Summer's officially here. And to help people achieve their weight-loss goals, companies are parading out a slew of products they claim to be the solution. Consumers hoping to shed a few pounds are latching on to new, creative products and services that make working out more interesting than running on a treadmill day after day.
One approach growing in popularity is getting exercise while playing games, such as Wii Tennis and Dance Dance Revolution, which often help players break a sweat while competing. We found five other unique products and services that don't involve mundane repetition or being yelled at by your trainer.
From hoopdancing to running tours, these five companies prove working out doesn't have to be a chore.
The product: Hoopnotic TravelHoop and instructional DVD
Key players: Rayna McInturf, founder of Hoopnotica and chief visionary officer; Gabriella Redding, CEO; and Keaton Talmadge, co-founder and COO
Cost: $39.95 + $10 for the DVD when purchased with the hoop
What it does: The instructional DVD teaches hoopdancing, a workout that combines hula-hooping with dance using the company's adult-sized hoops.
How it came about: McInturf broke into the industry about seven years ago as a hoopdance performer. Hoopdancing slowly took over her life, and when she noticed how curious people were about it, she decided it had the potential to become a successful business enterprise. McInturf began giving lessons and selling her handmade hoops, and after meeting Redding in 2005 while instructing her in class, the company took off.
Why it's unique: "Hoopdancing allows you to get muscle toning and cardio at the same time, not one or the other," says McInturf. And, unlike other products that apply to specific ages and fitness levels, both McInturf and Redding say their product is for the whole family.
Our take on it: Hula-hooping makes working out an enjoyable experience. That was evident the second I stepped inside the hoop and started swinging my hips. I felt silly at first, but once I felt my heart beating a bit faster and gained control of the hoop, I could see why Hoopnotica's popularity is increasing.
Click here to see the Hoopnotic in action.
Trainer in Hand
The product: Progio Training Companion
Key player: Dirk Bartels, founder and CEO of Companion Worlds
Cost: $399 for 512 MB flash memory; $499 for 1 GB flash memory, polar heart-rate monitoring and chest strap
What it does: This hand-held electronic fitness device gives exercisers the freedom to work out anytime and anywhere by providing expert instructions and video at their fingertips. The Progio Training Companion can track progress, time workouts and monitor heart rate. When the workout is complete, the data is uploaded from the training companion to the company's website, where users can monitor their progress.
How it came about: Bartels says his entrepreneurial spirit made him leave behind his position as co-founder, president and CEO of Poet Holdings Inc., a provider of enterprise software, to pursue a new challenge. He took his background in sports and fitness--he participated in triathlons for about 15 years--and combined it with his skills to found Companion Worlds in 2003 and create the Progio Training Companion. "I saw the need for it," says Bartels. "One-on-one training is great, but it requires a lot of money and it's tough finding time to meet up on a consistent basis."
Why it's unique: Exercisers can receive training on their own schedule. They can personalize workouts to meet their individual needs, unlike attending a class at a gym. Progio also allows workout enthusiasts to track their progress, something similar devices don't do.
Our take on it: It's user-friendly, and isn't just geared toward professional athletes. It has the average consumer in mind, something I appreciated as a novice. If the price tag seems a bit high, you can still download the service onto your PDA or phone.
Click here to see the Progio in action.
At the Core
The product: CoreTwist and the Downs Disc Fitness Program
Key player: Ed Downs, founder of Ed Downs Fitness Experts, Inc. and personal trainer
Cost: $39.90 for two discs, four DVDs, 10-day meal plan and fitness tips
What it does: The Downs Discs, patented air-filled cushions, help exercisers build strength and flexibility where people are weakest.
How it came about: Downs worked with all-star pro-athletes for the past 15 years to help them recover from injuries and reach their optimal physical shape. As personal trainer to Baron Davis, Jerry Porter, Penny Hardaway, Alonzo Mourning and Jamal Mashburn, Downs has enjoyed years of traveling with teams. But now, he's decided to make his program available to the public. "It's a program that I know works, so I wanted to share it with working women, moms and families," says Downs.
