Pilates and yoga have replaced dance aerobics. Kettle-bells have replaced dumbbells, and now even the traditional strength machines are getting a modern twist.
Sports fitness is experiencing a renaissance, and one Colorado Springs man is capitalizing on the city’s reputation as an amateur sports mecca and his own reputation as a strength equipment designer.
A veteran of three strength-machine companies with more than 30 years design experience, Roy Simonson’s latest effort is a combination the latest in design and technology and old-school weightlifting.
Called Simplicity, the machines mimic the range of motion used when lifting free weights, making use of all the stabilizer muscles, but they provide the stability and safety of traditional machines.
Simonson says it’s the first major change in the way strength-training machines have been designed in more than three decades — and it reflects the market’s changing methods of working out.
“All the machines — they look prettier now — but they’re all the same, they do the same thing they did 30 years ago,” he said. “But now, fitness is different. People are doing Pilates. They’re involved in boot camp fitness. And everyone is weight training, not just young men looking to build muscles.”
It was those young men that most gym machines were made for — guys with big muscles who wanted to get bigger. So, the machines targeted a single set of muscles, a different muscle set for each machine.
The sleek machines that are manufactured in the city at Springs Fabrication are different than traditional weight lifting machines. They use a broader range of motion, but they also make it easier for novices.
“Today, look around the gym, there are likely to be as many 50-year-olds there as there are people in their 30s,” he said. “They needed something that was easy to use, but provided a whole range of motion.”
The company has been selling the products internationally since January. A local gym opening on Powers bought them, but about half his sales are outside the U.S. He’s sold them in Singapore and Japan and will make a trip to Sweden this month to pitch the exercise equipment.
While he has a few affluent clients who buy the entire set for their homes, he specializes in commercial fitness — selling mostly to gyms and fitness centers from his showroom at 305 E. Pikes Peak Ave.
“I am the only commercial exercise company in the state,” he said, noting that Colorado Springs is home to cycling parts manufacturers and other exercise equipment companies. “It’s one of the things that sets us apart.”
Simonson is just the first of many companies who will make the Springs home, predicts Dr. Tom Duening, director of the Business Center for Entrepreneurship and El Pomar chair of business and entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. He believes the sports technology industry represents a growth opportunity for the area.
“When you think about what we can do to be cutting edge technology, this is an area no one else is doing,” he said. “Boulder has the market cornered on the internet and social media companies. But sports technology — no one is really doing that. The Springs is ideally located for it.”
The United States Olympic Committee is headquartered here, as are 17 amateur governing bodies. The city attracts people who are interested in fitness, he said.
Duening is also working to raise Colorado Springs’ sports profile. He created a national competition to spur development of sports, health and outdoor-related businesses in the Pikes Peak region.
“The business plan competition … is part of a larger effort to build on the natural strength of the Pikes Peak region,” he said.
While the region is just starting to market itself as a sports technology hub, Simonson already has successes under his belt, said Resolute partner and Springs Fabrication owner Tom Neppl.
The two worked together on an earlier company, FreeMotion. Neppl’s company manufactured the machines, while Simonson designed them. The company was sold and manufacturing moved out of the Springs, and the current partnership will keep both facets of the company here, Neppl said.
He’s enthusiastic about the idea, and has about 12 people working full-time on engineering and manufacturing the machines.
“We’re planning on keeping it here,” he said. “It’s too difficult to start up and get people trained, get the right machinery and then see it move somewhere else.”
Simonson also uses Springs Fabrication workshops to design prototypes of the strength training machines. Simonson has 28 patents to date, and patents are pending on the Simplicity machines.
Simonson believes his current line represents a move toward the traditional.
“There’s been kind of a renaissance,” he said. “People are going back to the older ways of exercising. The concepts I put to use in these machines are older concepts they aren’t designed around mere body building for big muscles.”