Clay Steffee (claysteffee @ gmail.com) is the owner of Imagine Strength and is the Vice President of Engineering and Product Development at Exerbotics. He has worked alongside Arthur Jones in designing Nautilus and MedX equipment, as well as engineering strength equipment for LifeFitness.
In this episode, Clay talks about Imagine Strength’s equipment line, machine modifications, customer support, maintenance tips, equipment recommendations, and much more.
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- 2:07 – Imagine Strength story and company background
- 4:22 – Difference in the weight stroke distance
- 10:56 – Proper form for leg press
- 15:47 – Structural design modifications
- 21:56 – Risks when locking out joints
- 27:27 – Weight stack mechanism alterations
- 28:47 – Grip/handle changes, floor space consumption
- 39:54 – Current and upcoming exercise machines
- 44:44 – Customer support (replacement parts)
- 56:09 – Machine maintenance tips
- 1:04:01 – Pricing, lead time, installation
- 1:11:00 – Recommended equipment for new studios
The History of Imagine Strength
Imagine Strength began with a partnership between Clay Steffee and Jeff Turner, who was a salesman for Nautilus during the time the company was still owned by Arthur Jones. The goals were to redesign the MedX line of equipment for improved functionality, improved manufacturability, and lower cost.
Clay says that they have succeeding in accomplishing those goals and that they are currently in the process of starting up the business and delivering equipment to customers.
The Differences in Weight Stroke Distance
One of the differences between MedX and Imagine Strength machines is the weight stroke distance. On MedX machines, it’s 12 inches. On Imagine Strength machines, it’s 18 inches. This makes Imagine Strength machines less expensive to manufacture as it uses less material.
We talked about the resulting change in momentum being very safe, so long as the user is using correct form and being coached appropriately. Clay expanded on this by recalling how Arthur Jones demanded the best out the machines that we designed, being concerned with momentum and how people throw the weight they use using excessive force, which creates a higher risk of injuries.
He pointed out how the medical machines were quite extreme — the lumbar machine, for example, had a 4-inch stroke and an 800-pound stack, which meant that not much momentum was built up with that machine, but the problem was that there was an 800 pounds of steel in the weight stack alone.
In comparison, the exercise version has a 12-inch stroke to have the same output and would only need 1/3 as much weight. He continued by saying that the MedX machines gave you a choice of 300, 400, 500, or 600-pound weight stacks, and that the MedX Leg Press was the only place where that much weight was really needed.
In general, people who were prone to using these machines incorrectly were those who were aiming to demonstrate strength instead of focusing on actually increasing strength.
Clay said that he hoped that people who train become more aware of this, but he also says that the tendency seems to be that people just want to push the limit, where there are those who think that if “’a little bit of food is good, more food is better’, but that’s not true for exercise”. If you follow that path, you will be stopping your body from getting stronger because you will overtrain to the point where your body won’t be able to recover properly and build muscle tissue.
Understanding The Leg Press
The leg press is a compound exercise (as opposed to a rotary form exercise, which is a single-axis exercise, such as a bicep curl), and compound movements involve more than one joint and more than one muscle or muscle group.
Clay says that with the leg press, you are rotating around the hip axis, the knee axis, and, to some extent, the ankle. You are basically taking your leg from a bent position to straight.
When you approach the straight position, you can theoretically get infinitely strong because rotation around the hip, and the knee, and the ankle is producing very little in the way of lifting a weight — you are not performing work if you are not lifting the weight.
What happens is people will get on the machine and keep plugging in more, more weight as long as they can barely struggle to get it up and lock their legs. It’s not good for the joints because it puts too much force on the joints, on the skeletal system, and it’s unproductive. It doesn’t do anything because the muscles are not working very hard because there’s very little rotation and practically zero movement on the weight stack.
What’s The Proper Form for Doing the Leg Press?
If you want to perform a leg press correctly, you pin the stack so you limit how far you can straighten the leg. You want to prevent the last 30 degrees of rotation around the hip and form the position where your knees are practically against your chest and then push out until your legs are about 30 degrees away from full rotation.
