“Beware the ides of March,” was a warning delivered by a soothsayer to Julius Caesar in the Shakespeare play about the Roman emperor. The term ides does not mean a specific date but can be translated as the middle of the month. Caesar was indeed assassinated on the ides of March proving the prophet right.
Flash forward to the 21st century in general and the fitness industry in particular, the ides of March is not referring to the loss of a leader but instead can be applied to the time frame of the annual International Health and Racquet Sports Club Association (IHRSA) convention and trade show. This year the event occurred not during the middle of the month as it usually does but during the first week of March at the Los Angeles convention center.
The IHRSA Trade Show is where many fitness equipment companies introduce their newest equipment and updates to existing product lines. The products and services for sale at the trade show can help determine popular fitness trends. For example, a few years ago Woodway was the only company offering a self-powered treadmill, the Curve, at this year’s event most of the larger equipment companies including Techno Gym, Precor and Core Health & Fitness featured non-motorized, self-power treadmills. Another trend that was non-existent a few years ago and was seemingly ubiquitous at this year’s IHRSA Trade Show was the training rig, literally a modern jungle gym of exercise options for the die-hard fitness enthusiast.
As I’ve done for the past few years for the American Council on Exercise (you can catch previous write-ups here-2016, here-2015 or here-2014) I want to highlight of few of the new or updated products that caught my eye as I wandered the cavernous trade show floor. Please keep in mind that the event is very large and while I made the best effort to canvas the floor there may inadvertently be a few products or programs worth a mention that I simply did not have time to see. Here, in no particular order, is what caught my eye and why:
- The folks at Fitness Anywhere, the creators of the TRX Suspension Trainer, introduced TRX Connect, a new, multifaceted digital platform that provides a number of ways for the fitness consumer to learn how to use the TRX Suspension Trainer as well as creating opportunities to connect with TRX-educated fitness professionals. Trainers can use the app to develop workouts and long-term programs for their clients allowing fitness professionals to deliver online coaching solutions.
- The Flex Disc is a new bodyweight strength training product created by a San Diego-based fitness enthusiast. The benefits of the Flex Disc is that it has interchangeable handles to improve control or challenge grip strength and also includes attachment points for bungees to increase the level of difficulty. Keep a look out for this novel way to strengthen your body.
- American Barbell, a contract manufacturer of strength training equipment for large, well-known fitness brands, introduced a Cerakote treated barbell that resists scratches, nicks and dings that could cause sharp edges and can significantly increase the risk of injury from a barbell. Cerakote is a resilient, ceramic-composite coating used to protect firearms from excessive wear and tear. The coating comes in a variety of colors allowing companies to invest in barbells in consistent with existing branding. In addition, American Barbell is licensing it’s name to gyms that focus on serious strength training.
- In 2016 Precor teamed up with Spinning to launch the newest generation of Spinning-brand indoor cycling bikes. 2017 is the second generation of the collaboration and now features bikes with strain-gauge power meters to allow riders to monitor specific power output during class. The bikes now also provide the option of a polymer belt instead of a chain to improve longevity and reduce maintenance costs. Precor also introduced pre-programmed workouts for their treadmills created by the conditioning experts at Exos, one of the elite performance enhance centers in the world. Exos is known for training the top athletes in a variety of sports; gym goers now have a variety of options for receiving the same challenging workouts that get top performers in game-shape.
- Hyperwear, who brought us the versatile Sandbell, launched the Softbell – basically two Sandbells attached to a plastic handle to create a unique, pliable hand-held weight. According to Declan Condron, the Director of Education, Softbells can be used in one of three ways: traditional dumbbell, Indian club or Sandbell to apply an unstable mass that can strength both skeletal muscle and elastic connective tissue.
- Exercises in the gym often focus on closed, discrete movements that, from the performer’s point of view, are finite and pre-programmed. This can help improve strength but does little to enhance reflexes or reduce reaction time. From reaction lights to movable flooring to barbell-based bungee cords Reaxing, a new company from Italy, offers a variety of dynamic training solutions to help improve reactivity and reflexes. The products are truly different than most traditional gym equipment and they’re created by Italian designers so they also have the benefit of being very visually appealing.
- Hydraulic, air-pressurized resistance systems have been on the market for years. Flexline Fitness is a brand-new company offering an air-pressured strength-training system specifically for the boutique, small-group training program market. This unique, easy-to-use system could change how small-group-based strength training programs are delivered.
- Nautilus, a company which has become a generic-term for selectorized strength-training equipment, is moving away from tradition with the introduction of their Half-rack, a barbell training rack integrated with a wooden lifting platform.
- It’s interesting to note that this year one of the companies generating the most buzz, at least among the master trainers and fitness education specialists we consulted, was Austin, Texas-based Onnit, who didn’t even have a formal presence at the trade show. Originally a supplement manufacturer Onnit has expanded to provide a variety of dynamic strength training equipment options including kettebells, Indian Clubs and Maces. A number of attendees indicated being impressed by the products and programs the company promotes via it’s website. This company is doing many things that could disrupt existing fitness education programs.
Many equipment companies were promoting high intensity training programs because they can be effective for weight loss and muscular development, both of which are common fitness goals. However, one component seemed glaringly absent at this year’s trade show and that was a focus on programs that address the recovery phase of exercise.
To be fair there were a number of vendors for products that address recovery including drinks and snacks for refueling and promoting protein re-synthesis; foam rollers, sticks and balls for self-myofascial release to reduce tension in soft-tissues and even cryogenic freeze chambers that use short applications of extreme cold to promote post-exercise healing. But I didn’t notice any programmatic approaches for how clubs could feature recovery and regeneration programs as potential revenue streams. The workout is when mechanical forces are applied to the tissues of the body but it’s the POST-exercise phase of how the body adapts to those imposed demands that determines how the exercise will effect the participants. If clubs and studios are going to beat up their members with high intensity programming then they should offer recovery programs and systems to help the members maximize their results. While I’m sure there are other programs out there right now Equinox stands out as one of the only operators who understands this need by offering a variety of regeneration options in their facilities. Head’s up to other operators – there’s $$$ to be made in keeping your members injury-free so they can continue to come as often as possible.
As you can easily see if you are looking for new products or programs to offer to your members or clients then it is important to attend the IHRSA Trade Show where you can ‘kick the tires’ and try a number of new products for yourself to see if they meet your needs. If you are a fitness junkie or die-hard exercise enthusiast then you will be seeing some of these products and programs become trends in your favorite facility sometime in the not-too-distant future.
If you weren’t able to make it to this year’s event then make sure to pencil March 21-24, 2018 into your calendar so you can attend the next IHRSA Conference and Trade Show that will take place in America’s Finest City (San Diego, CA).