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What happens when you throw one of the worlds' strongest men, a beautiful fitness model, and a few Muscle & Fitness Editors into a 2-day test drive of some of the most advanced exercise equipment on the planet? A brutally honest review of what you're likely to see in the gym of the future. Dozens of companies were seen and tested at the IHRSA trade show in San Francisco, but we chose only the best to share with you.
1. Iron Grip: Free Weight Equipment
One of the classic barbell companies, Iron Grip has developed a new International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) bar -which is the only such bar to be manufactured in the US. As always, their strong following is maintained by their consistent use of urethane in their products, not rubber. This innovation allows for both a lasting grip and exceptionally durable (as in "beat the crap out of") equipment.
2. Keiser: Performance Equipment
Keiser performance equipment isn't just in a league of their own, they're in just about every other league too. A majority of NFL, MLB, and NHL teams actually purchase this equipment for training their athletes, as do a majority of Premiership football (soccer) and rugby teams. This is significant because most pro teams are simply given equipment -this is not the case with Keiser. As if to stand by his work, quite literally, our beauty and the beast team was taken through workouts by company president, Dennis Keiser.
Our duo tested out the Power Rack, which defines itself as the first real "power rack" on the market. The reason is that the tension is all pneumatic, which means that the speed is consistent, not jerky or affected by momentum. You get to predetermine the speed, all you have to do is generate as much force as you can, as quickly as possible. Although the equipment is very heavy on science, it is also incredibly user friendly. The interface is both clear and simple, so much so that you can see it during your reps.
Power-wise, that numerical interface shows you when you're at peak performance and when you fatigue. This is significant because power training requires a completely fatigue-free state, and with this level of quantification you'll easily be able to see when you need to take a break or even just hit the showers.
The quote of the day belongs to company President and power expert Dennis Keiser, who stated: "Train the brain to train speed." This is a critical concept that has yet to be realized by many, but it is this advanced level of thinking that underlies the performance line of Keiser equipment.
3. TRX: Suspension Training
One of our premier science advisors, Dr. Tim Scheett, also happens to be a TRX researcher, and had the following to say about it: "The TRX is really a revolutionary training device in that it not only works core stabilizer muscles but that it forces all core stabilizer muscles to fire in order to hold the correct body position while allowing you to do isolated body part exercises. The TRX also allows you to maximize the effort you put into each repetition as you can start out using a dramatic angle for your initial reps and then as soon as you become fatigued you can easily take a 6" step to "lighten" the load to continue performing additional reps, once you are nearly fatigued again you can just take another 6" step and continue more reps…thus allowing yourself to maximize the load for each rep without having to take additional time to change weights.
Another clear advantage of the TRX is the fact that it forces you to recruit and utilize stabilizer muscles while performing one of numerous basic exercises. The recruitment of stabilizer muscles contributes a greater total muscle mass involvement during each repetition. Subjects in our study reported that after just 2 weeks they could really feel the effects of the TRX in that they were able to hold their body position properly while performing the specific exercise. The subjects commented that they could really feel the effects of the stabilizer muscles being worked because they were able to maintain a proper body position whereas, in the beginning they struggled to perform a basic suspended push-up because despite years of traditional resistance training their stabilizer muscles were still really weak – and in just 2 weeks they saw a dramatic improvement.
Don't believe me?? Try performing as many atomic push-ups as you can on day 1. Train with the TRX for just 2-3 days a week for 2 weeks and try the atomic push-up test again and you will see the benefits for yourself. Want to make some easy money?? Challenge anyone in the gym to an atomic push-up competition – even the guy with the most sick ripped abs will be amazed at how weak his core really is, unless of course they have been using the TRX and then in that case…keep your money in your locker."
4. Star Trac: Max Rack and eSpinner
You may be familiar with this company from their high profile equipment line used on The Biggest Loser. We checked out two of their most novel pieces of equipment and were not disappointed.
