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Keep up-to-date when adding technology to sports and fitness equipment

This is an excerpt from Campus Recreational Sports by NIRSA.

New Technology in Sports and Fitness Equipment

New technologies are created daily that affect the products being manufactured for both institutional and personal use in sports and fitness markets. As with recreation facility managers, the professionals who select, purchase, and incorporate equipment into programs and facilities need to be aware not only of the “latest and greatest” but also of what might be coming in the future. One way to keep up is to review online and printed trade media, which provide an enormous amount of information about equipment vendors, their product lines, their newest technology, and even what may be on the drawing board. In addition, trade shows and show-room demonstrations allow you to examine or even try out models of possible interest for your programs or facilities. Good recreation consumers do their homework prior to purchase and do not rely solely on the word of the salesperson or representative.

Exercise and Fitness Equipment

Recreation centers are not only adding flat-screen and high-definition televisions to entertain users in fitness areas; they are also changing their exercise equipment itself. Recreation professionals now face a wide array of possibilities for cardio and strength equipment, and each brand continually updates and adds features to its product line as the market becomes increasingly competitive. Improvements include new materials, better production methods, updated looks, and new features. Several longtime companies have closed, but newer ones have claimed their spots on institutions' rosters of eligible vendors.

In this environment, equipment users are targeted by frequent new product announcements, traditional and online media reviews, and either word-of-mouth or personal experience with a variety of brands. This intensity has led to an increasingly shorter “state-of-the-art” appeal than in the past, and replacement schedules that were traditionally based on 5 to 10 years of use are now being cut by 50 percent or more. At the same time, although manufacturing costs have dropped in certain areas (e.g., electronic components and materials), the overall price of new technology has risen due to inflation, increased labor costs, and the increased cost of raw materials such as steel for frames.

Cardio Equipment

As manufacturers compete to attract users, new cardio equipment increasingly offers features that call for web access and compatibility with personal MP3 players. The traditional static exercise bike, rowing machine, elliptical machine, and treadmill have been upgraded to allow users to experience more than sweating, elevated heart rate, and development of muscle strength. Network access gives users access to television shows, Internet surfing, and music playlists; it also fosters interactivity through competition with other users across the room or even across the country. To accommodate the increasing demand for this technology, architects and planners must now make sure to include adequate power and data infrastructure when building or renovating facilities.

Moving forward, new equipment will also improve the efficient use of energy—even the energy generated by the very people using the equipment. For example, energy collected from exercise bikes, treadmills, and other specially designed equipment can be either reused by the machine itself or channeled back into the facility's power grid. This type of equipment will be seen in more and more recreation centers as more facilities seek to become LEED certified (i.e., certified as exercising Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and generally greener.

New cardio technology also allows users to monitor their fitness levels and take advantage of both machine-based and web-based fitness assessment software. Users who log onto the software while using the machine can access training programs, receive feedback and benchmark data, and monitor their vitals as they work out. Some new machines even remember personal settings for each user. In addition, exercisers can get tips for improving their workout, explore nutritional information about what is best to eat or drink before or after an exercise session, and log their daily results for record keeping and analysis of short- and long-term fitness.

Other cardio-related innovations are affecting how recreation professionals program and equip their spaces beyond typical exercise equipment. For example, the combination of exercise and entertainment (i.e., exergaming) brings mass-market computer and video games into the exercise arena to engage users in nontraditional methods of exercise. Whether the theme is dance, sports, fitness, or role playing, these games enable users to participate physically in active and interactive play against a computer or other players. Recreation programmers schedule competitions by providing game access in a building's public or social space. The variety of game types and platforms will continue to grow as hardware and software companies increase their research and development in this area.

Strength Equipment

The improvement of product materials has allowed strength equipment manufacturers to fabricate longer-lasting dumbbells, weights, bars, and accessories. Improvement in the composition of polyurethane weight plates and dumbbells has extended their life span and reduced the wear and tear they exact on the facility. All-metal weight equipment is now built with composite materials that give a better grip and reduce the chance of loosening up on the user. Purchasing options now also include new color schemes, coatings, and upholstery materials.

The design of strength equipment is also influenced by the home user market. Dumbbells no longer have to come in a single weight; users now have several weight options for changing the weight by taking off or adding components to reach the desired amount. In addition, equipment designed for light home use (e.g., back-of-the-door pulley system or space-saving treadmill) is being modified to handle the heavier usage that is typical in recreation centers.

Sports Equipment

Though new technology has touched personal sports equipment only lightly, it has exerted greater effect on sports fields and gymnasiums, and synthetic surfaces are becoming the standard in campus recreational sports. Trade journals report that the construction of synthetic field surfaces is the most common item on a recreation department's list of planned additions, and this technology will remain in high demand due to the variety of fabrication methods and installation techniques, coupled with need for all-weather capability. For indoor spaces, both poured surfaces and wood flooring have become longer lasting and easier to maintain, but they are also increasing in both purchase and installation cost. Price will be the driving force behind selection as manufacturers see demand increase and production costs decrease.

Other Recreation Equipment

New equipment technologies are also influencing other areas of recreation practice. In aquatics, drowning detection devices help lifeguards identify swimmers in distress in both large and small pools, and lightning detectors help pool operators and recreation field supervisors keep participants safe by identifying imminent strikes earlier. Outdoor recreation trip leaders use GPS devices to track location and thus minimize the chance of lost participants or leaders. In distance running programs, participants use specialized body suits and smart clothing (called humionics) to monitor distance and body functions, to communicate, and to listen to music. Personal trainers use computer programs, tablet computers, and assessment devices to allow body imaging for their clients and even to enable clients themselves to interact with a virtual coach or trainer.

New innovations and inventions will continue to improve and increase the variety of equipment technology. Everyone wants to have the latest equipment and a state-of-the-art facility in order to attract and retain participants and users. But today's recreation professional is continually challenged just to keep up with the curve of changing technology, much less stay ahead of it. Technology now affects not only how facilities are designed, equipped, and operated, but also how professionals communicate with participants and train their staff.

Learn more about Campus Recreational Sports: Managing Employees, Programs, Facilities, and Services.

More Excerpts From Campus Recreational Sports