Monday, March 23, 2009

High-Tech Fitness Equipment Keeps Users Engaged

“Working out is great for the mind and the body. It can also be really boring. To address those treadmill blues, the fitness industry is evolving to include many of the high-tech trappings found in the entertainment industry. Video interfaces. Musical overlays. Interactive competitions. They've all been fused with existing workout gear to get more people off their couches and into the gym. Some of the industry's latest efforts will be on display this week at the 28th annual International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association convention and trade show. The fitness folks will be at San Francisco's Moscone Center today through Thursday. ‘It's not just about the equipment they use, but attracting people to use it and integrating it into their daily lives. If people are entertained on a piece of equipment, they're more likely to use it longer,’ said Joe Moore, CEO and president of the association. So, what's the latest and greatest in gym gear? Here are a few things that caught our attention: How about working out in a video game, forgetting that your muscles are hurting, while biking as fast as you can through off-road trails, or catching air while snowboarding down a mountain? You can do it in the XRKade, an interactive video game arcade aimed at the youth market and made by iTech Fitness, a Denver company that makes interactive and active gaming technologies. Or check out the work of a San Francisco company, Fitness Anywhere, which has created TRX suspension training. TRX started as a few lengths of parachute webbing hand-stitched together with tools used to repair boats. That crude beginning eventually evolved into a newfangled set of nylon bands that helps you stretch things out and tone things up. It all connects to the TRX suspension anchor, a central structure that anchors the nylon bands. Next up, the Power Plate, a vibrating platform that you stand on while working out. It's made and marketed by Power Plate International. Celebrity clients include Martha Stewart, who has been using Power Plate products in her home-based training regimen administered by her trainer. While the Bay Area has a long and storied fitness history, the annual fitness shows draws an international clientele, revealing the industry's growth and reach. ‘Attendance from 75 countries is anticipated,’ Moore said. More than 10,000 people are expected to show up. While the show will showcase innovative ideas, the tight economy is not helping fitness entrepreneurs. Are gyms and health clubs, facing a global economic downturn, still prepared to buy new high-tech devices? ‘Absolutely,’ said Matthew Stevens, president and CEO of Western Athletic Clubs of San Francisco, which owns and operates health, fitness, and athletic clubs and sports resorts on the West Coast. ‘As the fitness industry has matured, reinvestment back into the business has become a major staple for success," he said. ‘At Western Athletic Clubs, we plan on spending over $8 million on our existing clubs, with at least 15 percent being spent on fitness equipment.’ Stevens says the health club industry is doing surprisingly well. ‘Usage across the industry has increased significantly. At Western Athletic Clubs we have seen a 12 percent increase year over year. Members seem to be replacing out-of-town vacations with more visits to their sports resort, athletic club, fitness center and/or gym.’”

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