Over the past two decades, fitness equipment has evolved leaps and bounds in terms of not just variety of equipment, but also the technology that’s incorporated into it. Today, there are dozens of top-of-the-line manufacturers for operators to choose from, each of which churn out new high-tech product after product, year after year.
So, what are the newest developments in equipment hitting the fitness floor in 2017? According to Patrick Regan, the vice president of purchasing for Life Time Fitness, in reality, there haven’t really been any.
“You’re not going to invent another strength curve,” explained Regan. “Everyone operates off the same strength curve, whether it’s an arm curl or a leg extension. Now it’s: How can you make it interesting?”
Matt Harrington of the Healthworks Group shared a similar sentiment, noting innovations in cardio haven’t been as profound over the past few years.
“From my perspective, it seems that not a ton has changed,” observed Harrington. “Five years ago there were some big advances in the displays and the touchscreens on cardio. But it doesn’t seem like over the last two years, since those big changes, there has been much [evolution].”
So what has changed in terms of equipment? According to both Regan and Harrington, the biggest changes aren’t necessarily coming from the strength and cardio equipment itself — but instead are coming from how the pieces are being utilized by members.
Here, Regan and Harrington break down the equipment utilization trends they’re seeing when it comes to selectorized strength, cardio, functional fitness and technology, and how their gyms are evolving as a result.
Traditional and Functional Strength
Due to the rise in popularity of functional fitness, many gym owners have purged their facilities of certain selectorized strength pieces to make way for more turf, kettlebells and battle ropes.
Take the Healthworks Group as an example. According to Harrington, after conducting a Gymetrix study that showcased equipment utilization within the brand’s gyms, they found there were some pieces of selectorized equipment they could do without.
“It was pretty enlightening for us,” said Harrington. “We learned a lot about what people are not using, which I think is often harder to tell than what people are using. Some of the selectorized equipment, where you had multiple iterations of the same exercise, we realized we could get by with just one of them. It allowed us to add in other items — free weights, turf areas, and things like that.”
However, according to Regan, club owners should be cautious of going too far when it comes to paring down their selectorized strength area.
“You can’t take too much of it away, or you get your traditional equipment users really being upset,” explained Regan. “Selectorized, pin-loaded strength is not going away. If you’re a full-service fitness destination and you want to offer all sorts of different programs, not just one or two, you have to have selectorized equipment. It’s great for beginners and people who want stabilization while they exercise.”
In terms of free weights, Regan and Harrington both agreed — it continues to be a popular amenity, and in some instances, is increasing in demand.
“Free weight usage hasn’t gone down at all,” said Regan. “In fact, we don’t dare touch that area. It’s still the most popular in my opinion, and you need the space, if nothing else, just for safety. You can’t crowd that space. That remains very static and very popular.”
The Healthworks Group is also making room for more free weight equipment than ever before, a change that’s most notable in the company’s women’s-only concept, Healthworks Fitness Centers for Women.
“We get a lot of requests for it,” explained Harrington. “On the women-only side of things, more and more women are getting involved in free weight training than we have seen in the past, which we think is great. We’ve changed our whole floor plan to accommodate for more of it.”
Cardio and Technological Advancements
According to Regan, the one equipment category Life Time Fitness has boasted less of over the past few years is cardio. However, it’s not because members don’t want cardio equipment — they’re just using it differently.
“We’ve seen people move away from just getting on a treadmill, bike or elliptical and spending 45 minutes to an hour on it,” explained Regan. “They’re breaking that time up by doing proprioceptive, functional exercise at a higher intensity. It’s movement-based activity versus static cardio activity. And so we’ve been able to take a little space away from our cardio area and give it back to that proprioceptive area.”
For Regan, what’s more important than offering dozens of pieces of cardio equipment is how engaging the equipment actually is for the end-user. With that in mind, he believes technology will be the biggest influence on cardio equipment over the next few years.
“Technology is the new product,” explained Regan. “[Manufacturers] aren’t going to invent another mind-blowing cardio piece that has this completely innovative range of motion. It’s more: How can you smartly add technology to communicate with your membership, to create connectivity with them, and then help them meet their goals? I think that’s where it has to go.”
Whether it’s cardio or strength, both Regan and Harrington agreed: Ensuring your equipment assets are being utilized efficiently and effectively is a key to success.
“We’re constantly observing space and equipment utilization,” said Regan. “We spend a lot of time ensuring the tools we’re putting on the floor are the right tools and they’re going to be optimally utilized.”
After all, you don’t want your investment going to waste. “When it comes down to it, a lot of the gyms, we’re all providing very similar services, programs and equipment,” added Harrington. “We just need to optimize what we’re providing to be able to give our members the best experience and help us compete.”