Perhaps the most innovative and ingenious invention in sports and fitness lies in Tulsa, and few in the industry are aware of it.
Exerbotics is a Tulsa-based engineering and manufacturing company that, on March 16, will commercially unveil its highly specialized, computer-controlled fitness equipment at the IHRSA (International Health and Racquet Club Association) conference, the world’s largest fitness and trade show.
Bert Davison, president, and Tony Linville, senior vice president for the company, said the equipment is 28 years in the making. Davison has been involved with the company for seven years and Linville for two. Their company’s equipment, they say, is “literally probably the greatest innovation in strength training ever.”
The equipment’s invention arose from what Davison calls “tremendous inefficiencies” in weight lifting: inertia and a muscle’s “sticking point.”
“When you lift a weight – let’s say it’s a 100-pound weight – you have to exert more than 100 pounds of force to get it moving. But once it’s moving, (you’re exerting less force) because of inertia,” Davison explained.
But, he said, the biggest problem with lifting free or stacked weights is what is called the “sticking point,” the point at which the muscle is weakest. A person can only lift as much as his muscle’s weakest point will allow, Davison explained.
Davison said the Exerbotics equipment, which runs on computers and robotic motors, is not limited by a person’s sticking point because no actual weights are involved. The amount of weight and the speed of the lift are controlled by computers; the amount of force is controlled by the user.
During a chest press, for example, as the user exerts the force necessary to lift the weight, the computer automatically increases the amount of weight being lifted by what the muscles are capable of. The evidence of the user’s force is displayed on a screen attached to the machine that shows him exactly how much weight is being lifted at every stage of the exercise.
“The bottom line with our equipment is, more results in less time. It’s extremely efficient, so we can do more in a 20-minute workout than an individual could do in an hour lifting free weights or weight stacks,” Davison said.
The Exerbotics equipment is geared toward three different markets, Davison said: “the health and fitness market; the athletic market, which primarily consists of sports teams and college athletics programs; and the medical rehab market.”
The equipment, other than being hyper-efficient, has the ability to quantifiably assess a person’s physique and physical strength. That is significant to all of Exerbotics’ target markets, Davison said, because it’s a way for people to see the results of the workouts they do.
“Eventually we will have this huge database of ours with fitness data for people from 16 to 90 years old or, say, professional athletes,” said Davison. “And the neat thing about that is, we’ll be able to correlate all that data and, for the first time ever, be able to not only prove results, but also predict results, because we’ve had quantifiable data to do that.”
The Future of Fitness
The Exerbotics concept was started in 1980 by Drs. Kent Noffsinger and William Kraemer.
At the time, though, computers weren’t sophisticated enough and technology was too expensive to do what they wanted to do.
“It just couldn’t be done cost-effectively until today,” said Davison.
For 10 months, the Exerbotics equipment has been tested at the Exerbotics Premier Fitness Studio, 1876 Utica Square. There, approximately 70 users receive personal training on the machines from the studio’s staff of eight. Other than those 78 or so people, no one knows that the technology and the equipment being pioneered by Exerbotics even exists.
The studio closely resembles your average gym. One area is equipped with cardio equipment—treadmills mostly—which face televisions boasting the news and midday talk shows. Its walls are lined with fitness equipment that, at first glance, looks like any other fitness equipment used by any other fitness center.
But, this equipment is sleeker, more modern-looking, and resting beside each piece is what looks like a small PC. Noticeably absent from the studio is the clanging of metal weights.
The studio has served as a beta test site for the Exerbotics equipment, Davison said, and the company’s goal is to eventually franchise the studio. Franchising, which is at least a year away, Davison said, will involve two models—a personal training studio similar to the one in Utica Square and a 30-minute circuit workout studio.
Neither Davison nor Linville know what the industry’s reaction will be when they take their product public. They’ve been keeping it under wraps because “we want to make sure we have the technology complete, and that’s been a really challenging process that’s really just come together this month,” said Davison.
“We do expect it to be well-received because it’s just an extremely unique breakthrough in the world of fitness,” he said.