliptical Crosstrainer™ (by Precor)
The self-powered EFX®576i Elliptical Crosstrainer™ combines total-body exercise and the varied stride motion of Precor's patented CrossRamp®, which enlists different muscle groups and creates a varied stride motion as the ramp angle changes from 13 degrees to 40 degrees. An ergonomic handlebar design provides users with a range of hand positions as the stride and ramp angle change. The keypad technology responds to the slightest touch, and SmartRate® monitoring establishes a user's optimum target training zones.
My Take: Precor invented the elliptical category, and its new CrossRamp technology creates another breakthrough in this category. CrossRamp makes users of any size feel that the “stride” of the machine fits them perfectly, while working a variety of muscle groups and decreasing the chance of overuse injuries.
Commercial TreadClimber (by Nautilus)
The best way to describe this machine is that it looks like two mini-treadmills hooked together to create one platform and one exercise machine. Each “treadle” works independently, allowing a user to work different muscle groups and use balance techniques to walk on the machine. The company claims that the new Nautilus® TreadClimber® cardio machine provides a runner's workout at a walker's pace. Its design combines low-impact walking with gradual hill climbing providing the user with the intensity results of running. The TreadClimber has a short learning curve for new users. The user's footsteps are absorbed by the falling treadles. Exercisers don't feel the impact that they would while running or even walking on a treadmill.
My Take: This company has created a completely new product that feels totally unique. The TreadClimber provides an excellent workout while training new muscle groups and involving balance and stability training in a cardiovascular workout. The product is also gentle on joints such as ankles, hips and knees.
F11 HR Monitor (by Polar)
Polar touts the F11 as an exerciser's dream come true. It's an unique heart rate monitor that creates a workout program to tell a user how much, how hard and how long to exercise to reach his/her goals. The new Keeps U Fit Workout Program guides a user to his or her personal goals. OwnIndex® will determine their fitness level, track improvements and provide motivation. The OwnCal® feature counts the calories and fat that are burned and the OwnZone® feature will determine each day's target zone. The F11 also features the WearLink™ Coded transmitter made from a soft fabric material. The electrodes, which pick up the heart signals, are integrated into the strap for added flexibility and comfort. The Coded feature eliminates interference from other heart rate monitors.
My Take: This is the most customizable wrist top device we've used. More importantly, it provides several user measurements that help with the most important element of success — motivation.
bodybugg™ (by APEX)
APEX bodybugg™ is an intelligent calorie monitoring system. The Bodybugg™ arm band and the Bodybugg™ Web interface work together to tell you exactly how many calories you've burned and consumed every day, putting users in control of their weight loss goals. The bodybugg™ device gives users 92 percent accuracy when measuring true calories burned.
My Take: Devices such as these are the future. This company has driven a huge stake in the ground with a wearable device that uses new technology to measure calories. Look for them to dramatically expand the capabilities of this innovative product line in the coming years.
Rotational Flexor™ (by Spri Products)
The Rotational Flexor™, made for sports conditioning and sports rehabilitation, enhances stability and adds difficulty to multidirectional rotational elements. Spri claims that by adding rotation to flexion movements, the product will isolate sport-specific muscle groups to improve strength, stability and performance.
My Take: This is a highly portable and customizable product in a category that has many similar products that address the basics but do not provide both rotation with the capability to execute an infinite number of exercises. It accommodates for different user sizes and fitness levels.
Dance Exercise Revolution™ (by BroadcastVision)
This maker of broadcast and entertainment-based media for health clubs now offers Dance Exercise Revolution™ (DXR) to fitness facilities. Dance Exercise Revolution™ is an industrial strength, hardware package for the popular consumer video dance game, Dance Dance Revolution™ created by Konami Corp. Scrolling onscreen arrows show exercisers where to place their feet on the corresponding Cobalt Flux dance platform. The unit comes with an industrial strength platform and controller, game software and speaker system and is available with practice pads.
My Take: Despite many attempts, most people still consider exercise to be boring and laborious. Adding the components of games (DDR on its own is a huge success with children and teens) might motivate a large number of individuals who are sporadic exercisers to actually enjoy working out and perhaps even do it more often.
