July 12, 2016

Whiz-Bangs in the Gym

By Deborah White
– The Commercial Appeal –

High-tech systems designed to entertain you with a personal video screen while ou exercise or to help with your workout are planned for several fitness facilities opening soon in the Memphis area.

E-Zone entertainment units that show cable TV and play CDs and cassettes are planned for each cardiovascular machine at the World Gym Fitness Center scheduled to open in Cordova in August.

Computerized fitness networks that guide and track workouts will be installed next year in the YMCA opening this weekend in Collierville, as well as in the DeSoto Athletic Club opening at the end of June in Southaven, directors of the centers said. The centers are likely to buy the FitLinxx Interactive Fitness Network or a competing system called Schwinn Fitness Advisor.

Both systems have central computer kiosks that display an individualized workout program after a personal identification number is entered. A small screen at each exercise machine shows details about the workout to be done that day once the PIN is entered at each machine. Electronic graphics and messages on the screen help guide all movements, which are recorded in the central computer.

"It charts your workout progress for you," said Gina Beck, fitness director of the YMCA at Schilling Farms, scheduled for a grand opening Saturday at 1185 Schilling (in west Collierville between Poplar and Winchester).

These new facilities are at the cutting edge of a national trend toward installing high-tech equipment desinged to attract or retain fitness club members. E-Zone helps attract members, and systems like FitLinxx help retain them, said Maeve McCaffrey, spokesman for the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association.

"All these amenities help keep people happy," McCaffrey said.

"It is just a matter of time before they become mainstream.

"It is slow growth. They may not be there right away – not until they (clubs) feel the pinch from someone else getting it."

Robert Creech, co-owner of the DeSoto Athletic Club, said he was impressed with FitLinxx when he saw people using it at a YMCA in the Nashville area.

"It was like having a personal trainer with them all the time," Creech said.

"It helps keep them motivated."

But the Memphis area’s first taste of the techonology already available in larger cities will come this summer at the World Gym Fitness Center at 1880 N. Germantown Parkway in Cordova.

It’s the first of the three World Gyms planned for the Memphis area, said Jim Vester, general manager of the club in Memphis and Gold’s Gym in Jackson, Tenn., owned by Health Development Inc.

The entertainment technology Vester plans to buy is made by E-Zone Networks Inc., based in Napa, Calif.

E-Zone’s network, complete with wireless headphones, allows exercisers to hear TV shows played on 5.6-inch screens or to listen to their own CDs or tapes.

E-Zone rents each unit of the network to fitness clubs for $39 a month, said Karyna Ainsworth, the firms marketing and communications coordinator.

Fitness club members must buy E-Zones headphones; the clubs make a profit by reselling the headphones to other members, Ainsworth said.

The suggested retail price for headphones with an FM receiver that can be used away from the unit is $99, Ainsworth said.

"We’re coming out with a model that won’t have FM on it for $69 this summer," Ainsworth said.

E-Zone installed its first system in Dallas last September and now has 800 units operating in 18 to 20 health clubs in 10 cities, Ainsworth said.

"Everyone looks for something different to keep them entertained while they are exercising," Vester said.

"They are more apt to stay with it."

The E-Zone network is also a good way to communicate with members, Vester said.

"You can put information across the screen to let them know changes in the club," he said.

The units will be hard to miss at the 15,000-square-foot World Gym, which will have 25 treadmills, 20 elliptical crosstrainers, 20 to 30 bikes and several step machines, Vester said.

The large numbers of equipment is one factor that sets World Gym apart, he said. "We will have doubles and threes of the popular equipment like leg extensions, leg curls, and lat pull-downs."

Vester chose to invest in E-Zone instead of FitLinxx or Schwinn Advisor because he thinks people would rather be entertained when they exercise, and get individual attention from staff trainers.

"It’s not real personal," Vester said of FitLinxx.

"People want feedback from somebody rather than a machine."