Athletes demand tailored solutions for performance results.
By Jahla Seppanen
Strength training isn’t about just looking buff anymore.
Today’s athlete builds strength for real performance results, less risk of injury and overall well-being. And depending on which sport is being practiced, the training methodology and consumers’ desired outcomes can vary widely.
Some users will remain married to the three sets of 10 religion, rotating body parts with days of the week using classic weight machines, while other nontraditional consumers opt for functional group classes with a Spartan Race or Tough Mudder in mind.
While cardio fitness equipment continues to be a leader in the market, strength equipment sales are growing — up 4 percent in units and 4.5 percent in dollars for the trailing 52-week period through February 20, 2016, according to SSI Data*.
Thanks to the surge in disciplines such CrossFit, racks, bars, dumbells are some of the category’s fastest growing sellers, as well as a healthy 8.5 percent increase weight-resistant home gyms. The good news for retailers is that equipment sales are up and accessory sales are down, suggesting that consumers are upgrading to higher-priced equipment versus the previous trend of lower-priced strength gear during the recession.
While the figures suggest strength in strength, there are challenges for the category with a broadening net of where brands should set their sights for the coming year. The innate predisposition of the strength category is that it tends to move slowly. Its products don’t change fast, as tried-and-true equipment powers out QVC fads.
But in light of the mixed bag that is strength training and equipment, trends for the coming year or two have crystalized to show a couple strong contenders that will be seen clearly across the board. Prep for these following big changes.
FST OFFERS WIDE APPEAL AT LOW COST
No, this isn’t an abbreviation for swear words, but potentially the biggest trend in the category. Functional Strength Training, which encompasses another buzzword “bodyweight” training, uses smaller equipment like medicine balls, resistance tubes, Swiss balls, sandbags, ropes and suspension systems like TRX bands, to improve our functional fitness levels. Long gone are the days of glamour muscles that pop in a beach photo, but prove useless when pressed to carry groceries up the stairs. FST also improves balance, which can reduce injury — another reason it’s grown in popularity.
“There has been a strong shift toward group functional training over the past several years. With the focus shifting to the idea of ‘train like an athlete’ workouts that now encompass all aspects of cardio, strength, core and agility,” said TKO Sports Group President and CEO Garry Kurtz. TKO noticed the marketability of this trend, creating even more functional training attachments and accessories to be customized for training facilities. These add-ons also come at a lower sticker price than hefty machines, so it’s a double win for facilities to invest in functional equipment.
Atlantis Inc. Director of Sales and Marketing, Yosi Knecht agreed, “Right now, gyms seem to be looking more at what I call functional training cages. Places where people can perform many different exercises with a variety of accessories (TRX, battle ropes, etc.) as well as bodyweight exercises (pull-ups, dips, etc.). The unit can be used by people exercising on their own, or as the hub for group-training classes.”
The trend is reaffirmed by Hammerhead Co-owner, Matt Laine, “Functional fitness and back to basics bodyweight are going very strong,” along with Scott Schroeder, Samson Sales and Marketing Director. In fact, you’ll be hard pressed to find a member of the strength equipment world who disagrees.
While those accessories sales have chewed away at larger strength equipment margins, Kurtz at TKO said he noticed the bodyweight trend lending to the design of new and different types of equipment, thereby expanding offerings instead of shrinking the market. Indeed, the aforementioned rise in strength equipment sales, according to SSI Data, is bearing truth to that notion. Implus Fitness’ Ryan Cruthirds, VP of sales and product development added, “The rise of bodyweight training is good for the industry overall, as more people new to fitness begin to experiment with bodyweight training, and then move into purchasing accessories and equipment.”
BEAST MODE IS BACK: OLYMPIC LIFTING, POWER RACKS + CROSSFIT
What’s old is new again with the resurgence of Olympic lifting, and new versions of lunk favorites like versatile power racks and Gladiator-esk CrossFit. Samson, who builds customized strength equipment based off college and pro team training modalities, told SGB that nearly every coach they build for is dabbling in Olympic lifting. At the same time, heavy-weight machines are now being built with space in mind. “You’re not seeing a lot of individual pieces that do one specific thing, but equipment that does a lot in a tight space,” said Shroeder. “But anytime you walk into an athletic weight room, you’re going to see power racks.”
