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Home gyms aim to satisfy today's consumer seeking multifunctional products

Consumers want a single product that does more than one thing, think cell phones that do everything but the dishes. Same applies to strength-training equipment. Some manufacturers have responded to the trend with machines that offer the ability to do a variety of workouts with fixed arms, cables and pulleys, and stretch and body resistance stations - all-in-one. SNEWS® talked to a few brands that have hopped on the trend already, and we bet there are more to come.

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Their phones double as cameras, their TVs can surf the web, and for some reason, consumers also just keep buying those horrible printer/fax/scanner combinations.

The trend of multifunctionability is no stranger to the home and commercial gym market either. More and more, consumers expect their workout equipment will serve many functions, and strength equipment manufacturers have responded with machines that offer the ability to do a variety of workouts. Yes, a compact home gym is not necessarily just a home gym, but it can offer fixed arms, cables pulleys, stretch stations and body resistance workouts, all in one piece. SNEWS® talked to a few brands which have hopped on the trend already, including Vectra, BodyCraft, Cybex and TuffStuff.

“Since home gyms came out, that’s been the whole idea – people don’t want a room full of machines, they want one that can do it all,” said Mike Miller, of Colorado Home Fitness. “And in the past few years, they’ve really gravitated toward the functional trainers.”

Demanding more after nearly two decades

Functional trainers sprung up in the mid-1990s, shifting workouts from simply pushing and pulling weights in different directions with fixed arms and along pre-defined paths to cables that a user could use to pull weight however and wherever he or she wanted.

At Washington-based Vectra Fitness, functional trainers have been a significant portion of the company’s business, said Buell Ish, vice president and co-owner. But then the company began to notice something. Ish said he also saw consumers catching on to resistance training using their own suspended body weight– think TRX suspension trainers.

Then came the “ah-ha” moment for him: Ish said he realized that Vectra’s functional trainers could easily double as suspension trainers with more stability than simple cables. The company found a way to allow users to lock out the cables and use the handles or bar attached to anchor points for a stable and balanced body-weighted resistance workout.

Vectra branded the option as “Body ResiStability,” which is now available on three of its newer functional gym models – the VX-FT single stack, the VX-FT double stack and the VFT-100 – at no extra cost. The products vary in weight stacks options, but the most common 260-pound VX-FT1 retails for $4,100, the VX-FT2 with two 260-pound stacks retails for $4,995 and the 210-pound VFT-100 goes for $3,699.

“Body ResiStability fits right into functional training,” Ish said. “It has similar appeal because of the core training aspects and user-defined motion. It’s certainly catching on, and it’s turning out to be an easy sell to our customers. They are essentially getting another machine for free.”

Mr. Smith, meet Mr. Jones

Despite the growing popularity of functional trainers, some consumers still crave the benefits of traditional free-weight training, said Alan Gore, co-owner of Ohio-based BodyCraft.

“We don’t think functional is the be-all and end-all of training… eventually you need that free-weight aspect,” he said

And while the some Smith machines attempt to combine traditional and functional training disciplines, they remain big and bulky and constrained in movements, he said. So BodyCraft explored another take on the Smith it called the “Jones,” which allows users to move the bar vertically and horizontally on a track with bar hooks and safety spotters that follow for movement freedom.

Eyeing the consumer all-in-one trend, BodyCraft brought out an addition: the new Jones Platinum. It adds another free-weight movement since the bar can “tilt” left and right as if a user were lifting a barbell. The bar also can be locked into place along with the tracks – offering body resistance training. The $3,300 Jones Platinum base unit can then be combined with the $2,800 full-body-training attachment to offer a full array of functional training and stretching stations too.

Standing out

One objective with multifunctional trainers and gyms is to have the products stand out among the competition, company officials said.

“We’re creating a machine with a story that will distinguish the product for us and our retailers,” said Bill Miller, North American region sales manager at Vectra. “It adds lure and luster to a distributor’s business…. Customers can’t go next door and find 10 other brands just like it. They’re going to have to shop at that retailer to get a unique product.”

Colorado Home Fitness’ Mike Miller said there is a “wow factor” that consumers experience when they see a machine that can do it all.

“They have an idea what they want… but when they see something like a Jones (Platinum), they say ‘OK, this is all I’m going to need,’” he said.

Looks also matter – a unique look tells the customer that this product is different.

“It looks sleek, and that peaks interest right away,” Miller said of the Jones Platinum. The slimmer look, which BodyCraft achieved by removing the top track, purposely distinguishes it from the big cage-like Smith machines, Gore said.

Infinite workouts

Another key aspect to marketing the multifunctional home gym is to project the image of infinite workouts on a single machine.

Ish said Vectra’s body resistance training ability allows users to easily adjust the vertical height of the handles, therefore increasing or decreasing the amount of gravity they’re working against.

“They can perform a seemingly endless variety of pushing and pulling exercises using their own body weight and vary the resistance by selecting the angle for the exercise,” Ish said.

“You won’t be doing the same five or six exercises over and over,” Vectra’s Bill Miller said. “You can change things, even by a small amount, to keep the body adaptable.”

But where specialty retailers fit in to the equation is making sure the consumer is education about what the equipment can do.

“The traditional products are more self explanatory,” Vectra’s Miller said. “Sit here, lift here. On these functional trainers, it’s not so clear. It does require some education.”

At BodyCraft, Gore said the company is working on a thick manual and comprehensive exercise guide for the Jones Platinum. With a multifunctional machine, he said, there are “all sorts of new ways for exercises, depending on what you want to strengthen” – or stretch.

But there’s more

Both Cybex and TuffStuff have equipment that offers similar multifunction – the Cybex Bravo, which was re-introduced in 2009 and the TuffStuff CXT-100.

What’s coming? Just wait … the 2011 shows are around the corner.

–David Clucas