The Max Rack is a next generation of Smith machine. Rather than simply having a single plane of motion (up/down), the Max Rack also provides a horizontal component (back and forth). This allows a more natural range of motion, while still providing the safety of a smith machine and preventing rotation. It feels strange at first -in a (very) good way. Both planes of motion glided in a smooth and natural way, the only oddity comes from being accustomed to the restriction of a standard Smith machine. The added dimension makes this far more useful than a typical unidimensional version, and it was immediately clear that the freedom of movement works your stabilizer muscles and engages the core.
The eSpinner was also tested, which is a bike complete with a relatively large monitor on which predetermined spinning instructions are displayed. This could be in the form of a video, just like your very own personalized spinning class, or simple text to guide you through your workout. It's a great concept, and very user friendly.
5. X-Force: Computer Controlled Machines
These machines not only look like they're in a gym from the future, but the very concept behind them is ingenious. We're big fans of accentuated eccentric loading at M&F, and that's exactly what these electronically-controlled machines do. For the concentric phase, the plate stack is rotated at a ~45 degree angle (much like a leg press) such that the entire load is not felt. But for the eccentric (negative) phase, in which we are far stronger, the plate stack literally rotates, such that it becomes completely vertical -ensuing that we feel the entire load. Specifically, the eccentric load is 40% greater than in the concentric phase.
Pro: Heavier eccentric loading. Not only are we stronger in the eccentric phase, but this is also the phase that causes the greatest adaptive changes (both strength and growth). The problem is that it is normally difficult to overload this portion of the movement, particularly when we usually have exert less force during this phase. [see the Eccentric training article in this issue for more about the benefits of overloaded eccentrics and how to use them]
It shouldn't surprise anyone that one of the people involved with this product was bodybuilding icon Dr. Ellington Darden, who stated: "The genius lies in our previous failed attempts to add weight to the eccentric. In stead, we're simply removing weight from the concentric."
Right now the big downside is that these ~1700lb machines are shipped from Sweden, which would add to the price tag. Additionally, there's a need to follow the timing of the machine, which is a 3 second concentric, 1 second pause for the weight stack to shift, and then a 5 second eccentric, with another pause for stack movement. That said, this brilliant innovation is a giant leap in the right direction.
6. Power Plate: Vibration Trainers
Vibration training is hot for both athletic performance and rehab, and for this the PowerPlate delivers. In fact, Super Bowl Champs, the Pittsburgh Steelers, use the PowerPlate during every gym session. They even shipped the high performance model to Florida for the big game. If you're interested in trying one, be sure to check out the gym locator on their website for just that purpose.
7. Body-Solid: General Machines
High quality products, the shoulder press is a standout because it's a cross between free weights and a machine. Considering the level of instability of this joint (think of a soccer ball sitting in a saucer), this is a great thing. The natural arc of the movement is also mimicked, making this the best of both worlds. Combine that with the quality that Body-Solid is known for and you have a winning piece of equipment.
8. Woodway Speed Board: Treadmill
Woodway is known for their high quality treadmills, but the Speedboard takes the concept to a whole new level. Looking like something modeled from Da Vinci's Vitruvian man, the Speedboard is curved to match the natural arc of our legs during running. This completely self-powered treadmill allows you to walk as slow, or run as fast as you can, while taking advantage of the full range of motion. The key to self-empowerment is the foot strike at the front of the board will use gravity in combination with your bodyweight to move the belt at your desired pace.
The first piece of equipment we saw was the Kinesis One by TechnoGym. This all-in-one system not only looks cool, but it's also very functional. Range of motion is the key to Kinesis One, as it allows you to perform dozens of different exercises with tremendous freedom of movement. This allows for a high level of athletic specificity, no matter what you're training for.
As if that weren't enough, Kinesis One is being used by renowned strength coach Juan Carlos Santana at the Institute of Human Performance in Boca Raton, FL. This is about as big of an endorsement as you can get.
