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Carol Kennedy-Armbruster
Department of Kinesiology

Tracy James
University Communications

Last modified: Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Getting down to business

April 22, 2008

EDITORS: The students will pitch their ideas to Matrix representatives on Thursday, April 24, at 2:30 p.m. in Ballantine Hall room 135. Reporters and photographers are welcome to attend.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- There's nothing like some cash to drive home the real-world applications of a classroom assignment.

Undergraduates in Carol Kennedy-Armbruster's fitness management class in Indiana University Bloomington's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation will vie for $500 on Thursday (April 24) when they pitch their ideas for reinventing outdated fitness equipment, such as free weights, rowers and step mills.

Rethinking Machines

Andrew Souder (left), Vanessa Versprille and Jim Swihart, seniors in HPER's fitness specialist degree program, worked with their classmates to reinvent old-school fitness equipment. Matrix Fitness Systems will give the winning team $500.

Print-Quality Photo

The brainstorming is a win-win situation for the students and Matrix Fitness Systems, a major manufacturer of fitness equipment. The exercise is giving the students insights into the development side of the fitness industry and potential jobs they can pursue when they graduate with their fitness specialist bachelor's degrees. It's giving Matrix fresh ideas from a target market.

"Our kids need to know that sales and development is a career option for them," Kennedy-Armbruster said. "Matrix brought cash to the class -- I couldn't believe it. Its educational coordinator told me, 'You have no idea how valuable this is to us.'"

This is the second year Kennedy-Armbruster's students have brainstormed for Matrix. Last year, they were asked to add an entertainment element to cardio equipment. The collaboration began after Kennedy-Armbruster decided to attend some business conferences rather than the more typical educational conferences geared toward fitness. She found a host of people with exercise science degrees showing and selling fitness equipment.

"It really opened my eyes," Kennedy-Armbruster said. "When I returned from the conferences, I changed the way I taught the course."

Students pursuing the fitness specialist degree have various career goals in the fitness industry. Some want to work as personal trainers. Others want to manage their own fitness facility, work in corporate fitness or work as fitness consultants for such online ventures as WebMD.

The students, as part of their fitness specialist studies, are accustomed to working with individuals as they hone their personal training skills. This class gives them the chance to take a hands-on approach to the business side of fitness equipment. Jim Swihart, a senior, finds the idea of helping the fitness industry change to become more effective appealing. Looking around at a room full of fitness equipment at HPER, he said the machines are great for helping people become fit and healthier, but most of the machines do little to strengthen muscles in a way that helps users in their day-to-day activities.

"We need more equipment that is functional," Swihart said.

For this project, Matrix asked the students, divided into teams, to evaluate specific pieces of equipment to determine who they appealed to and whether they could be refreshed to appeal to today's fitness enthusiasts. They wanted "blue sky" ideas, where nothing is too outlandish.

"I'm fascinated by how each group is taking such a different approach," Kennedy-Armbruster said. "Some are doing surveys, some are doing focus groups, some are doing blogs online. They're trying to find ways to get input, and it's technology-based -- out-of-the box ideas, talk with other people, stand and watch people on it and ask them questions."

Vanessa Versprille, also a senior, said her team will pitch ideas for revamping the rower. They suggest making the seat larger and more comfortable and adding a larger monitor on which a virtual rowing coach can give instruction and motivation or the user can simply watch television. She plans to continue working as a personal trainer, but she thought the assignment was interesting.

"Ten years down the road, we could be in a gym and see a machine made by Matrix and say, 'Hey, I designed it,'" she said.

The students will pitch their ideas to Matrix representatives on Thursday, April 24, at 2:30 p.m. in Ballantine Hall room 135. Reporters and photographers are welcome to attend.

For more information, contact Kennedy-Armbruster at 812-855-6083 and