How Wearables Can Keep Gym-Goers Engaged and Returning to the Club

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Photos courtesy of Matrix Fitness

Heart rate tracking devices have been trending for years, but only in the last decade have gyms embraced displays that show comparisons among members. These displays offer several psychological advantages for members, while also benefiting instructors and member retention.

Of the many changes over the last decade, one of the rising mental health issues involves social anxiety. Gyms are natural environments for expanding one’s social network. Clinical reports suggest that we need to shift from individual-only approaches for social anxiety treatment to considering the role of social environments.

Studies on social anxiety emphasize the value of “experiences that enhance social connection, acceptance and support.” But social anxiety can leave a person feeling tentative about reaching out to others on their own. This is where gyms can offer a low-pressure social environment, especially when it comes to group exercise options. These workouts offer a unique way to relate to others, where exercisers can share relatively little personal information but still enjoy positive group dynamics.

Instructor monitoring

One of the challenges of personal training is identifying when a member is reaching an appropriate level of work output. With too little effort, member engagement may wane, and physical progress slows. Alternatively, if the demands of the workout are too high, this increases injury risk and can diminish workout enjoyment. Enthusiasm for gym visits must remain high to support a sustainable habit of regular exercise. The exercise “high” relies on intensities that are neither too low nor too high in order to achieve a reliable mood boost.

Some coaches and personal trainers may ask for an individual’s rating of relative perceived exertion (RPE), a numerical scale that can be used to adjust workout intensity. But many of the most devoted gym-goers participate in group exercise options in which it is not always possible to solicit individual feedback during the workout. Other issues with RPE in groups include a tendency for some to mimic others’ ratings and for some to adjust their responses to appear more fit.

RPE ratings are a good starting point for setting appropriate intensities, particularly with personal training, but heart rate devices offer a more objective picture of the effort level. Plus, they are ideal for at-a-glance monitoring across individuals.

Gauging group exercise intensities

Heart rate comparisons offer important data for group exercise instructors. For instance, they can indicate whether the warm-up is achieving the intended effect. Comparisons of how everyone is recovering may help instructors ensure their rest times are sufficient for interval-based classes. And they can also help instructors identify those who need extra encouragement or conversely, who may need to take it down a notch to widen the margin of safety.

With each passing decade, our maximum heart rates are reduced, so most wearables include color-coded readouts of heart rate intensities based on age-adjusted percentages. This gives instructors a fast way to gauge intensity and safe heart rates among diverse ages.

Heart rate displays hook members

One of the clearest benefits of visual depictions of member effort is engagement. We tend to be highly motivated by heart rate readouts during exercise, and it boosts exercise motivation on average. Combined with other gym-goer readouts, we can become inspired by noticing others who are performing exercise at higher intensities. These visual indicators invite everyone in a group to work up to their full physical potential.

In addition to motivational benefits, the results of reaching higher intensities are important for cardiovascular health. Members who put more effort into their workouts can unlock new levels of fitness because exercise intensity is a better predictor of fitness than time spent exercising.

Many are simply unable to motivate at that same level of effort when there is no external goal in sight. Studies suggest that when we have objective evidence of others pushing themselves in workout settings, this can reignite competitive tendencies. High exercise engagement often occurs when we push ourselves beyond our comfort zone or try to keep up with others. Many former athletes are accustomed to real-time monitoring and feedback in their sport, where other visual indicators (such as scoreboards) are often central to the context of the experience.

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Group-based heart rate data can help members to view a group workout as more of a team event rather than a solo exercise experience. For those with social anxiety, this can be a welcome way to join a group of like-minded individuals. And for most individuals, healthy competition can be an enjoyable way to relate to others in the group. It opens the door to positive interactions among members, improving the quality of the experience.

Although perceptions of staff and instructors matter, connections between members can go a long way in sustaining the exercise habit. Relationships among gym-goers may be the glue that offers the most benefit to adhering to workout intentions. Many find themselves more accountable to others than to their own fitness goals.

Visual displays that show heart rate percentages offer a permissive signal to reach out to peers for support and encouragement. Group members who push through sticking points can be recognized for their dedication. These pleasant moments of recognition are part of what influences our willingness to endorse our gym or relay positive experiences to others.

Gyms win promoters

When members turn their focus to heart rate monitors more throughout their workouts, their perception of the gym’s value improves. In fact, surveys on Net Promoter Score (NPS) reveal that heart rate monitoring during workouts has a favorable effect by almost 10 points. This indicates that integrating wearable technologies makes the experience more positive in ways that benefit member retention.

Other studies on integrating wearables and using visual displays suggest that the consumer experience is enhanced through three main avenues: gamification, increased social interaction, and a heightened sense of accountability. All are ideal routes to securing devoted gym members and can serve as alternative treatment techniques for social anxiety using the gym environment.

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