At this very moment, you likely carry a supercomputer in your pocket that possesses more processing power than the computers that got us to the moon. You may be tracking your steps using a tiny device you wear on your wrist. You’re reading these words on the internet, which is linked (in theory) to the entire depth of human knowledge.
Technology continues to weave itself into virtually every aspect of our daily lives — and it’s already beginning to impact commercial fitness consumers. Why does this matter, and what does it mean for the fitness industry? According to an Appheros report titled “How Mobile Technology is Creating New Opportunities for the Health Club Industry,” 72 percent of exercisers use technology to support their workouts. Fully 76 percent of respondents under 30 said that better access to tech could get them in the gym more frequently. Perhaps most importantly, 33 percent of gym members would be willing to switch gyms for better technology, if the price and location were similar.
Fitness facilities have been integrating technology for years, and “smart” fitness facilities are beginning to emerge. Certain pieces of cardio equipment can now monitor usage statistics autonomously and alert facility owners of required maintenance. Web-based applications allow users to reserve group fitness classes or equipment, making a trip to the gym more convenient than ever. Gym management software is even helping gym owners retain their members through the collection and analysis of user-generated data.
Fitness facilities can deploy these existing technologies and look ahead to integrating new and developing tech, according to Grace Pinegar, a research lead with Chicago-based G2 Crowd, a user review website for business software and services. “A smart fitness facility works in tandem with the processes we already have and still are growing accustomed to,” she says.
The consumer tech world can perhaps provide a glimpse into what the future holds. “iPhones let you sign in with a fingerprint and access Siri via voice, while the upcoming Amazon Go store promises to eliminate in-store checkout through sensory recognition of items. Meanwhile, fitness centers still require laminated member cards,” she continues. “A smart fitness facility takes cues from the rest of technology, such as automatic member recognition, and equipment that personalizes settings to a user profile.”
In a video titled “Gym of the Future with the Internet of Things," computing giant Intel paints a picture of a gym member who uses biometrics to check in at the front desk, begins a workout on equipment configured to personalized settings, gets feedback and corrective coaching on physical movement, competes against others on cardio equipment, and uploads all of the data to the cloud for tracking and review. “The whole idea is that the experience would be personalized,” Pinegar says. “Retaining health information to be used in the context of working out, smart machines could reduce injury by detecting incorrect usage, and help develop well-rounded routines for those with specific goals.”
Wearable technology could help form a bridge from the present to that future. Pinegar says that wearables that sync with equipment, for example, could help provide a gym user with a more personalized experience. “Machines could recognize a user’s device and automatically adjust weight or bike incline to match their training plan or fitness goals,” she says, adding that connected equipment can even help to keep gym goers accountable. “Imagine a text message from your treadmill asking where you’ve been all week,” Pinegar says. “That would get me to the gym.”
All of this technology presents exciting opportunities for facility owners, but actually incorporating it can seem like a daunting task, especially for the less tech-savvy. Despite the fact that some of this connectivity takes place over Bluetooth, a robust internet connection is important. But individual gym owners don’t need to be computer whizzes to begin implementing these tools.
“The most important capability a fitness center owner/operator can have is the ability to adapt,” Pinegar says. “Gym owners don’t need to be experts in IoT (Internet of Things) technology any more than they are experts in the inner workings of a StairMaster.”