Life Fitness Flashback: Lifecircuit
May 06, 2012 / Category: Innovation
Life Fitness has been at the forefront of the industry for more than 40 years, and I’ve seen the company through 28 of those, back before we were called Life Fitness. As an engineer, I started with Life Fitness’ predecessor Bally Manufacturing in 1984, when Bally started producing the original Lifecycle for Augie Nieto and his team. At that time I was working as part of a specialized group of engineers looking to create new and innovative fitness products. We had a lot of big ideas, but our most revolutionary for the time was the Lifecircuit.
1989 Ads for the Lifecircuit
Lifecircuit was the first electronically-controlled line of weight machines, for which I helped write the software. Before this product line, your only option for weight-lifting was heavy weight stacks or free weights. They were intimidating for beginners and loud if a person couldn’t control the weight smoothly. Not to mention, everyone could see how much weight you were putting up and many people didn’t even know how much weight they should be lifting. There was no guidance. Lifecircuit changed it all.
Remember, the ‘80s were all about image. This line of products accommodated that mentality and made it safer to train. No scary weight stacks. No embarrassment from clanging weights. No one judging how strong (or weak) you were when you used it. Lifecircuit simulated a weight stack through a hidden electric DC motor and a computer that was able to guide the user on how much they should be lifting. And, it was the first machine that could offer heavy negatives, a popular training trend of the era.
Some consider heavy negatives as an optimal way to train your muscles. It’s the practice of using higher resistances during the eccentric, or return phase of an exercise, compared to the concentric, or lifting phase. It is believed that by using more resistance in the return phase, the muscle continues to train in an optimal way. The Life Circuit Heavy Negatives Workout would automatically add a fixed percentage of the selected weight so a user could train with heavy negatives without a spotter.
And the machine was smart. It knew if you let the weight go, due to a muscle strain or injury, to stop the bar in mid-air thus limiting further injury by not requiring you to struggle to return the weight to the start position.
There was also a set-up test that would teach beginners how much he or she could lift. A first-time user could push the bar as hard and fast as they could and the Lifecircuit would measure their maximum force, thus knowing that person’s capabilities to set program recommendations. Plus, the products were networked to save your weight information—back in the ‘80s!
Once production started, Lifecircuit was wildly successful and competitors simply did not have the engineering capabilities to copy it. For 10 years we manufactured the product and by the end of the ‘90s we had saturated the market – our customers simply didn’t have a need to replace them because they were built to last.
Lifecircuit machines from the 1989 product catalogue.
As Life Fitness continued to excel in the fitness industry, our engineering focus shifted to new rides like the elliptical cross-trainers, treadmills and steppers. Today the Life Fitness team is onto even more innovative products, but I was reminded of what a thrill it was to launch this product when I received a letter last year from fitness legend Bill Pearl, asking if I knew where he could get parts for the full Lifecircuit set they still have in their home today.