Fitness professionals like their equipment—from "tried-and-true" to "oh, so new." And equipment companies like to fill convention halls with fresh gear to help trainers and clients hit their goals. Of course, fitness pros also enjoy new gadgets for the pure thrill of them—and will sometimes go for equipment that targets a fun goal over a hypertrophy goal, for example.
We talk to trainers about their favorite tools and techniques (see the main sidebar) and profile some of the most fascinating fitness products hitting the market this year.
All About the Wearables
Past years have seen breakout fitness equipment stars such as the Nintendo® Wii™, the Step®, the Pilates reformer, the TRX® Suspension Trainer™, the slide board and even the Shake Weight®. This year the star seems to be a category—wearable technology. While fitness trackers, pedometers, heart rate monitors and smartphones have been around for a while, the diversity of features and capabilities in this group is exploding.
Wrist-worn smartwatches and trackers have evolved into distinct "wearable" categories. And CNET now divides its favorite tracking devices into four discrete headings: best fitness tracker, best smartwatch, most stylish fitness watch and best GPS running watch (Stein & Graziano 2017).
It's no longer enough to count your steps or measure your heart rate; today's wearable trackers can correct your form, help you count reps, provide a fairly accurate caloric burn rate, stream notifications to you, recognize a new range of exercises (including yoga moves), detect motion on multiple axes, store freestyle exercises, deliver quantifiable strength data (for free weights, pulleys or even body weight) and send payment reminders. Even our language has evolved to keep pace. Ten years ago it wasn't common to hear gym-goers discussing OLED touchscreen displays and motion sensor setups (gyroscope, magnetometer and accelerometer) that track movement in a 3-D space, much less understand what those terms meant, but now this kind of discussion happens in Facebook groups that appeal to fitness lovers.
Want some neurostimulation with your workout music? For about $700, you can get Halo Sport headphones that stimulate your motor cortex during athletic training. This increases the excitability of motor neurons, putting your brain into a "hyperplasticity/hyperlearning" state. In plainer terms, your headphones can potentially help you accelerate gains in "strength, explosiveness, endurance and muscle memory" (Fingas 2016).
Some trainers don't want the bulkiness of headphones, so they prefer earbuds. Headphone specialist Jabra comes through with a headphone that has a heart rate tracker built into the part that goes in the inner ear. Want to calculate your VO2max while walking a mile? The earbuds can do that, plus sync up with your phone apps to offer voice-guided workouts. Or you can skip the app and get another Jabra model that has an automatic rep-counting mode, plus tracked and timed crosstraining exercises built in (Sawh 2016).
Probably geared more toward personal trainers than group fitness leaders are two tech products that are not exactly wearable, yet are closely aligned because they're designed to touch the body. One is a phone-sized apparatus called the Skulpt® Chisel; when placed on different areas of the body, it measures body fat and muscle quality via a small current to both the muscle and its surrounding fat. The other is a muscle and joint pain-relief device from Omron® that attaches to the body via gel pads which provide heat and/or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (Sawh 2017; Omron 2016).
Remember the headlines when actor Andy Serkis filmed his role in Lord of the Rings in a motion-capture suit? It all seemed so futuristic and fabulous. Well, all fitness pros can now be Serkis, because similar products are on the market, and they can measure your breath, heartbeat and muscle exertion, as well as your motion (though without the cameras).
Your next running shirt might be embroidered with e-fibers that collect information from your body and send that info to your smartphone. At Ohio State University, the department of electrical and computer engineering has a Wearable and Implantable Technologies Research Group that is working on cheaper, faster, more reliable "wireless and very-low-power implanted and wearable devices for unobtrusive monitoring of several bodily functions and vitals" (OSU 2017).
While "smart" clothing has been spotted at fitness conventions in the past few years, 2017 may just be the year when this textile category goes mainstream. With biosignal-monitoring garments replete with sensors and Bluetooth-enabled core chips that can collect, record and transmit data in real time from your entire body, the days of clipboards and workout cards may fast be coming to an end.
And when you're done with your workout, it's even possible to wear a nightshirt infused with electromagnetic frequencies to increase blood flow and oxygen intake, thus leading to deeper levels of restorative REM sleep. And it's well known that a good night's sleep is an important part of being fit. Before you scoff, keep in mind how funny people thought it was to see Dick Tracy talking to his two-way radio wristwatch in the mid-'60s. Yet that show inspired the makers of the Apple Watch. Currently being tested at U.S. Department of Defense labs, your next nightshirt could give you low-frequency pulsed electromagnetic field therapy (AEG 2017).
Water Yes, Pool No
Whether you call it hydro-inertia or dynamic-fluid resistance training, equipment made with water (vs. for water) is so cool, it's hot. For example, Surge® has a new, 30-inch water-filled training device that looks like an oversized razor clam with handles. Trainers use it with clients who need a workout with balance and stability components to further challenge their core and movement patterns. Since it's up to the user (or trainer) to determine how much water goes into the device, the level of difficulty can be altered even if the exercises stay the same.
For those who prefer their equipment to be more like a round clam, the popular Kamagon® Ball is a destabilized handheld weight that uses water to create resistance.
New Twists on Old Gear
Step right up. Step risers (not the bench) have seen innovative uses, serving as ball holders for Drums Alive® or being integrated into a pushup, but now some group fitness leaders, especially in the dance realm, are using specially made risers as the main piece of equipment in the class, sans Step riser. What makes these risers "special"? In addition to raising the height of a step, they have a fully covered top, allowing users to dance or climb directly on top of them. Sort of a mini-step, if you will.
Rings of power. Wonder what gymnastics and suspension exercise have in common? The answer is gymnastic rings, which can now be found on equipment like the TRX® Duo Trainer. By themselves, both suspension exercise and gymnastics are established modes of training, yet adding straight, strong, secure grips to the suspension mix has made it more exciting for those eager for a new challenge.
Colorful and powerful. Some clients (and possibly their trainers) are visually drawn to colorful pieces of equipment in bold shapes, especially if they bear a resemblance to Skittles. Who wouldn't want a royal-blue water-filled stability ball, brick-red clubs or a lime-green set of pushup handles? Sometimes just adding color makes a product more exciting.
Merrithew™ is always at the forefront when it comes to reinventing equipment for creative workouts. The company's new "muscled-up" version of the Halo® Trainer Plus combines the Halo with a stability ball for a heck of a core workout. "Muscled-up" means the device can withstand up to 800 pounds of pressure.
Whether your next purchase will be a body-composition scale in a bold color, an app that lets you know when to hydrate, a pair of socks that can discern when your shoes need replacing, or a free weight that calculates exactly how many more reps you can do with perfect form, it's apparent that the future is here. Things that just a couple of years ago seemed to exist only in the imagination are now everyday tools for fitness professionals. Who knows? Maybe the thing you're dreaming of now is about to hit the market.