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LifelineUSA streches idea of fitness equipment
BOBBY HINDS DOESN'T LOOK LIKE YOUR TYPICAL CEO - instead of a suit and tie his standard office attire is a jogging outfit. He also looks a lot younger than his 76 years. In fact, his enthusiasm for fitness and obvious glee when describing his latest inventions is positively boyish.
As CEO of Madison-based Lifeline USA, Hinds has turned his dream of designing lightweight, portable fitness equipment into a company that is dominating the rapidly growing "functional fitness" segment of the health and fitness industry. His inexpensive products are used by hundreds of professional athletes and high-profile entertainers, including LL Cool J and Mick Jagger.
Functional fitness uses rubber cables to create increasing and decreasing resistance throughout a range of exercises that are designed to exercise the entire body. This is just the opposite of traditional weight training, which isolates individual muscle groups to increase their size and strength.
"The human body is a chain, with all of the links working together to perform everyday movements," said Hinds. "Functional fitness exercises are 'closed chain,' which means the muscles aren't isolated but work together instead. For example, bench presses do absolutely nothing for your back, because your back is being supported by the bench. Our equipment allows you to do standing bench presses, where your back, legs, and midsection are all involved in the exercise, along with the chest and shoulders. Functional fitness relies on the center of your body, your core strength."
Rubber cables also provide variable resistance. If, for example, you are doing a bicep curl with a 20-pound dumbbell, the exercise actually gets easier as your forearm and the dumbbell get farther above a parallel Une to the floor. With cables, the exercise gets harder as the cable is stretched, so at the top of the curl the resistance is closer to 40 pounds, not 20.
"Simple equipment gives complex results, and complex equipment gives simple results," commented Steve Myrland, former strength coach for the University of Wisconsin Badgers and the San Jose Sharks pro hockey team, and owner of Myrland Sports Training LLC in Middleton. "The body moves in three planes of motion and standard weight training only uses one plane. Functional fitness allows you to exercise in all three planes of motion."
A rocky start
Hinds had limited opportunities growing up in Kenosha, and was sent to reform school at age nine. It was here he learned how to box, a skill he honed in becoming a Golden Gloves champion in junior high school and boxing for UW-Madison, where he racked up 32 straight wins. Hinds turned pro for eight fights before getting into the insurance business.
"Instead of wearing a gray suit and handing out calendars when I sold insurance," said Hinds, "I wore a jumpsuit and gave customers jump ropes I made in my basement." His flamboyant jump-rope selling eventually became a full-time occupation, complete with an appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
In 1973 Hinds founded Lifeline USA. Since that time he has created more than 80 innovative products for both aerobic and anaerobic workouts at home. For example, the Lifeline Deluxe Gym, which comes with a fitness cable, lifting bar, treadmill belt, and door attachment, weighs less than 1.5 pounds, fits in a suitcase, and costs about $50.
"Most people don't exercise because of a lack of accessibility," said Hinds. "You don't have to join an expensive club or buy expensive equipment. Functional fitness can be done in the comfort of your home, according to your schedule."
Econo Lodge recently approached Lifeline USA about placing its products in its motel rooms. Health care organizations and corporate wellness programs are also taking note of Hind's equipment, as well as middle schools and high schools across the country.
Mike Meeteer, a physical education teacher at Kromrey Middle School in Middleton, replaced all the standard weight-training equipment in the school with $12,000 of Lifeline products - a small fraction of the cost of the previous equipment.
"The Lifeline equipment is very versatile," he said. "Kids can easily do at least 50 different exercises. Now we have enough equipment for all the students to be working out, whereas before they had to wait to use the machines."
And, adds Meeteer, students are now asking him where they can purchase the equipment. "Having kids want to exercise outside of class, that's every PE instructor's dream," he enthused. "And they can get a great workout with only $60 of equipment."