Ispo 2011: Fitness hall changes over years, big players mix with a ‘bazaar’ quality

Maturing over the years, the fitness show that is part of the ispo trade event in Germany seemed to go a step backward, although the few big players are fighting a good battle over the non-North American audiences. SNEWS visited the show and found a few interesting products and trends.

Ispo is a show – perhaps the only one globally these days – that manages to successfully mix all sport segments, from trendy board sports to intense outdoor to high fashion. It seems to work because the various types are separated into different halls. That allows each to maintain its own flavor, feeling and culture, which are evident as you move literally from one world to another between halls.

One of the quietest of the halls is the fitness area at the Munich-based show. Certainly in the decade that SNEWS® has been attending ispo, the fitness hall has changed for the better in tandem with the market and its growing maturity outside of North America. No more fat-jiggling belts touted as exercise, thank goodness. Still, the segment – even at this year’s Feb. 6-9 show — is a less energetic and passionate one than the other segements.

Kettler, the dominant player without question in Germany, sets up its walled fortress of a booth in the farthest back corner, as if to say, we don’t need you unless you really search for us. The licensee for Reebok Fitness outside of North America has a booth next door in tandem with its new license for Adidas “Training” gear, a.k.a. fitness accessories. Johnson Health Tech with its Horizon and Vision brands slid over the years from a mid-hall position to the front with its open, sweeping booth. Reebok and Johnson are left to haggle over the remaining small percent not dominated by Kettler in Germanic countries, with each saying its brand is No. 2. OK, so somebody is No. 3 but nobody wants to admit it. In between come the rest – from accessories to equipment from the likes of Finnlo or Tunturi to an odd mix of Asian manufacturers with rows of look-alike ergometer bikes and ellipticals.

There is a professional feeling for sure when you are in the booths of the big players but in between there is a bazaar-like quality that you just don’t see elsewhere in the convention center. And the rather cheesy mix between the serious players seemed wider-spread this year than in the past few years. (Click here to see our 2010 story about the market’s maturation.) We were in fact accosted in the aisle this year by a manufacturer’s rep who barely spoke English shoving materials into our hands about its Chinese goods, and we saw others who experienced the same. Am I in Tijuana asking to barter?

Of course, just like in the United States, the fitness industry at retail in Europe was whacked harder than some other sport segments during the last few years of economic doldrums. And also, like in North America, the fitness industry is just starting to feel a tiny comeback. Emphasis on “starting.” According to a survey by Germany’s SAZ trade newsletter covering the second half of the year – therefore also December which should represent decent sales – 43 percent of retailers reported their sales of fitness equipment were only average, which was the same for the year-ago period. However the difference between 2010 and 2009 was that for 2010 a third of responding retailers (33 percent) said their sales were either poor or very poor (compared to 23 percent in 2009). And just under a quarter (24 percent) said their sales were either good or very good, compared to more than a third (34 percent) a year ago.

The halls seemed quieter than in the past although Ulfert Boehme, managing director of Johnson Health Tech Germany, commented that traffic was pretty good the first couple of days. Of course, without evening parties, rocking music and trendy cafes, the fitness hall never quite has the life that the others do.

Despite the “bazaar” atmosphere, if you sorted through the booths, you did actually find a few interesting, new products. SNEWS took a look at the highlights for you (we have translated Euro prices given us into USD for your comparison using a current currency exchange rate, but those prices are not necessarily what the product would sell for if it were available in the United States):

(For a few other fitness products that caught our eye at ispo in the BrandNew award area, click here to read a Feb. 14, 2011, story.)

The Bio Force Sport is a home gym by German manufacturer Finnlo that resembles the Bowflex, although the resistance comes from air pressure, specifically nitrogen oxide we were told by the studly guy who spent all four show days demo’ing the product. Advantages are its silent function, as well as a relatively small footprint and lighter weight. The newest version adds a leg press attachment. It comes with the ability to select from 5 pounds to 125 pounds and allows for low, middle or high handles for all exercises. A non-North American company, FInnlo retails the basic piece for about Euro 1,100 (USD $1,500), with the leg press for about Euro 1,500 (USD $2,000).

