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Strong and smart: New strength products are easier to use, but just as effective

Strength equipment featured at this year’s IHRSA was more user-friendly and in some cases, quite innovative and portable. SNEWS was taken with a new company called Fistbells, which makes dumbbells worn on the hand with a flattened outer surface.

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Strength equipment featured at IHRSA 2012 was more user-friendly than in years past, and, in some cases, remarkably innovative and portable.

While suspension training is all the rage (more on that in Monday’s SNEWS), some companies are staying true to the big machines that remain common and popular in health clubs and gyms. Matrix brought its new Versa line, TuffStuff Fitness debuted its X-lIft Cross Trainer Rack and Multifunctional Trainer and Precor introduced its strength line with easier-to-read, nonintimidating instructions.

But the real star of the show was a little company called Fistbells, whose product is exactly what it sounds like – dumbbells put on the fists that can be used in multiple ways.

SNEWS was intrigued by Fistbells (photo, right) from the moment we passed the Fistbell booth tucked away along the very back wall of the trade show floor. 

Fistbell inventor Fernando Gomez has been developing the product for two years.

“I invented it because I had been designing a workout routine to strengthen my shoulders,” Gomez said. Just by holding the product, which is vinyl-coated cast iron with a wrist protective pad on the inside to shield knuckles, users get a bit of a workout. It’s versatile, too, as it has a flat surface on which users can do push-ups, similar to those that can be done on the Perfect Push-Up. The product comes in 6-, 8-, 10- and 12-pound sets.

While Sandbags from Alpha Strong have been around for a while, the newest products are double-lined for increased protection against damage. As the Sandbell models and trainers threw those bags all day, every day at IHRSA, we noticed they didn’t break. The newer sandbags come in 30-, 80- and 90- pound bags.

And we mustn’t neglect Les Mills’ Smartbar (photo, left), a weight bar featuring teeth at its ends so weights (which have a bar through the middle, instead of a hole) can be slipped in and locked in for an easy-to-use weight.

Cybex has had its Bravo strength line for many years, but the product, which Paul Juris, executive director of the Cybex Research Institute described as a Swiss Army Knife, has been broken up into separate, individual pieces for next season. Now, there are three separate products — a pulling station, a press station and a lift station (MSRPs $7,595) — where there was once one.

Matrix brought its VERSA line to IHRSA (photo, right), which representatives from the company said is an innovative system because it matches the body’s natural movements, making the workout comfortable for consumers. There are 14 new products in the Versa line.

“With Versa, it’s all about providing versatility to commercial facilities and the user experience,” said Mark Zabel, Vice President of Global Marketing for Johnson Health Tech, the parent company of Matrix Fitness, in a news release. “Versa gives you the flexibility to design a system around your individual needs. In addition, it allows you to create an environment that’s attractive, inviting and motivating for end users.”

TuffStuff brought its new MFT-2700 Multi-Functional Trainer (MSRP $3,799), which has a compact and space-efficient design, two 200-pound weight stacks, a wide base frame area that can easily fit a wheelchair, stability ball or other equipment and hydraulically supported arms for easy and safe vertical adjustments. 

The company also brought its X-Lift Cross Triner Rack (MSRP $1,499, photo, left), which combines various equipment options with space for storage of kettlebells, dumbbells or other strength equipment. The unit features a double chin bar that has an anchor point for rings or strap suspension training.

Inspire had its new L-shaped, space saving M5 strength piece, a light commercial product with two, 210-pound weight stacks, the company’s first two weightstack machine, said Jeff Laboard.

Precor brought its new plate-loaded Discovery line, which is supposed to appeal to both casual, older exercisers and seasoned, buff athletes, said Precor President Doug Johns. While the modern design is eye-catching, and it includes great functional aspects, one of the best things about the line is the new, large placards that are easy to read and understand. 

“Notice how the picture doesn’t look like an image from an anatomy book,” Johns told SNEWS. Plus, the placards include a QR code and a URL where users can find a 30-second instructional video.

Precor wasn’t the only big company with easier-to-use, nonintimidating products. Life Fitness brought its Circuit Series to IHRSA (photo, right), which uses push-button weight settings and an ergonomically correct seating system that makes the products not so scary for gym newcomers. The series includes 11 space-saving pieces

–Ana Trujillo