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From home gyms to fitness warehouses, high end fitness clubs, and basic community gyms, the expansive use of fitness equipment found across various touchpoints is not only testament to the wide range of suppliers and manufacturers who are creating and selling this equipment, but is also a mark of how the sports and fitness industry is shifting with consumers finding new and innovative ways of bringing fitness and workouts into their busy lifestyles.
Fitness equipment refers to any device, tool or machine which supports and is required for physical activity, whether it offers resistance or weight, aids increased movement, supports muscle building, or aids recovery. When we assess the industry as a whole, we tend to look at it by location and by equipment type – separating cardio machines from weight lifting devices, and ascertaining whether a product is created for a commercial gym, a home gym or an outside space.
For those looking at sourcing fitness equipment at affordable prices, many of the leading brands tend to offer discounts and deals both during their slower seasons and during peak seasons, meeting a consistent demand while also driving increased sales during slower seasons – for example the summer months when consumers are likely to give themselves holiday breaks and reap the benefits of their hard fitness work over the Winter and Spring.
The growth of the fitness equipment industry
Once upon a time the fitness equipment industry was made up of a few free weights which were used by athletes training for the earliest Olympic games in gyms created by the Ancient Greeks. Just as they might still be used today, these weights were used to develop and tone muscles which were beneficial in specific events like the long jump and disc throw – and for many years, free weights really capitalised on and dominated the fitness equipment industry market, with the next key development not following until the 1950’s.
It was during the 1950’s, after fitness and a focus on health had seen a resurgence amongst the general population, that American fitness guru Jack LaLanne made huge steps in the design and invention of a series of resistance machines, which allowed consumers and users to engage their own body weight as a means of increasing their strength and fitness. Many of his designs are still integral to the machines we use today, with some of his earliest inventions including the cable-pulley machine to train the arms, and the leg extension machine which put muscular focus onto the thighs.
Despite the growing popularity of weight and resistance training machines across gym users of all ages and genders in today’s industry, cardiovascular machines such as Ellipticals and treadmills are still some of the most popular trends in the fitness equipment industry – with treadmills actually boasting a much earlier invention date though the earliest versions back in 1875 were actually made for manufacturing not exercise. In fact, it wasn’t until 1952 that treadmills began being used for stress testing by a Doctor in Seattle – leading to a revolution which saw treadmills being used by consumers to alleviate stress and give them a way of working out without having to go anywhere. By the 1960’s, treadmills were being used both commercially and privately on a huge scale, with the Elliptical following in the mid-1990’s as a less intensive option for those looking to increase their range of movement and activity level.
Ever since then, much of the development and enhancement of the fitness equipment industry has been a result of technology and its growing influence in the sports and fitness industry as a whole. Technology has made possible the advancement of weight machines which use tension rather than actual stacks of weights and has increased the range of cardio machine pieces to include static bikes, stair climbers, wobble boards and a much wider range of treadmills which feature all sorts of extra functions.
Top retailers and brands in the fitness equipment industry
In today’s market, the best brands of fitness equipment are judged not only on the functions that they provide in terms of fitness activity, but also on the use of technology they incorporate into the machines, and how user friendly the customer interface panelling and instructions are. With the rise in home gyms playing a huge part in the expansion of the market, consumers are looking for pieces of equipment and machines which are easy to work and which support effective result while also providing technology advances and generally looking good in their home gym.
Commercially, we tend to find that many gyms actually utilise much of the same equipment: signing contracts with equipment providers which mean that every piece of equipment within a gym is manufactured and provided by the same supplier. For many fitness venues and businesses, one of the big draws of this is that they don’t have to buy the equipment products – instead they can lease them, and upgrade various machines when they wear out or when new and improved models become available. Some examples of commercial fitness equipment brands which support this kind of usage include:
- Life Fitness
- Hammer Strength
Most of these brands offer hundreds of different products across varying sizes and finishes, each with its own unique features and added technologies so that fitness businesses and private users can invest in what they individually require.
As well as being commercially available on lease contracts, these same brands are also available for private purchase and make ideal home gym equipment solutions for buyers, with most operating ecommerce sites for a high end consumer experience.
