Perfecting the Cardio Blueprint

Commercial Fitness

Perfecting the Cardio Blueprint

Picture this: It’s the mid-1990s, and club operators across the nation are watching as fitness clubs close left and right amid less than favorable economic conditions, while exercisers forgo gym memberships to save money. The combination of club closures and member losses leaves operators desperate for a game-changing offering to help differentiate their facilities and attract new members.

This article originally appeared in the National Fitness Trade Journal magazine.

That revolutionary product came along in 1995, when the first Elliptical Fitness Crosstrainer™, or EFX®, launched to commercial buyers. “We took a big risk when we introduced the EFX,” said Jim Birrell, Chief Innovation Officer at Precor. “There was nothing like it on the market, and we weren’t sure how exercisers and club owners were going to receive it,” said Birrell. Although Precor was confident in the design and effectiveness of the EFX -- they had performed extensive market and biomechanical research in cooperation with a local university’s biomechanics laboratory -- they had no idea what the market reaction would be.

Despite these unknowns at the time of launch, it soon became clear that the EFX was a success. “Within a month of a facility owner, manager, or buyer putting an EFX in, there were lines of people waiting to get on this machine,” continued Birrell. “Fights almost broke out between members who wanted to experience this brand new piece of equipment. That’s just how popular it was. We were blown away.” Its introduction established an entirely new category of fitness equipment and filled a hole in the market by offering exercisers of all abilities a challenging, yet low-impact workout, and providing club operators with a cornerstone piece of equipment that helped to drive business.

Flash forward to today: Four generations of product and nearly twenty years later, Precor revisited its most popular product to drive the EFX even closer to perfection. The stakes were high – operators and exercisers alike had come to love the EFX in its current form, and tinkering with a classic could prove to be problematic for business if Precor did not get the next version exactly right. After conducting extensive interviews with operators and exercisers, Precor product designers decided to focus their efforts on enhancing the operator and exerciser experience in two key areas: ease of maintenance and exerciser feel.

When it came to designing an elliptical that would deliver even more to operators, Precor had to aim high, especially considering the current Precor EFX has a warranty service rate that is five times lower than the industry standard. With this in mind, designers turned their focus toward making the maintenance and service of the EFX even easier. Access to mechanical components now only requires a Philips screwdriver or bare hands. Moreover, servicers can access mechanical components in just under two minutes, drastically reducing the amount of time spent attending to equipment. In addition, the rear drive housing and CrossRamp® are now enclosed, making it easier for operators to keep them clean and protected from dirt, dust, and sweat.

To round out the operator-facing elements of the new EFX, designers incorporated features from other Precor products that were already winning with operators, namely the Active Status Light on the Precor treadmill. The Active Status Light is an external status light that indicates an elliptical’s operating condition and when to perform life-extending maintenance. “The Active Status Lights allow techs to take a look all the way down the line of treadmills and immediately see if there’s an issue,” said Lynn Stewart, District Facilities Technician at 24 Hour Fitness. “We don’t have to wait for a customer or member to get on it with an issue…That’s timesaving for us.” The addition of the Active Status Light to the EFX with Converging CrossRamp® gives facility operators the ability to address maintenance issues and get one of the most popular pieces of equipment back online quickly.

When it came to exercisers, Precor wanted to develop a product that would make exercisers fall in love all over again. To uncover what exercisers were looking for in an elliptical, Precor performed extensive in-club user research with independent product evaluation and discovered that exercisers, especially female ones, were looking for an elliptical with a smaller profile and one that delivered a feel that exercisers described as “more natural.” After pinpointing the elements of an exerciser’s stride that made using an elliptical feel more “natural,” Precor designed a modified converging elliptical pathway and commissioned three independent research studies to validate the effectiveness of this new motion path.

More than a year of research performed by a biomechanics lab at a Washington State University showed that while the parallel track design used in prior versions of the EFX was sound from a biomechanical perspective, introducing a converging motion that more closely matches a user’s natural footpath during gait would take elliptical training to the next level and would increase glute activation, a key target area for many elliptical users. These insights informed one of the most visible changes to the EFX design: the Converging CrossRamp®. The equipment also features a lower step-up height and smaller footprint, which makes the EFX less intimidating and easier to access for all exercisers, especially women, who comprise 60 percent of the elliptical user base.

Though it is early, the new EFX with Converging CrossRamp is already proving to be a winner with exercisers and operators alike. “You can tell Precor did their homework with knowing what the major concerns were from the user’s standpoint,” said Greg Stephenson, Fitness Director at University of Minnesota. “We love our current EFXs, and it’s hard to believe that Precor improved on something that was already a well-designed machine. But they did.”