At that point you can’t rest because you happen to exert muscular force to keep your knees from coming back against your chest, whereas if you could lock your legs and sit there while you’re holding the weight up, which does absolutely nothing as far as producing results.
If you want to stimulate growth of the muscle, you must expose it to resistance in as efficient a manner as possible, as safely as possible — the only way to do that is to make sure that the muscle is under constant strain.
Structural Design Differences Between MedX and Imagine Strength Machines
Here, Clay and I talk more about the differences between the MedX and Imagine Strength machines and why he decided to make those changes.
Clay says that the MedX machines required a lot of welding due to their “cut-and-paste” nature, where everything had to be cut or mitre-cut and then welded together. Imagine Strength changed this approach by using more bent structural tubing and moving away from rectangular tubing to flat oval ones, which makes things aesthetically more pleasing.
They have also patented gearing on some of the machines which enables moving axes of rotation, such as the knee joint.
Many people complain about discomfort when doing leg extensions, and Clay wasn’t quite sure why they did. Providing a moving axis meant they did not have to move far, since the knee joint is more of a sliding joint — it isn’t like a wheel on an axle, where the wheel is rotating around the axle; it has two mating surfaces that slide that are not perfectly circular, and you will not be rotating your ankle around a fixed point. If you allow the axis of the machine to move, you eliminate much of the discomfort.
At this point, Clay provides more examples of these differences in action, pointing to specific MedX and Exerbiotics machines and the mechanical details involved, like the improvements made to previous machines involving modifications that allows for specific improved movements when it comes to rotational axes.
What Are the Risks to Locking Out Joints?
We moved on to the topic of locking out joints: Clay says that this is dangerous because of how it loads your joints — any compound movement, legs or arms, leg press, chest press, row where you involve more than one axis of rotation to the body part you should avoid locking out.
Weight Stack Mechanism Alterations
Clay then talks about going over the chains in the weight stack, with the purpose being to reduce the cost by not putting as much steel in the machines.
As an example, the 400-pound stack on an 18-inch stroke is equivalent to a 600-pound stack on a 12-inch stroke. This saves you the cost of 200 pounds of steel, and it’s easier to move around.
What Changes Have Been Done to Grips and Handles, and What is The Floor Space Consumption/Footprint?
I then asked Clay about the modifications to Imagine Strength’s Seated Row, which has two grips – a horizontal and a vertical grip – compared to the original MedX Seated Row which has just one. He says that the main reason is for “variety”.
When Clay broke his neck at the same time he shattered his right forearm, it was easier for him to use a vertical grip than to rotate his fist. He reasoned that it would also benefit others who may have similar injuries.
He also touches on this idea of “habituation”, where the body gets so used to an exercise that it becomes a habit. To better stimulate a muscle group, it helps to change it up, and sometimes a slight change – such as rotating the wrist – can result in better growth stimulation.
I noted that much of Imagine Strength’s equipment looked very economical in terms of floor space consumption and asked him if this was by design — Clay said that while this was always a consideration, it wasn’t exactly a top priority; their machines are designed primarily to enable people to have good results and less risk of injury.
What Is the Current Line-up of Imagine Strength’s Exercise Machines (and What Upcoming Ones Are There?)
When asked about what upcoming machines he might have in the pipeline, Clay says that he would like to come out with a bicep machine. However, Imagine Strength is currently focused on finishing its general line of equipment, and then they would see if there are other types of equipment that might appeal to individual customers.
He mentions that there is little demand for certain equipment, such as hip extension, side torso flexion, and side leg curl machines. Like any other company they have to consider what people are going to buy, though he also says that he’s open to inquiries and talking about these things in general.
At that point, I just went through their current line-up of machines, and here’s a list based on what I could currently find on Imagine Strength’s website:
- Chest Press
- Compound Row
- Seated Leg Curl
- Torso arm
- Super leg press
- Lateral raise
- Leg extension
- Overhead press
- Lower back extension
- 4-way neck
- Rowing back (or some might call that rear delt)
- Hip adduction
- Hip abduction
They have some videos showing the machines on the website, so be sure to check it out.