Then we have the brands which utilise technology as part of their offering, many of which are much newer to the market and are responsible for driving forward the future of fitness equipment into a more connected world. A great example of this is a brand called Peloton which is making waves in the industry through its use of interactive workouts and live streaming; allowing consumers to follow structured workouts which are programmed into the brands’ own treadmills and bikes. Another example is Tonal – a brand which has created an entire home gym in one compact wall mounted machine, which delivers tailored workouts to users on a daily basis using scientific data and digital weights to track and monitor fitness goals, with a series of accessories provided to support different workouts and exercises. Both of these brands, and a whole heap of other technology-led brands, are available through their own ecommerce sites.
To purchase all of these varying pieces of gym equipment from a variety of different brands, consumers can either choose to visit the ecommerce stores of their chosen brand, or else they can shop in store across a selection of retailers which are dedicated to stocking and selling sporting and fitness apparel and equipment, including both the larger pieces of machinery and the much smaller free weights and resistance band tools – for example Sports Direct, Walmart and Best Buy. Another option, and one which is becoming increasingly popular with the ever-expanding array of brands to choose from, is to shop from a marketplace retailer which stocks a series of different brands and can provide reviews and testimonials for the various pieces of equipment. Great examples of these marketplace retailers include Amazon, Argos, Fitness Superstore, and Fitness Exchange, as well as eBay and Gumtree where consumers can find high quality second hand pieces of equipment as well as brand new machines.
Trends in the fitness equipment industry
One of the biggest trends driving sales in the fitness equipment industry relies on season – and that is the rise in popularity of health and fitness tools and machines in line with New Year Resolutions. Gyms and fitness centres report annual spikes in memberships and user number with the arrival of the new year, as consumers look for ways to balance out their Christmas treats with activity and a renewed love of the gym and fitness in the new year. And with so many now looking to home gyms and at-home workouts as long term investments, so the fitness equipment industry sees a spike in private sales around the New Year. This also ties in with January sales, giving potential customers more of an incentive to buy and providing retailers with an excuse to provide and offer stock at reduced prices.
Another trend which has supported the rise in popularity of both private fitness equipment sales, and the establishment of more commercial workout venues which leads to an uptake in commercial fitness equipment contracts, is the focus that health and fitness has had on mainstream media and societal initiatives. Across many industries from food to fashion, fitness is playing its part in changing the way that consumers approach various items and the way that they treat their bodies. Obesity is a rising concern among the population which is being counterbalanced by government and industry initiatives to encourage people to lead more active lifestyles – making gyms more affordable and easier to find across wider communities, creating new and improved fitness centres which focus on experience as much as functionality, and even inputting initiatives into everyday locations like the supermarket, where consumers can collect coupons and vouchers which can then be passed to schools and exchanged for pieces of gym and fitness equipment for children. These initiatives and concepts may be relatively limited in their reach, but in the grand scheme of things, by making fitness equipment more accessible to a wider network of potential users and consumers, what these trends do is widen education and usage on a global scale.
Moving on to a trend which has taken over not just the use of fitness equipment but also the way in which consumers use gyms and fitness clubs: the experience of using this equipment and going to the gym, and how it can be tied in and adjusted in line with various lifestyles and expectations. Did you know that women own more than half of the gym memberships around the world? This may not surprise you now, but a few years ago this unexpected rise in female memberships was largely due to a change in the way that gyms enhanced the user experience, and the way that fitness equipment was developed to be user friendly regardless of ability. By using technology and advanced mechanics to allow the weight and tension on a piece of equipment to be singlehandedly adjusted according to the strength and fitness of the user, equipment manufacturers made workouts and gyms more inclusive places and thus nurtured the rise in female members as part of the industry’s growth. Similarly, gyms themselves made the entire experience more user friendly, adding more luxurious elements to the changing rooms and showers in order to provide more of a comfortable atmosphere to work out in.
When it comes to finding and sourcing fitness equipment either within a structured gym or fitness centre, or to create a home gym, the best pieces tend to be available through high level brands and resale sites – with retailers and brands offering their own deals and discounts depending on the season and the pending upgrades against various machines and pieces of equipment. One of the major areas that is seeing an increased focus is the presence of blogs and articles which guide consumers and teach them how to use various machines depending on their fitness goals and requirements – using education as a tool for inspiration which in turn drives consumers to try and use machines that they otherwise may not have attempted. This, added to the impact made by personal trainers and industry professionals, means that through educational systems and increased information, consumers are able to approach fitness equipment with more information about how it can be used to reach and support their goals; which items are best for strengthening each muscle in the body; which exercises can be enhanced using various free weights and resistance bands; and even which pieces of equipment can be purchased cheaply to support at-home activity and exercise.