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Posted on Sat, May 28, 2011 : 5:55 a.m.

Ann Arbor-based NuStep's exercise equipment takes a star turn on national reality TV shows

By Kevin Ransom

Pittsfield Township-based NuStep Inc. is in the business of manufacturing and selling specialty exercise and rehabilitation machines.

But lately, the company has also been in show business, in a manner of speaking.

NuStep machines have appeared in several reality TV shows that focus on weight loss — “The Biggest Loser,” “Heavy” and “Ruby.”

The machines will also be prominently featured in a new show in that genre — Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition,” which debuts Monday on ABC and also focuses on people who are severely overweight and trying to slim down.

Beyond the exposure, being in show business has been good for the company’s business: Revenues were up in March by 20 percent over the previous March, said Dan Brady, the company’s consumer marketing manager.


O'Neal Hampton from Season 9 of the reality TV show "The Biggest Loser" used NuStep equipment as part of his weight-loss regime and later became a spokesman for the company.

Photo courtesy of NuStep

Plus, “our overall weight-loss business — that is, number of people who purchase NuStep machines specifically for weight loss, grew 50 percent in 2010,” said Brady.

The company’s high-end machine is the T5XR Recumbent Cross Trainer, priced at around $6,000, but other equipment starts at $3,595.

NuStep’s sales revenue for 2010 was $24 million — a 27 percent increase over 2009, according to company president Dick Sarns. The company’s goal is to increase revenues by another 20 percent in 2011.

About two-thirds of NuStep’s sales are to hospitals, physical therapy centers, cardiac rehab clinics, and health and wellness centers, with the other one-third going to the retail market — that is, individuals who have suffered a heart attack, stroke or some other injury, or those who have a condition such as multiple sclerosis and need to continue their therapy at home.

Two other factors contribute to the increased demand for NuStep’s machines, the company said.

The enormous baby boom generation is aging, dealing with some of the medical and health problems associated with age. Secondly, obesity has become an epidemic in America in recent years. The company’s new machine will accommodate weights of up to 600 pounds, said Brady.

“We have five primary markets — there are five different reasons that people buy our machines,” said Brady.

He described them as:

  • Weight loss.
  • Cardiac rehabilitation, for people recovering from heart surgery.
  • Orthopedic, for those recovering from surgery to the knees, hips or back.
  • Stroke recovery.
  • Arthritis, for sufferers who are looking to reduce pain and stiffness, and improve their overall health.

Placing its products on the TV shows occurred in various ways, explained Brady.


Tim, a star on the reality TV show "Heavy" works out with a NuStep machine.

Photo courtesy of NuStep

“We approached ‘The Biggest Loser’ through some connections to see if our product would be a good fit because of the machine’s weight capacity,” he said. “But we got involved with ‘Heavy’ because part of the series was filmed at Hilton Head Health” — a weight-loss spa and health resort on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina — that was already using some of NuStep’s machines.

“They reached out to us, because they didn’t have our newest machine (the recumbent T5XR), so we provided them with that.”

NuStep, which employs about 80 people, targets a relatively small niche market that accounts for a little over $100 million in revenues, with about a half-dozen companies in direct competition with NuStep, Sarns said.

NuStep was founded in 1987 by Sarns, now 83. Sarns was trained as an engineer, and back in the 1960s, he helped develop the heart-lung machine used in open heart surgeries. At the time, he was running another company he founded, Sarns Medical, which he later sold to 3M and is now called Terumo.

NuStep also manufactures and sells accessory equipment, like a leg stabilizer bar, which helps align and stabilize the legs of those who suffer from lower-body deficiencies.

“We’re not a large company, so we do want to expand brand awareness on a larger platform,” said Brady, referring to placing NuStep machines on the weight-loss TV shows. “But we only reach out to those individuals and markets that we can deliver something unique to. And what we have are machines for people who have physical limitations, who don’t have a lot of exercise options.”

Kevin Ransom is a freelance reporter for