Many companies, such as Atlantis Inc., are focusing product development on improving/ adding to their power racks. Variety really is the spice of the space. Kurtz at TKO said, “Variety of exercise and functionality is demanded from all levels of the marketplace. A piece of equipment is expected to offer a large selection of uses, whether it be exercises on the unit or attachments that can be placed at various points.” Think bands, chains, bars or dip attachments. “In the end, there’s a lot you can build into a rack,” Schroeder said.
On the CrossFit side, executives in the space vowed to the popularity of this exercise trend. Hammerhead’s Laine classified CrossFit as an “explosion” in the fitness world, with price having a lot of sway. “We see more, younger consumers emerging from the lower end of the price scale who want to get as much equipment and results as they can for their dollars.” Variety is still present in the same way you see it in power racks. Randy Adams, Planet Fitness club opening specialist and the man who places the equipment orders for the entire franchise told SGB that his order forms have been covered in multi-purpose, 360 workout stations, lending to more of a group CrossFit aesthetic. Life Fitness is emerging as a big name in multi-use stations, with its Synergy 360. “The more non-traditional workouts are popular,” Adams said.
If multi-function equipment doesn’t sound like a game-changing trend, pump your brakes. The fact that global gym franchises are investing in these types of equipment to take up a big percentage of floor space should speak bounds. Adams, who has been ordering for Planet Fitness for six years said before multi-purpose stations, “there has never been a hot new fad we’ve jumped on board with. Consistently, our equipment has remained the same: a lot of cardio, freeweights and circuits.” Many others are on board, too, like Perfect Fitness’ Multi-Gym Elite, offering intense weight training with body part-target versatility, and the ability to accessorize (i.e. pieces like the Ab Straps Pro and Perfect Pull-up Assist that easily add to the Multi-Gym) without buying entirely new machines.
THE DEATH OF FIXED-PATH
In the face of so many new strength disciplines, single-use, selectorized, weight-stack equipment is in need of some evolution. “Anything that only did one thing is antiquity,” said Schroeder at Samson. “A row of squat racks where you only squat in — a one-muscle machine — those are gone, no one does that.” This trend is especially true for athletics, group classes and unique training methods. “A lot of people don’t want to take the time to sit down and do one muscle at a time,” added Laine at Hammerhead.
This doesn’t mean the industry will throw away fixed-path machines altogether. “Olympic lifting is terrific, but for people who are getting into the gym for the first time there are dangers. Starting someone with a fixed-path machines is a great way to get their body used to exercising (and doing the motions correctly). The bottom line is, you wouldn’t open a traditional gym today without selectorized equipment,” said Knecht with Atlantis.
Knecht divulged Atlantis has never sold more power racks and glute and hamstring benches as they have over the last few years (and they make one of the broadest lines of strength equipment in the industry).
APPS TO START, RECOVERY TO SUSTAIN
Despite strength being a tribe of iron, it has not escaped the influence of tech — another big trend in the category this year.
There has been a deluge of fitness brands buying or programming apps to track workout habits and consumer data, but more importantly, provide step-by-step workouts and how-to’s. “Many exercisers state ‘they don’t know what to do for strength exercise,” according to Nautilus, Inc., parent to the strength behemoth Boflex.
A couple strength apps to keep track of are Pumping Weight, JEFIT, Gym Buddy, Gym Hero and StrongLifts 5X5 (all of which are free to download). Nautilus, Inc. developed its own free app, the Bowflex SelectTech Trainer, and kept the techy-momentum going by innovating smart dumbells. The company also had space conservation in mind, so now a full rack of weights fits into one, with reps tracked and audible cues and feedback given in real-time.
Another trend in training smarter is recovering better. “We’re seeing Recovery becoming more mainstream in the strength category, and increasing the awareness of the importance of recovery to an individual’s overall fitness and wellness,” said Cruthirds at Implus Fitness. This translates to more belts being worn during heavy lifting (improved from older models with natural-fit shapes like the Harbinger FlexFit) and deep tissue massage tools like Implus’ new TriggerPoint MB5 Massage Ball speeding recovery for the next day of hard sets and ogre grunts.
*SSI Data, powered by SportsOneSource, provides weekly point-of-sale data and analysis to retailers and manufacturers in the active lifestyle market. To schedule a personal demo or learn more, call 303.997.7302 or Solutions@SportsOneSource.com.