Why it's unique: It's a quick workout with quick results. Downs says doing five push-ups on the disc is like doing 25 regular push-ups. The Downs Disc is also a safe workout for people with bad backs, since the disc can contour to the spine during sit-ups or other exercises. Downs also stresses the importance of dieting and portion control by offering a meal plan to increase metabolism and weight loss.
Our take on it: The discs provide the benefits of a stability ball in a more compact and portable package. I found that the discs are easier to incorporate into a regular routine than stability balls. And Downs does a good job of keeping his workouts simple and enjoyable while still challenging exercisers.
Click here to see the Ed Downs Discs in action.
Feel the Vibration
The product: FreeMotion i.Tonic Whole Body Vibration Platform
Key players: Patrick J. Hald, president and COO of FreeMotion Fitness; Jeremy Strom, education manager and senior project manager for strategic development; Amie Preston, VP of business development
What it does: The i.Tonic offers a low-impact way to increase strength and flexibility and rejuvenate your body, in addition to combating osteoporosis and increasing metabolism. Whole body vibration causes the muscles to experience an involuntary contraction at the same rate that the platform is vibrating.
How it came about: Vibration training was used in the 1960s by the Russian space program to help cosmonauts recover more quickly from muscle atrophy. Since then, Olympic athletes have adapted whole body vibration into their workouts. Product engineers in Holland tested whole body vibration and decided to commercialize it. Hald says he had been following vibration training for about six years when the FreeMotion team decided to meet with those engineers in 2005. Units became available last fall, and currently, personal training studios, professional athletes and celebrities have been expressing interest in them.
Why it's unique: It's a non-invasive workout that you don't have to change into workout clothes for. It's also a multi-faceted tool that complements running or strength-training. Hald says he believes it has the potential to become the next treadmill. "The price will eventually come down, just like it did for the treadmill. It's simply a great tool for a healthy lifestyle," he says.
Our take on it: I'm not the most flexible person. But after the demo of this product, I was able to touch my toes and felt an increased energy level. I could still feel the impact of the short time I spent on the i.Tonic a few days later. Territory sales manager Ryan Anderson says you only need to use the machine for 15 minutes, three days a week for maximum results. Strom points out that even a 30-second stretch on the i.Tonic can help reduce stress.
Tourists on the Run
The service: City Running Tours
Key player: Michael Gazaleh, founder, president and CEO
Cost: For most cities, the price is $50 per person for the first six miles and an additional $4 per person for each mile after that. In New York City, the cost is $60 per person plus an additional $6 per person after the first six miles.
What the service does: City Running Tours combines sight-seeing with fitness by leading runners on jaunts around cities. Gazaleh says the majority of runners that sign up are tourists, though he has seen business travelers and locals on his tours. The guided running tours began in New York last year and have expanded into Washington, DC, Chicago, Austin and Denver. Gazaleh has his sights set on expanding into more cities, including San Diego or San Francisco.
How it came about: City Running Tours began after an Australian tourist called the gym Gazaleh worked at and asked if anyone would take him on a run. None of the trainers at the gym were runners, so Gazaleh became his running travel guide. That week, he thought more about the idea of combining running with tourism. He set up a website and began operating the company during breaks from seeing clients at his chiropractor studio. Gazaleh says he hopes eventually to focus solely on City Running Tours.
Why it's unique: There are certainly other tours available in large cities, but there aren't many that offer health benefits. "What we're selling is the opportunity for travelers to continue their daily routine and feel more like themselves in a new place," says Gazaleh.
Our take on it: Testimonials from City Running Tours' clients echo Gazaleh's sentiment. Runners from all over the world say the tour was a highlight of their trip. I felt better after Gazaleh emphasized that they cater to all types of runners, and don't operate like a boot camp; walking is allowed. He also points out that a majority of the running happens in the city, meaning there are plenty of opportunities to stop at lights and busy intersections. And the guide provides water and a digital camera for capturing tourist moments.