What is Imagine Strength’s Approach to Customer Support and Replacement Parts?
Then I asked Clay about the systems they have in place to manage replacement parts: Do they maintain an inventory of parts, or do they fabricate things to order?
Clay started by saying things like upholstery are a bit complicated, and that nobody has ever really come up with a good solution for it – it wears out, the foam gets crushed over time, and you need cushions, otherwise people wouldn’t be too happy with the machines they use.
He said that you need to maintain a certain amount of stock, keeping in mind the limited amount of space you might have for stocking it. Most companies have a standard set of choices for paint and upholstery, then charge more if you want to customize either.
Currently, Imagine Strength builds upholstery replacements from scratch, based on orders, with a relatively short turnaround. They keep other parts in stock. They are looking to standardize as much of the replacement parts that customers need to get from them as time goes by, such as the end caps that close of the ends of the tubing they use in equipment.
When it comes to more commonly available parts like nuts and bolts, Clay says it doesn’t make sense to get it from the manufacturer when you can just get it from a local hardware store for cheaper.
At the moment, Imagine Strength’s machines are manufactured and assembled in China, then shipped to the United States. The machines are assembled to make sure these function properly, then partially disassembled and secured for shipping.
Imagine Strength Machine Maintenance Tips
When it comes to maintaining equipment from Imagine Strength, Clay points out that it’s not too different from how you would approach maintaining a Nautilus Machine: start by keeping it clean. Wipe it down by the end of the day to get rid of sweat, since the salt in sweat is corrosive.
If there are any scratches in the paint, touch them up.
One thing that can cause problems is over-lubing machines, causing a pile-up of grease underneath the machine hidden by the shields. Clay says that the bearings already come pre-lubed, and these are designed for up to 2,000 to 3,000 RPM, and that you should never have to grease a bearing — these should last for the machine’s lifetime. If they do start squeaking, give them a shot of grease, but just not too much. He says that most people tend to over grease these.
When it comes to selector rods, these should be wiped down every 6 to 8 weeks.
Clay also points out that If you maintain a relatively clean environment where you take good care of your facility, such as by keeping the rugs vacuumed and taking care of the sweat on the floor, the machines you have should require very little in the way of maintenance, apart from upholstery, which is the aspect most affected by wear and tear.
Imagine Strength Pricing, Lead Time, and Installation
Talking about lead time, Clay says that current estimates would be 2 to 3 months, primarily because of having to ship from Asia. Then, depending on which state the equipment needs to be delivered to, the time will vary — he gave the example of equipment being delivered to Washington will arrive sooner than if it needed to be delivered to Florida.
We then talked about Imagine Strength eventually shipping globally — at that point, Clay says that he would want to set up a European distributor. That would take a bit of time, due to having to train personnel to assemble, ship, and maintain machines appropriately.
Moving on to pricing, Clay gave a partial list of Imagine Strength’s machines with retail prices (not including shipping), but please bear in mind that these may be subject to being updated after this episode publishes: the Leg Press goes for $4,950; the Chest Press, $3,950; and most of their machines range in between these two price points.
Imagine Strength’s Recommended Equipment for New Strength Studios
One listener had asked the question, “If I’m just starting my [Strength Training] Business what machines should I [get]?”
Clay responded by saying it would depend on a few factors. For example, a sports club that trains athletes would select a different set of machines compared to a workout facility for the general population, despite having some overlap. He pointed out that if you pick 8-12 exercises, then you would pick 8-12 machines.
I then suggested that listeners should just buy Imagine Strength’s whole line-up, to which Clay offered no counterargument.
Make sure you visit Imagine Strength’s website for more information and to see the complete range of their equipment!
Selected Links from the Episode
- Imagine Strength
- MedX Machines
- Nautilus Inc.
- MedX Leg Press
- MedX Chest Press
- MedX Lumbar Strength
- Body by Science Question and Answer Book by Doug McGuff and John Little
- Hammer Strength Leg Extension
- MedX Seated Row
- Hammer Strength