When a business says their product is for “everybody” that everybody normally comes with a few caveats. But in the case of Include Fitness and their Access Strength fitness machine, “everybody” is meant quite literally.
“Our whole goal is to make fitness accessible for everybody. Period,” Founder Ryan Eder says.
Include Fitness is reaching that goal through one innovative and adaptable machine that’s built for individuals of all physical and cognitive abilities.
“This whole company started off of a simple observation and that dates back to 2003,” Eder says.
A University of Cincinnati student studying industrial design, Eder was working out at a local gym when he saw a man in a wheelchair come in with a bag full of accessories.
“He spent more time adapting and transferring in and out of his chair than actually exercising,” Eder says.
The machines weren’t designed with this man’s wheelchair in mind. It was an observation that stuck with Eder until 2006 when it was time for his senior thesis. He wondered if this was just a local issue or a bigger concern?
“I called 200 clubs across the country,” Eder says, telling the clubs that he used a wheelchair. “Out of those surveyed, over 90 percent of them didn’t offer anything at all.” He became frustrated with the lack of options for those in wheelchairs after a few hypothetical hours of just being on the phone.
He immersed himself in his research, speaking with quadriplegics and paraplegics, and even renting a wheelchair himself and joining a wheelchair football league for a month.
“As I dug deeper, I kind of uncovered it wasn’t just wheelchair users struggling with this issue,” Eder says. Seniors, children, the obese and those new to fitness struggled with using or understanding traditional gym equipment.
He was driven to create a machine that accommodated everybody, regardless of size, shape, age, mobility or fitness level. Eder designed The Access Strength removing typical barriers like pins and low weight stacks, creating a system that could be used seated or standing and included stability for wheelchairs.
Unsurprisingly, he got a good grade on the project. Post-graduation he moved to Columbus to work for Priority Design. About six months in, he decided to enter The Access into the International Design Excellence Awards annual competition in the Student Category. Why not, he said.
Eder was ecstatic to receive a phone call informing him he had won gold in the Student Category. But that wasn’t all. Out of 1,700 entries, The Access won Best in Show and the People’s Choice Award.
“It rocked my world,” Eder says. A little thing called the iPhone would with the award the next year, and the year after that, Nike’s recycled-sole shoes.
Although the award spurred a flood of recognition, “I designed The Access to solve a problem and not win awards,” Eder says. He used the buzz to further build out the company.
Seven years of moonlighting and several investments later, Eder was ready to pursue Include Fitness full-time. He would turn around and hire his past employer to work on the project, also receiving funding from Priority Design.
Eder built a mobile showroom and took prototypes of the system across the country. He realized the prototypes addressed physical accessibility, but Include Fitness was also in a position to address cognitive accessibility.
“That’s when we decided to expand our offering and develop our software called the IFCloud,” Eder says. “You don’t have to remember what exercises, how to set up the machine, how much weight to use, how many reps to do.” Columbus-based AWH is working on the software that allows Access users to download a library of workouts to follow as the machine tracks their progress.
The final version of the thoughtfully-designed machine features numerous elements that address usability on a physical and cognitive level. Two arms rotate 180 degrees off the core of the machine. Bright green handles indicate adjustable areas. Spring loaded pins are replaced with fluid motion, easy-to-adjust handles. An integrated seat slides out when needed, adjusting for both forward and backward use, and slides back in when not.
“Probably the biggest thing is that we have the dial,” Eder says. “That dial is how we change the weight.”
To adjust the machine’s weight, which ranges from 10 to 190 pounds and is adjustable in 2.5 pound increments in each arm, all a user must do is turn the dial. In the most extreme example of testing, a quadruple amputee was able to adjust the machine with just his elbows.
The built-in software is also presenting new opportunities. Doctors and physical therapists are able to prescribe workouts to patients and track their progress, which has another added benefit. For therapists seeing numerous patients in a day, “It basically takes all the number crunching and counting and that kind of thing and does it automatically for them,” Eder says.
The Access Strength will be manufactured in Cincinnati, a fact Eder is very proud of.
“We’re pre-selling as we speak,” he adds.
Include Fitness is already garnering interest from a number of markets including traditional inpatient and outpatient rehab facilities, pediatric hospitals, senior care facilities, community centers, organizations that serve veterans, and even entities like hotels and universities.
“What we’re finding is that this system is resonating with a lot of different people and for different reasons,” Eder says.
The Access Strength is laying the foundation for what Eder describes as a series of equipment that will compliment the machine. Opportunities abound with the software, too.
For more information, visit includefitness.com.