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Health & Fitness Business ’11: Suspension, function, balance and adjustability coming to strength equipment

Suspension and body weight training continue to find their way onto more new strength equipment that debuted at the Health & Fitness Business Expo in September. SNEWS also finds balance training and adjustable weights creeping into the strength category more and more. Get a look at a few highlights here.

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The booths of the Health & Fitness Business show again showed off the newest trends in home gyms and strength-training accessories. SNEWS took a look around the floor, tried out the gear, and talked to manufacturers. Without product launches around every corner, the hottest trend was simply providing consumers with one thing:

“Convenience,” said Jay Vollmer, marketing director for PowerBlock, a company that displayed its line of adjustable dumbbells at the show as well as its newest 175-pound addition.

Exhibitors at the Sept. 14-16, 2011, show in Las Vegas made clear they want to provide that convenience – making home gyms smaller, and more dumbbells and kettlebells adjustable, and combining balance- and stability-training tools into gyms.

“Your life emanates from your core,” said Aaron Huber, inventor of the BallBikePro, a recumbent bike with a stability ball as a seat about the popularity of balance-training tools integrated into fitness equipment (more on this product in our coming story on cardio trends)

SNEWS took a look around at a few of this year’s show highlights and trends:

Suspension, functional trainers show no signs of decreased popularity

The success of functional strength training, either through body weight or suspension exercises, continues to drive a shift in the strength category, many manufacturers told us. 

BodyCraft showed a prototype of its Power Tower, which co-owner Alan Gore, said is the answer for those who want to shift toward functional training at a lower cost, yet retain the safety and a bit more intuitiveness of a solid piece of equipment. Power Towers, which are expected to hit the market in late 2011 with a price of around $800, allow space for stability ball use also, in keeping with the trend.

Strength-training power towers may not be new, but the BodyCraft model does have some innovations to increase variability of workouts on the equipment – including hanging ab straps, middle dip bars, and swivels that can also be used to increase or decrease the width and height angle of the bars for vertical pushing and pulling exercises. The top chin-up handles, while fixed, are angled vertically and horizontally to allow for similar variation in resistance angles. The same goes for the bottom push-up bars.

Vectra showed off its revamped compact, light commercial Body ResiStability and Stretching Trainer, or BRT (MSRP $1,200, photo right), which has two arms that can move independently with adjustments as easy as a push of one fingertip.

Vectra Sales manager Rob Schade told SNEWS the arms work in a way that allows the user to leverage more of his or her body weight. The newer product also includes a space for a tablet able to show an instructional video.

Smaller, more versatile home gyms

Though TuffStuff’s Six-Pak isn’t new, vice president sales of and marketing Pete Asistin, said the product (MSRP $3,999, subject to change) was revamped for HFB. One of the biggest changes is the elimination of the bench, which will allow the user to put in his or her own bench and use the six pulleys while in a standing position as well.

“Nowadays people can put a (stability) ball,” Asistin told us at the show. Or, he said, users could put a vibration plate of their choice. The support legs for the home gym are also at an angle, making it wheelchair accessible. “This is huge,” Asistin added. “Nobody thinks about the paraplegic.”

Balance and stability training also made their way onto Vicore’s new fitness bench. Previously reported on by SNEWS, the concept is simple: engage more of your core muscles by using these benches filled with air while lifting weights. Vicore offers three models: the Core Bench (MSRP $459), Extreme Core Ab (MSRP $489, photo, above left), and the Core Chair (MSRP $179).

Eurosport Fitness debuted its light commercial Modular System R4, which includes a central unit (MSRP $995, photo right) with four optional stations, including the bench press, leg press, leg extension and curl module and cable column (each MSRP $500). For the bench press module, each arm is able to move alone, though they can be used together and are converging for a more natural motion.

The company’s president Jerry Jiricny said the individually moving arms were a new feature for the company and the slimmed down gym, Jiricny, said is smaller than its previous units, with a cumulative footprint of all its possible modules of 10 by 10 feet.

Natural strength

Among the sea of iron, steel and plastic equipment were wooden natural-looking gems – a few home gyms from Puredesign Fitness (a division of WaterRower) made of wood and powered by water (Waterworkx, MSRP $2,995-$3,395) or weights (Weightworkx, MSRP $2,395-$2,795, photo left); and its wooden Wallbars (MSRP $310-500 for 10 bars, $349-549 for 14 bars).

David Jones, who does sales and marketing for Puredesign, said the gyms are for the consumer who wants a good-looking yet functional piece that doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb in a living space.

“It looks good, it sounds good, and when I store it away it looks like another aspect in the home rather than just a fitness product I have that’s kind of shoved off in the corner,” Jones said.

Puredesign also debuted the Swingbell weights (MSRP $59-$89 for single weights, MSRP $118-$179 for pair), which are stored on stakes drilled into a wooden container (MSRP $175-$655, photo right) that includes several laminated pages of workouts stored in the top.

Adjust it your way

Home gyms – whether they fit into the décor or not – are not always affordable for a customer, but not to worry, the HFB show floor was full of adjustable hand weights, which can be a great starter piece and more affordable too.

Adjustable dumbbells and kettlebells were all the rage at HFB by the likes of Cap, Prism, Stamina, PowerBlock, StairMaster and RocketLok, among others.

Originally shown as a prototype at the IHRSA show, the new Twistlock dumbbells by StairMaster (MSRP $599 for weights, MSRP $179 for stand) offer one-handed use. A user simply grabs the handle and twists it to the desired weight — anywhere from 5 to 50 pounds, as displayed in a little window on the handle. That locks in the plates needed for that weight, and the user can lift it up just like a dumbbell. One plus is that it then is shorter and smaller for less weight.

“Specialty fitness guys love new innovative things,” said Ken Kruebbe, director of retail sales and product management for StairMaster. The Twistlock Dumbbells (photo, left) are “easy to use and, Kruebbe said, many even called them “sexy”.

At PowerBlock, which premiered two heavier versions of its adjustable weight block (XXXL 125 and XXXL 175) at the IHRSA show in March 2011, Vollmer said adjustable weights are one way to save the consumer space.

“What the Powerblock does in short is it allows a person at home to have racks and racks of dumbbells at home just like at the gym,” Powerblock’s Vollmer said. “Only it takes up the space of one pair and it doesn’t cost thousands of dollars.”

Prism Fitness Group featured its Sportbell brand of patented, adjustable-weight dumbbells (MSRP $149, photo right), with a so-called turbo-lock design, which allows the user to simply twist on or off the square-shaped weight plates onto a handle. The brightly colored weights change in half-pound increments, unlike the others, many of which use five-pound increments. The weight range is a half-pound to 10 pounds per dumbbell, with the company noting it is working on two-pound plates for a 20-pound dumbbell.


More and more kettlebells are joining the adjustability bandwagon. RocketLok, which SNEWS called “sexy” a year ago, now has an adjustable kettlebell that retains the kettlebell shape, said company owner David Kemble. The kettlebell comes with a base and a handle that has space inside for cylindrical, weighted sleeves that fit inside one another (see photo, left). A user can add or subtract as needed. The company offers two sizes, the large (MSRP $199) and the small (MSRP $113).

Ana Trujillo and David Clucas