Weight Equipment—Sales reached about $142 million last year for this group, which includes free weights and products like Heavyhands. According to some market estimates, the seemingly endless line of home strength-training machines produced another $192.5 million. Total Gym, Kong, The Lean Machine, DP-Gympac and Soloflex are but the tip of the iceberg. Talk about your different advertising approaches—Kong used a picture of a gorilla, The Lean Machine grabbed Gayle Sayers as a spokesman, and Soloflex employed a former gymnast named Scott Madsen after he answered its ad for a model. Since then, Madsen has become more famous than Sayers or the gorilla, and he has just completed a book for Simon & Schuster. "I can't imagine what he has to say," says Wilson, who gave Madsen his job.
Consumer watchdogs generally give the nod to Total Gym as the best made of the strength-training machines, but it has been nowhere near as successful as Solo-flex, which, with its $18 million sales figure, is an industry phenomenon. "The common rule is, in direct mail you don't usually get good deals," says Spring. But, counters Wilson, "What I'm doing is cutting out the middleman so I can pass the savings along to my customer."
It's not surprising that there's some difference of opinion about strength-training machines, given the ruckus over the granddaddy of them all, the Nautilus. Whether he acknowledges it or not—and Wilson, for one, freely does—every weight machine inventor owes a debt to Nautilus. The Nautilus company is cloaked in mystery, from the Howard Hughes-like personality of its reclusive founder, Jones, to the hush-hush sales figures, which vary from $40 million to $400 million annually, depending on who's doing the guessing.
Rebounders—A recent issue of Executive Fitness Newsletter, a respected fitness industry publication, stated that rebounders may not add much to aerobic endurance. Reporting the findings of Bryant Stamford, director of the exercise physiology lab at the University of Louisville, the newsletter said that exercising on the trampoline is generally not strenuous enough to raise the heart rate high enough for aerobic benefit. "Misleading," says Harry Sneider, one of many re-bounder advocates in California. "That study made no mention of the addition of weights to the exercising." Sneider and many others insist that the addition of one-, two-and three-pound weights will toughen the exercise enough to achieve aerobic benefit, and he has the testimony of several world-class athletes, high jumper Dwight Stones among them, to back him up.
The trouble is, many cut-rate re-bounders are marketed without any mention of weights or exercise techniques. Without instruction, any man, woman or child could bounce around from now to Judgment Day without achieving one blessed fitness benefit. And any user may sprain his ankle on one of the cut-rate jobs in the process. A good, solid re-bounder should cost about $140, but the average American paid only about $47 in 1983.
A suggestion: Go for the rebounders with a rectangular or square surface, rather than the smaller round surface. "Anything round tends to rotate the foot-bones inward, which will create stress on the skeletal system," says Netter, himself an enthusiastic rebounder advocate.
Gravity Boots and Bars—Long before Flashdance's Jennifer Beals hot-wired the torn sweatshirt industry, Richard Gere propelled the gravity-exercise industry into the American consciousness. Can't you see him now at the beginning of American Gigolo, a lean, sweaty, sexy opossum hanging upside down in his apartment before heading out to meet the next divorcée.
Gravity advocates, particularly the No. 1 guru, Dr. Robert Martin of Gravity Guidance Systems in Pasadena, still extol the benefits of inversion exercise; they say that it can help to strengthen a bad back and aid circulation. Which it can. But many people in the fitness industry are more worried about the risks inherent in using this technique.
Ryan, of The Physician and Sports-medicine: "The problems with these inverted devices are potentially serious ones. The exercises have the tendency to increase the blood pressure very substantially and they could precipitate a stroke. Also, we're finding out that an increase in the intraocular pressure in the internal channels of the eye can precipitate a glaucoma."
A better idea: If you want to snag Debra Winger, as Gere did at the end of An Officer and a Gentleman, you don't have to hang upside down. Become governor of Nebraska.