10. Exerbotics: Computer-Controlled Machines
One of the most exciting applications for strength and body composition are from a company called Exerobotics. These Dynokinetic (think moving isometrics -yes that's an intentional contradiction) machines are the gym equivalent of advanced lab equipment -and essentially make traditional training obsolete. They use computer-controlled movement such that the handles move (at any specific desired speed) whether you're on them or not. Though his may sound silly, it's both brilliant and physiologically ideal. The reason is that we can, and should, take full advantage of the eccentric component of each rep. This can only be done if we are able to exert as much force as possible, which is impossible on most machines. The reason being that if we're exerting more force than is on the bar (or plate stack) then we're going to be moving the weight in a concentric motion[see the Eccentric article in this issue for more information]. Due to the computer controlled movement, Exerbotics allows you to push as hard as you can, in both the concentric and eccentric phases, ensuring that you're getting the most out of every rep.
One of the most prolific strength training researchers of our time, from the University of Connecticut, Dr. William Kraemer, was an integral part of Exerbotics development. He states: "Exerbotics Strength Training Systems will cause a huge, pervasive and virtually incalculable effect when it hits the market." Such high praise from a legendary source does not come without good reason. One of the main features of the computerized Exerbotics system is that everything is measured, including the force exerted through every millisecond of every rep. This will allow you to standardize your training in a way never before possible. Incredibly, as complicated as it sounds, it's all quite interactive and user friendly. With a few simple presses on the touch screen you're ready to go.
The other remarkable aspect of the Exerbotics system is the type of workout you can get. The rep speed and range of motion are preset and completely controlled. All you have to do is apply the program that's ideal for your goals (which is exactly why you're reading M&F). After performing your 1RM test the first time you use the machine, you'll see a graph on the monitor of your strength throughout the entire rep. After that, simply determine what % of that 1RM you want to train at, and the Exerbotics will display the appropriate line graph corresponding to that level of force. For example, if you want to train at 80% 1RM, simply plug that number into the machine and the line graph will be generated for you. When the set begins, all you have to do is match your force output to the line on the screen and you're training at exactly the predetermined level. This is real time visual feedback at its best.
A final quote comes from Dr. Kent Noffsinger who developed this impressive line: Exerbotics fitness stations fully adapt to the user and are very light-weight since there are no weights or weight stacks. The resistance force provided during exercise is independent of "impingement point" position or motion – it is determined by user effort at every instant and adjusts instantly and continuously. Exercise protocols can be user-designed and programmed – comprehensive performance data is recorded, analyzed, and reported as desired.
Although they're not cheap, with the ~$10,000 price tag comes ideal strength and hypertrophy training. This is the gym of the future.
11. Real Ryder:
You know that someone has confidence in their product when the developer himself, who is also a cyclist and engineer, leads you on a ride -and allowed it all to be captured on film. Colin Irving took us through the ins and outs of the RealRyder, which is a cycle ergometer that actually leans to the side as you turn the handle bars. Although this may seem like a lot of fun, and it definitely was, it also causes a lot of core activation because you have to stabilize the bike -especially when standing.
The bikes were study enough to handle the 370lb Chad Aichs, who stated: "All cardio equipment sucks, but they did hold up to my fat ass!" This was perhaps the most highly anticipated piece of equipment going into the IHRSA show, and it did not disappoint.
12. PowerBlocks: Dumbbells
Much like the TRX, have you noticed that we love PowerBlocks? And what's not to love. If you're going to get dumbbells, why not get a whole set that takes up as much space as a single pair. They also cost far less than the entire set, but that should go without saying at this point. They're also easy to use, and have a surprisingly adhesive grip.
Super strong man Chad Aichs had this to say about them: "I've always liked the PowerBlock dumbells. I think for the home gym they're an awesome idea. They take up much less space, but are tough enough to used a lot. They also come heavy enough for almost everyone."
13. Cycle Ops: Cycle Ergometer
This company may have the greatest endorsement of all, because it comes from exercise scientist and Editor in Chief, Chris Lockwood. Considering that his study made other machines smoke and burn, you can imagine the punishment that CyclOps bikes had to take, and yet performed beautifully.
Also, continuing with the recurring theme of precise measurement, CycleOps uses the PowerTap, which is a device used to measure the power output during each cycling session. This quantification allows for a level of training specificity previously unavailable to all but elite level athletes.