How to Sell: Functional Trainers

When home gyms in the late '90s broke away from the traditional arms and levers that were fixed in form and path, a whole new mode of strength-training was born. Although physical therapists had talked of "functional training" for a very long time, it was a concept just being learned and accepted in fitness training. And one that was to leave its imprint on all things moving forward.

A SNEWS® Training Center article written by the editors of SNEWS®:

When home gyms in the late ’90s broke away from the traditional arms and levers that were fixed in form and path, a whole new mode of strength-training was born. Although physical therapists had talked of “functional training” for a very long time, it was a concept just being learned and accepted in fitness training. And one that was to leave its imprint on all things moving forward.

What is functional training?

Basically, training functionally means training for life and for life’s activities and movements, from day-to-day things like picking up the kids from the floor to reaching up into cabinets to the demands of sports endeavors like pitching a baseball or running. That means training the body as it will be moving, forcing the entire body and musculature to take part in the intended movement rather than artificially isolating one joint or muscle. Functional training by definition means the exerciser will in one exercise use multiple

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muscle groups that cross several joints. For example, doing a squat while standing up and forcing the torso muscles to keep you balanced is functional; doing a leg extension sitting on a seat so only your knee joint and the muscles that cross it are working is not considered functional.

What are functional trainers?

Today’s functional trainers are therefore many things, but mostly they incorporate cables instead of fixed arms and have hand grips that move around on the end of a cable rather than a welded-on lever for the exerciser to hold. This allows a user to stand, sit and lie down using a bench, the floor or other accessories such as balls or foam rollers and then grab the handles on the cables and pull them against resistance to strengthen and tone muscles. That means someone must use several muscle groups, including legs and core (such as abs and back), to do most exercises since they must stabilize themselves while pulling on a cable that will move around if they don’t keep it tracking as desired.

In addition, with the cables, one can easily replicate upper- and lower-body sports movements, such as a golf swing or leg extension in running, as well as everyday movements, such as reaching high into cabinets. This is accomplished with the free-moving ability of the cables and exerciser’s body since there are no immoveable seats and rigid benches.

Is functional training for everybody all the time?

Not necessarily. It is great for everyday strengthening, but can be combined well with traditional fixed patterns too, which is why some functional trainers today provide seats that can move out of the way or benches as add-ons. And traditional home gyms will still strengthen and tone enough for many consumers, but with a little less versatility and, because of more isolated movements, a lower percentage of muscles used per exercise.

More variety in movements in functional trainers can also be what makes the salesperson’s job more difficult. It’s easy to show — and perhaps easier for a less-experienced consumer to understand — sitting in a particular seat and pulling on an arm that only moves in one direction. It can be much more difficult to present and make understandable the full variety of a cable-based, functional gym system.

That’s why it’s important to do your homework and know exactly what to say during a sales presentation.

Key Selling Points

1. A user will never outgrow a functional trainer, no matter what his or her needs are. One piece can be used comfortably by a beginner as well as advanced athletes in training.

2. Its applicability to many user groups means an entire family with different needs and different builds and heights can get the workout they need with the same unit because the machines can customized. In addition, machines with TWO cables and hand grips can be used simultaneously by two people during certain exercises.

3. A functional trainer can fit most any body size or exercise preference since the pulleys can be moved down low to the ground or high over head and anywhere in between.

4. A user can easily mimic sports movements by holding onto the cables and then going through the normal swing, bat or throw as if the cables weren’t there.

5. With the use of seats or benches, a user can perform more traditional exercises and combine them in a routine with a few exercises standing or using balls — until they are comfortable with using strictly functional and less stable movements.

6. A user’s routine won’t get as monotonous since there is an infinite number of exercise possibilities.

7. A functional trainer can be a superior choice for injury prevention or rehabilitation. That’s because it focuses on all muscles, including much smaller ones, and uses many different angles for a more thorough and balanced workout.

Other points to help make the sale

  • Point out printed education — Machines from the better brands come with some kind of instruction, be it cards, placards, posters or booklets that demonstrate and explain how to do the movements. Make sure to point that out, flipping pages or showing the different pictures. Some also come with the ability for users to log their workouts on accompanying material, making sure it’s never lost and always handy.
  • Show with hands-on demonstration — As with all sales presentations for fitness equipment, pointing and showing doesn’t work as well as demonstration and hands-on experimentation by the consumer. Don’t hesitate to get on the machine, move the pulleys up and down, demonstrate some exercises, then get the customer to try a few too. The machine with cables hanging on it can look rather intimidating until you show how easily it moves and the cables pull.
  • Demonstrate three levels — Pick one or two simple exercises — perhaps one for the abductors or triceps for women and one for the chest or biceps for men — and demonstrate them. For example, show how they can be done for beginners (with a seat and back support), becoming more functional for an intermediate exerciser (standing but supported) and then adding more instability for an advanced exerciser (such as balancing on one foot or sitting on a ball instead of a bench).
  • Talk to the customer — Again, like in all presentations, be sure to ask about the customer’s goals. The person may be a budding soccer player, a nationally ranked archer or simply be fighting osteoporosis, and that would affect how and what you show on the functional trainer — or if you do at all.
  • Compare to a traditional gym — You may also want to simply point out the visual similarities. You can even pull out the cables so they sort of look like the arms on a traditional home gym and point out the fact that they are much the same, except the functional trainers “arms” are loose and can move up and down.

Other variables to point out

  • Cuffs or bars that are standard; if optional, the additional cost
  • Exercise instructions on the unit or that accompany it
  • Accessories someone might consider, such as a ball, foam roller or exercise mat
  • Sport-specific attachments, such as bars with an end that swivels to simulate sports movements, or even sports-like clubs or equipment made to attach to a machine, which can help add variety to or customize a workout.
  • Fit (height and curve or cut) of seats and cushions
  • Space needs of piece, stored or in use
  • Incremental weights that go low or high enough
  • Optional or attached seats and benches or if they fold or move out of the way
  • Footplates for performing rows
  • Wheelchair accessibility
  • Locking child-safety systems
  • Length of warranty

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