Still a front-row player, Johnson Health Tech with its Horizon and Vision brands had a new elliptical trainer with a front drive (In Europe, pieces with front drives are called “ellipticals,” while those with rear drives are called “cross-trainers.”) The difference in the Andes 8, however, was in its one-touch folding system called “EasyFold,” patented in Asia and North America. Forgot clunky systems that require you to unhook something, fold up the bottom and rehook something; this requires one click and a lift with one finger, while releasing it engages hydraulics so you don’t have use muscle powera. Although bikes with their small footprint still claim top rung in sales in Europe, ellipticals (and cross-trainers) have been gaining ground, Boehme said. We wouldn’t be surprised to see this folding system in North America.


On the same note, SNEWS was able to get a preview of Kettler equipment coming this year, which will include some of its own front-drive ellipticals. U.S. general manager Jim Hodge said there are three in the line, with varying levels of programming and ability to fold up. USD retail is still to be established.

For fun, we stopped to look at the Life Balance Station, a rather complicated and pricey desk with a hydraulic lift to adjust height and a recumbent elliptical so you an pedal while you work. According to the developer’s calculations, you can expend an additional 4,000 calories a week using it for six or seven hours a day. We are talking slow pedaling (30 rpm, not aerobic and so slow you hardly realize you’re pedaling). At USD $8,500 MSRP, you need to be motivated but it’s a high-end piece with a quality elliptical. Watch a video here.


Stuck against the very back wall, near the Kettler booth, was newbie to the non-North American market, Kettleworx, which was fishing for distributors for its adjustable bells –- a workout that is still in its infancy there. Spokeswoman Heather Clark told us the company had interest from a number of countries, including Turkey and Czechoslovakia. So far the company, based in Chaska, Minn., has only been selling its equipment and training programs in North America and the United Kingdom, she said.

Reebok Fitness had three new products that were the most innovative in the hall – and perhaps the most interesting SNEWS has seen in awhile. First, there were two accessory pieces, shown us by CEO Mike Edwards, licensee for Reebok Fitness globally except in North America. The StepTone is playing off Reebok’s success with its EasyTone shoes that allegedly tone a user’s legs due to slight instability caused by air moving back and forth in the sole of the shoe. It is like a step platform but the two “legs” are pods with air. You can use it like a step with added instability or you can turn it over to stand on the two air-filled legs. You can also turn a valve that allows the air to flow back and forth between the two or keep it stable in one (Euro about 100-130, USD $135-170). The CorePod (Euro 39-49, USD $53-67) is like a balance trainer too but so much more – a user to use his or her feet or hands on it. The board has an embedded inflatable ball for added instability at various levels.

Then there is the CardioCore Trainer from Reebok Fitness (Euro 1,200), which is a bit like a rear-drive elliptical but with handlebars that twist side-to-side instead of just pulling and pushing forward and backward. Sounds a little odd, for sure, but on a short test ride, it seemed comfortable and natural. In the United States, it is called the Captiva and is distributed by Yowza Fitness for manufacturer Greenmaster. Click here to see a YouTube video.

Adidas Training is a new line also run by Edwards, above, which focuses on the more serious, more performance-oriented and on a perhaps male user with a variety of strength and training gear. Included is an adjustable kettlebell that uses the same plates you’d use on equipment.

Last but not least, the CrossShaper, which we’re not sure counts as a highlight but may be worth a giggle: The folks pushing it were pretty amped up… The CrossShaper ( plays off the “Nordic walking” trend SNEWS has covered thoroughly in the past (similar to fitness walking but with poles). These were a cross between ski poles and crutches – with little wheels. Stop giggling. They also had elastic resistance between the handgrips and the pole. OK, you can giggle now. Man, hard enough for folks to have the courage to walk around with poles in their hands, let alone with metal poles that like look crutches with wheels. It was invented by orthopedic surgeons, so maybe that’s why it is what it is.

–Therese Iknoian