Pete McCall by Pete McCall

Fitness industry tradeshows are a great place to spot the newest trends, and when it comes to equipment, the IHRSA Tradeshow is the place to get a first-hand look the latest lines that, in most cases, have not even hit the health-clubs yet. Here are some of my observations from attending the 2013 IHRSA tradeshow, along with my picks for the most promising new equipment and trends.

Technology vs. People

We all know there is a problem with obesity and inactivity, and those who have the disposable income to spend on health clubs and personal trainers typically spend their days sitting at a desk in front of a computer screen, only to switch to a laptop, mobile device or TV as soon as they get home. One of the biggest challenges trainers face is tearing their clients away from the screen and helping them get moving. Nevertheless, at this year’s trade show, it seemed as if the biggest innovations have come from companies that see exercise time as another opportunity for people to interact with a screen.

Of course, spending 30 minutes leisurely riding a stationary bike while checking e-mail or watching TV is better than sitting on a couch doing no activity at all, and technology has proven useful for progress tracking and keeping individuals engaged. Even so, putting a tech-based interface on a piece of equipment could create yet another barrier that keeps people from experiencing a truly effective fitness program. The fear is that club operators will invest in more fixed equipment with screens and electronic gizmos, instead of focusing on designing equipment that allows trainers to interact with users and provide a unique exercise experience.

As a longtime personal trainer and group fitness instructor, I admittedly have a strong bias towards instructor-driven programming, but let’s look at a couple of simple facts:

  • No matter how good the electronic interface, a treadmill (or any other stationary piece of equipment) can only engage one club member at a time. A good instructor or trainer can work with upwards of 40 members simultaneously.
  • Even if entering a user ID allows a piece of equipment to remember who you are, it won’t remember your kids’ birthdays, ask you how that presentation (or meeting or first date, etc.) went or compliment you on the visual results from your exercise program.
  • People long for human interaction. Working with a trainer or exercising in a group class allows people to work together toward a shared, common goal, and there is no better feeling than a positive affirmation from an instructor or a classmate after a challenging workout.

One reason why instructor-driven programs are so popular is that for many, it’s nice to unplug, go with the flow and let someone else be in charge for a small part of the day. For that reason, when I walked through the IHRSA tradeshow, I wasn’t looking for the latest ways a consumer can watch TV or surf the web while exercising; I was looking for the real secret sauce of what drives successful clubs—equipment that creates interaction between educated professionals and club members looking to improve their lives.

Equipment That Caught My Eye

Workout Cages

Back in the 1800s, many gyms had jungle-gym type equipment with monkey bars—a trend that seems to be resurfacing. Three years ago, only one manufacturer had a cage system, and this year, almost every major manufacturer had one. Many Crossfit studios are outfitted with cage-type apparatus, and their success proves that consumers appreciate old-fashioned, jungle gym-style workouts. A cage can be configured so that multiple people can use it at once, making it a cost-effective way to engage members during a small group-training program. While a number of manufacturers had cages on display, the following stood out for various reasons:

-Hoist: Features an attachment that simulates a rock-climbing wall


-Movestrong: Attachments for a climbing rope and cargo netting make this cage a must-have for training for mud-run and obstacle course style races


-Tuff Stuff: Features an old-fashioned wrestling-style peg-board for climbing

Tuff Stuff


Traditional benches have hard, tough rubber padding that can be uncomfortable or limit the range-of-motion of the shoulder joints. ViCore has an interesting approach that incorporates the use of air bladders instead of padding as the surface of the bench. They are much more comfortable than traditional benches. I especially liked the Roman Chair and incline benches. Additionally, these benches can create points of interaction between members and fitness staff, who can provide an overview on the different exercise options allowed by the air bladders.


I live in San Diego, where there is no shortage of surfers—they are some of the sickest athletes out there and I’ve never seen an obese one walking out of the water. I tried surfing once, which  was more than enough to make me develop a healthy respect for these athletes. If your clients want to train to have a body like a surfer, but don’t live near the ocean, then the Surf Set program is for you. Exercising while balancing on an unstable surface provides a number of challenges and is a unique way to engage members in small-group programming. A buddy of mine teaches Surfset at his club and has successfully used it to establish rapport with members and develop new training clients.


OK, after that little rant against screens I do have to backpedal a bit because the interactive features of the Nexersys boxing trainer are really pretty cool. The screen allows you to follow an instructor-led workout for punching and kicking that can have clients huffing and puffing in no time at all.


I have to admit that, when I first tried this reactive training tool, it kind of scared me a bit—it’s that unstable. However, as I have learned how to use it properly, my opinion has changed and I’ve become a big fan. If you are looking for a creative and challenging way to engage your clients or members, you must consider this equipment. At IHRSA, they launched a 30-minute express workout program that is perfect for clubs or studios in urban settings that cater to busy professionals.

If you’re looking for the next “big thing,” keep in mind that successful programs aren’t successful because of the equipment. Group fitness participants and training clients are the members with the highest retention because personal connections make a difference. Any club can have the latest, greatest equipment with all of the bells and whistles, but members will come back because they have established a personal connection with the instructor and that is something no microchip can provide.

ACE® Pro Compass has arrived!

It's time to map out the career you want. ACE® Pro
Compass will steer you in the right direction across all
stages of your professional journey.