Lateral Movement Trainers In The Gym And Health And Fitness Centers

Lateral movement training has been used for quite some time as a training method for speed skating and skiing

A decade after being introduced as a rehabilitation vehicle, lateral movement trainers (LMTs) are just now beginning to muscle their way into health clubs and fitness centers. Slide training is popping up in classes across the country, and manufacturers are crossing their fingers that the low-impact exercise the LMT provides will ignite the industry in much the same way as step aerobics did in the early ’90s.

But demonstrating staying-power in an industry that is flooded with new products and trends is no easy task. From total-body weight machines to interactive cardiovascular equipment, more and more companies seem to be vying for “trend” status when it comes to fitness. The challenge for club personnel is determining which of these products will actually boost their members’ health, as well as their business.

Carving it’s own niche

When considering the future of slide training, manufacturers are banking on the fact that like “stepping,” lateral movement training involves a simple motion that provides a vigorous cardiovascular workout and can be set to music. And although both the step and the LMT are primarily instruments to increase cardiovascular fitness, manufacturers are quick to point out that the two devices provide different workouts. “The slide [LMT] is not meant to replace the step,” says Gary Johnson, vice president of Slide Reebok by Kneedspeed. “It’s meant to be used as a device that augments one’s training.” Colin Maclean, president of Aerobafloor, makers of the Aerobaslide, adds that the two products work different muscle groups. While the step involves north-to-south (or sagittal) movements, the slide involves east-to-west (frontal plane movements), strengthening commonly injured muscles in the ankles, knees and hips.

Product projections

Like stepping, the concept of “sliding” is not new. Lateral movement training has been used for a number of years as a training method for speed skating and skiing and, more recently, as a means of rehabilitating injured athletes. Sliding for the mainstream, however, wasn’t introduced until about 1989, and it wasn’t until the latter half of 1993 that LMTs began being “legitimized” with respectable sales figures. Many LMT manufactures reported strong sales starting in the summer of ’93, and most are predicting huge gains in 1994. Aerobafloor, which reportedly sold about 10,000 units during the latter portion of 1993, forecasts sales of 250,000 in 1994. In February alone, the company reported shipping 6,000 LMTs to clients overseas. Likewise, Fitness Innovations plans to double sales of The Slide in 1994, and The Training Camp International, which manufactures the Body Slide and LMTs for Nordic Track, predicts sales to fall somewhere between 50,000 to 100,000 units. “Our international sales are exploding,” says Maclean, adding that overall, he expects slide boards to make a lasting impression on the industry. “The product will probably be hot for about 36 months, plateau for two years and then experience a dry-down spell in which only the best companies will survive,” he says. Johnson, of Slide Reebok by Kneedspeed, agrees that slide training is more than just a passing trend. “Once people see that it improves performance, they’ll stick with it, no doubt,” he says.

So far, interest is tepid

Despite hopeful predictions from manufacturers, however, clubs that use lateral movement training in their programming are reporting moderate interest among members, at best. “It’s a good training device, it’s just not easy to do,” says Mark Tremblay, owner of TNT Fitness in Port St. Luci, Fla. Tremblay, who began using LMTs in his programs about two years ago, said his members found straight slide classes too intense a workout. Like many clubs that offer lateral movement training, Tremblay now offers slide training only in interval classes where steps and weights are also used. Beth Baker, programming director for the Harrisburg YMCA in Harrisburg, Pa., agrees that straight sliding can be difficult. “For beginners, especially, it’s too hard,” she says. “But the ones who have taken the time to learn it are hooked. For whatever reason, though, there’s still a lot who don’t want to try it.”

Although manufacturers claim the LMT is not meant to replace the step, according to a fitness equipment study published by Find/SVP, New York, N.Y., the two products share the same target market — women ages 18 to 35. And while programming directors, such as Baker, say they will add more classes utilizing lateral movement training in the future, most do not expect the LMT to revolutionize the industry in the same manner as the step. “The step is still too popular for anything to take its place and it’s still too new,” explains Baker. “Step came along when people had been doing regular dance aerobics for about 12 years and they needed something new. But step has only been popular for about three years and people aren’t tired of it yet.”

There’s hope, yet

Despite a less than overwhelming response from members, clubs do not appear to be ruling lateral motion training out as a means of boosting their programming. “It gives instructors wonderful flexibility in their classes,” says Judy Esposito, aerobics director at Midtown Tennis Club in Rochester, N.Y. “It helps erase the boredom factor that may arise from offering the same class everyday, and it works muscle groups you don’t work in any other way.”

Baker predicts that if LMTs are marketed properly, meaning that they they are billed as a supplement to a well-rounded fitness program, more club members will begin using them. “It’s when they start pitching them as the hottest new fitness craze that they’ll fail,” she says. “People will be expecting too much from them.” Adds Esposito, “The slide [LMT] comes as another alternative in fitness, and a very viable one, I think. It’s not going to be as big as the step, but I think people would miss it if we took it away.”

Education; not inundation

On the whole, manufacturers appear to be sensitive about the need for education, as opposed to hype, when marketing slide products. “Quality programming, combined with the product itself, is the lifeblood of this product,” says Greg Mauer, director of training for Training Camp International. “If you don’t provide training to people, the slide program fails. Knowing what to do with the slide is more important than the slide itself.” Mauer added that slide boards are experiencing sluggish sales in the retail market because people haven’t been educated about how to use them. “Steps have become big in home fitness because they weren’t really available to the retail market until a few years after they were being used in clubs,” he explains. To ensure people know how to use LMTs, Esposito suggests that manufacturers furnish clubs with research about the benefits of slide training and that the industry produce sophisticated training videos featuring certified instructors. Adds Baker, “Once people start doing it on TV, and they start seeing more videos on the market, they’ll definitely be interested.”

By Christina Gandolfo

Lateral movement trainers.

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