Pumping Up the Workout 180


Jerry Rice on the infomercial set for the Workout 180.

Legendary San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice can be seen these days on an infomercial for the Workout 180, a portable, personal gym.

The Workout 180 offers cardiovascular, abdominal, lower and upper body exercises and has generated praise from the likes of Shape magazine, celebrity personal trainer Amy Cotta and, of course, the man himself.

“My name’s on it,” Rice says of his endorsement. “I really don’t put my name on a lot of things.”

The Workout 180 was inspired by Jennifer Waldrop Holloway, a Florida-based broadcast journalist and Season 1 inventor on the PBS television series Everyday Edisons.

Her initial idea was a standard exercise step with 3-inch foam strapped on top. The foam provided a bit of instability, creating a more demanding workout with less stress on the joints.

Designers and engineers at Enventys, the product-development firm of record for Everyday Edisons, spent 18 months morphing the concept into its final version. The aspirations of design and the evolution of feature sets sometimes collided with the limits of engineering and retail price expectations.

Making sausage, as they say, can be messy. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the birth of a product:


  1. “There was a lot of internal debate over what to do with this thing,” says VP of engineering Ian Kovacevich. Much of that debate was with  lead designer Daniel Bizzell. “It was initially an unstable exercise device – we saw things differently, as if we were starting with a blank canvass,” Bizzell says. The team developed concepts and compared them with existing intellectual property. They compared these concepts with hundreds of patents. “It was demoralizing,” says Bizzell. “Anything of ours that matched with existing IP, we tossed out.” One of the first potentially viable ideas was an inflatable mat you could “tune” to change stability. “That didn’t have a lot of retail punch,” Bizzell adds. “But it was something to build on.”picture-21
  2. The team considered an adjustable exercise step that could pivot front to back. Too dangerous, they decided.picture-3
  3. What about a bow-shaped step? You could do rocking pushups among other new exercises. Internally they called it the “catfish” because when flipped on its arch, the profile looked like the mouth of a bottom-feeding fish.picture-4
  4. Next came building a “mule,” a term derived from the auto industry. “It’s something to beat on, used for validation,” Kovacevich says. “It’s otherwise known as a proof-of-concept model.” The mule was made of metal. “We had a lot of questions,” Kovacevich says. How big is it? How steep is the arch? The handle as part of the design turned out to be hazardous because your foot could get trapped.picture-5
  5. Based on feedback from an outside trainer, the team decided the device should be compatible with latex bands for resistance exercises. Bands allowed for more cardio training.picture-6
  6. Bands had to be part of the unit. Too risky to let others use their own bands. What if one snapped – the consumer could blame the product. That meant creating a housing for a series of bands. Instead of a one-piece rocking step, it would have a removable arched platform set in a metal cradle.workout180-alone
  7. The patent-pending band system created consistent tension throughout the range of motion whether you’re in the sitting, kneeling or standing position – more than 100 exercises in all.New features added to the price tag. Instead of retailing for about $90, the finished product costs about $180… but it does a lot more than competing stair steps.

Post Script:

“The final result is an amazing piece of equipment. It’s full body, portable and affordable. I hope it’s more than just a flash in the pan exercise device. It could be a life-changing device. I would like to see it grow, maybe get it into schools. Why not a 180 Junior? I think we can take if further.”

–          Jen Holloway