Fitness Measuring System (by BioMeasure)
The BioMeasure Fitness Measuring System is a free-standing device that measures height through an ultrasonic device, weight through a self calibrating scale and body fat percentage through bioelectric impedance analysis. The system programming also incorporates instant calculation of body mass index. The user is then provided a customizable receipt detailing their personal health reading and suggested healthy weight and body fat ranges. Features include automatic self-calibrating system, LCD data display screen with interactive guide and an integrated loudspeaker with audible voice prompts. Printed tickets show date, time, weight, height and body fat and also can be customized using a facility's logo, coupons, ads or promotions.
My Take: Weight, and body fat measurement devices abound. The BioMeasure system provides a new twist on body fat and BMI reporting and gives the user an easy-to-understand “take away” that can be used continually and reliably to measure as they become more fit.
The Core Super Stretch (by Med-X)
Flexibility is one of the keys to spinal health and injury prevention. The Core Super Stretch is easy to use, and its impact is felt immediately. The patented technology places the body into bio-mechanically advantageous positions for effective stretching. The hanging stretch, in particular, facilitates spinal decompression. The company also offers programs for strength and stability, which it says the Core Super Stretch can be used to enhance.
My Take: It is easy to see this product as a core piece of equipment on a club's strength floor. The easy-to-follow stretch program enhances movement around the knee, hip, spine, shoulder, elbow and wrist in addition to stretching. A word of caution: this machine requires new users to have the guidance of a certified fitness professional.
RST7000 Total Body Recumbent Stepper (by SciFit)
A variety of users will find it easy to step in and out of this new product. One-touch start and contact heart rate simplifies the exercise and monitoring of the workout. The machine also can be set for both upper and lower body workouts. Additional features include a dependent stepping motion and wheelchair access.
My Take: With the combination of both a seated position and an independent stepping motion, the user benefits from a safe and comfortable exercise modality that also feels unlike anything else on the market. We loved the ease of getting on and off of the machine.
Some additional products to check out on the Web:
5E571 (by Timex)
5E571 Ironman Triathlon Bodylink Performance Monitor, Digital Heart Rate Sensor and the Speed + Distance Sensor is smaller and lighter than the original and provides 13 hours of use with one AA battery.
My Take: Combines everything an indoor and outdoor expert could ever want in one wearable product.
n6HR (by Suunto)
Suunto n6HR is a smart sports watch with heart rate monitor, Suunto n6HR Training Manager PC software and MSN Direct service for the physically and socially active.
My Take: This company is the first to provide a sports watch with Internet access. They have a variety of activity-specific wrist top computers that deliver on their promises. Their huge displays are great for aging Boomer eyes and those exercising outdoors or in poor light.
Wellness System (by Technogym)
The Wellness System allows members to view their progress by inserting the TGS Key in the exercise machine, which then automatically sets the machine for the member — adjusting distance, speed and workload. As members use equipment, their workouts are recorded in the Wellness System.
My Take: This technology is cutting edge and will ultimately make everything seamless from checking in at the front desk to getting workout updates (in real time) based on performance.
FitLinxx (by FitLinxx)
FitLinxx is a computerized system that attaches directly to existing fitness equipment, adding an extraordinary “intelligent” dimension to the workout experience for the first time. FitLinxx learns users' programs, coaches them individually through their workout for better form, safety and confidence during every exercise and tracks their progress over time.
My Take: FitLinxx took a huge leap of faith on its technology several years ahead of the curve. The product now has more relevance than ever. It is definitely worth giving these guys another look.
Xtrainer (by SportsArt Fitness)
The XTrainer is a total body workout machine combining independent lower and upper body resistance. The display features advanced programmability, heart rate control and CardioAdvisor™.
My Take: Getting true upper and lower body resistance as separate entities on cardiovascular equipment has been substandard by most companies. Sports Art gets it right with this product, which also has great adjustability with its upper and lower body attachments. The product is simple to use, and it is easy to get in and out of the machine.
Pro3500/Pro3500XL Elliptical trainer (by Octane Fitness)
The Pro 3500/XL is a safe, quiet, forward-thinking elliptical trainer with a design that encloses all moving parts in the front. Ergonomically designed handlebars ensure correct posture and full range of motion. Low pivot point on moving handlebars creates a more natural movement and transfers more load to the upper body and core. HeartLogic Intelligence (v.2.0) electronics with digital contact heart rate sensors, X-Mode+ and GluteKicker are included. Twenty-five resistance levels are available to meet the needs of all exercisers.
My Take: Octane Fitness was started by industry veterans who have launched some of the best commercial products over the years. Their elliptical series includes an extremely fluid motion, excellent display, small footprintand a model to fit large users.