Selectorized weight equipment: options for every user
by Paul Steinbach
CrossFit hit the strength training landscape with such meteoric force that it produced a new era of sorts — one emphasizing simple free weights, battle ropes and plyo boxes, suspension and other forms of bodyweight resistance, and adding a competitive element to fitness rarely seen outside the Olympic Games. Could this possibly relegate selectorized strength training to extinction? Would specialized pieces of equipment dotting fitness floors for more than a half-century resemble mere fossils?
Throughout this evolution, the means to reaching those goals has always been the machine — a mechanical approach to strength training that allows not only for the isolation of individual muscles, but of the entire individual — with human spotting partners all but obsolete. “A trainer is often not needed to learn how to perform the exercise correctly,” Adsit says. “With advancements in placards and exercise instructions on machines, users can perform safe and effective movements with little experience. On the other end of the spectrum, advanced users can target muscle groups difficult to overload when working with gravity alone. This can create greater muscle stimulation and improved strength, performance and hypertrophy.”
The science behind the mechanics is right there in plain sight, with adjustable seats and pivot points positioning and stabilizing the body (no cheating), and optimizing each user’s experience and end results. “Machines offer cams, levers and pulley configurations that can manipulate the load to optimize the strength curve of each movement,” says Jeff Dilts, vice president of product management and innovation at Core Health & Fitness LLC. “This means getting the maximum work done in the most efficient timeframe.”
Selectorized equipment continues to evolve, and in many ways has strengthened its position within the fitness landscape.
“Machines from the past were often tall, bulky, square and tailored to larger male users. Today, we have machines with contoured action-specific grips, rep counters and timers, along with short stack heights, making equipment more approachable and more experiential.”
“With improvements in appearance and space-saving designs such as back-to-back weight stack layouts and reduced machine heights, facilities can be more intentional with primary placement of the equipment without diminishing the facility experience,” Adsit says. “Machines from the past were often tall, bulky, square and tailored to larger male users. Today, we have machines with contoured action-specific grips, rep counters and timers, along with short stack heights, making equipment more approachable and more experiential. As manufacturers shift biomechanics and ergonomics toward comfort for general populations, facilities can place this equipment in more prominent locations to attract new users. The association of pain and discomfort with exercise is replaced with sleek, refreshing and inviting machines.”
The type of integrated touchscreen technology commonplace on cardio equipment has migrated to the selectorized strength training realm, making the equipment all the more inviting. “Exercisers are in need of guidance and motivation as part of their strength fitness journey,” says Hubbard. “We continue to see exercisers struggle to understand sets, reps, sequence, form. Technology can help bridge these gaps and improve the overall experience.”
Upgrading the experience in this way comes with increased costs, of course — not only in terms of the equipment purchase price, but in infrastructure power requirements, as well. “We have seen technology innovation in selectorized machine training, including computerized tracking and motorized load generation,” Dilts says. “This typically adds significant cost and complexity to the area of the traditional layout, and that may not provide a significant ROI.”
That said, technology can ease the strain on a facility’s staff. “Without personalized staff instruction, users can now look to the machine to educate, demonstrate and provide sample exercise programs. Facilities can capture usage data, receive digital service notifications and have additional revenue generation capabilities with the addition of technology in the machine,” Adsit says. “A must-have? Only time will tell if the market can bear the increased costs and power requirements. If facilities learn how to turn the technology into dollars, you bet it will become a must-have.”
The continued popularity of selectorized machines will still require a human element, according to Hubbard. “Beyond the equipment, it is key that operators develop programs and on-ramps that help all members be successful and have a great experience,” he says. “In recent years, programming and training support has been too focused on functional-type training and sports performance. This can leave exercisers who prefer other equipment — such as selectorized — feeling left behind.”
“The preference really depends on the perspective of users,” Adsit adds. “Do they have joint discomfort, injury, lack of motor control or even self-confidence issues that prevent more aggressive training? Bodybuilders may prefer free weights for mass building — however, many will still incorporate selectorized machines for isolated overload and muscle shaping. While we may associate certain groups with selectorized training, I don’t think it’s fair to draw a box around them. It’s situational. Selectorized training provides a comfortable experience for many individuals, regardless of their background or training experience.”
Says Stevenson, the club owner, “I think that every full-service facility should have selectorized pieces, because there will always be member demographics looking for that type of training.”
This article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Selectorized weight equipment options for every user." Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry.
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