"People are constantly looking for the next hot gadget that will help them get off their butts and move their muscles," says Tracy Morgan, executive director of the Cybex Institute.
Fitness consumers are changing as the population ages, according to Morgan. A decade ago, people spent hours in the gym lifting weights and doing power aerobics. Today, the target market wants functional training that will help them get in and out of chairs, lift groceries and swing a golf club.
But it takes more than a simple machine that contracts and releases muscles to make it into health clubs ? a lucrative $565 million equipment market in the year 2000, according to the trade magazine Club Industry.
Clubs look to new equipment and exercise courses to attract and retain members, says Rick Romeo, director of licensing for Powerhouse Gym International. Powerhouse clubs are independently owned and operated, but Romeo recommends equipment to each franchise.
How do they select equipment? Romeo scans magazines, such as Men's Health, Men's Journal, Self and Popular Science to see what is hot with consumers. He also attends trade shows, such as the Club Industry conference and exposition held every fall in Chicago.
Several trends were evident at the last show. A variety of strength-training machines improve day-to-day muscle fluidity; other machines work the core muscles, such as the abdomen and buttocks; while an update to the treadmill includes a recumbent stair stepper and hiking simulator.
Manufacturers are eager for the equipment to catch on in gyms because it will help determine whether consumers take them home.
Schwinn's research has found that when equipment catches on in gyms, similar equipment will be a hit at home, too, says Tracey Harvey, Schwinn spokeswoman.
And home is where the money is. The home fitness market now exceeds $5 billion annually, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturing Association.
Computers are hot, hot, hot What's coming next in the world of fitness equipment? Expect a wave of computer-integrated exercise equipment, says Tony Roderick, spokesman for Icon Health & Fitness, a company with $1.5 billion annual sales through its NordicTrack, ProForm, Reebok, Ground Zero and Weider equipment.
NordicTrack integrates personal computers, live fitness trainers, videos and music with workouts on treadmills, ellipticals and recumbent bikes, with price tags from $5,000 to $9,000.
"The younger crowd don't want Plain Jane treadmills, they want a virtual experience of running in the Grand Tetons, bicycling in Hawaii. They want a coach that will keep them on target with their fitness goals," says Roderick. "Gyms that want to stay competitive will have to have the latest equipment, or the crowds will go elsewhere."
Be a smart consumer when you shop for equipment
When shopping for an exercise machine, don't depend on advertisements to provide the information you need.
"You'll see some very appealing advertisements on the Internet and on televised infomercials, but you could find half-truths and major obstacles in these products," warns fitness equipment analyst Charles Kuntzleman, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Michigan.
Some equipment comes with instructions so difficult to read, buyers assemble it incorrectly. Other equipment is so difficult to use or so cheaply made, it ends up forgotten in a closet because returning it would cost too much.
Kuntzleman recommends the following steps before purchase:
Shop for fitness equipment in the Active Sports Mecca.
Register for an event online.