This article appeared in the January/February issue of Athletic Business. Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.
The makers of cardio equipment are constantly looking to improve their products — with more intuitive controls, easier maintenance, and safer, more comfortable designs — but perhaps the most important area of improvement, at least to the user, is the entertainment options. "People in general don't like exercise," says Bruce Carter, owner and president of Optimal Design Systems International, a fitness consulting and design firm based in Weston, Fla. "They know it's good for them, but they don't like it. But the technology and entertainment that's part of cardio disassociates them from the pain."
That principle has served as the key factor for laying out cardio equipment in a fitness center — rows of treadmills, bikes and ellipticals facing a bank of televisions or an expanse of windows with views of a scenic landscape, or situated on a mezzanine level overlooking other activity spaces.
Then came the advent of the personalized viewing screen, giving exercisers more control over their entertainment options and a more private entertainment experience. "When they first came about, it was a little 3-by-5-inch screen, and it wasn't really part of the cardio," says Carter. "They didn't work well, but you could control what you watched."
The screens have gotten bigger and the technology better, expanding to allow users to not just watch TV, but access the Internet, play games, plug in their personal electronics and more. It's an expensive option, but it offers the best user experience, Carter says. "The ultimate cardio experience would be having your own TV and also facing windows looking out over nice rolling hills or something. You plug in your own ear phones and you can watch different channels or listen to music."
And for cardio exercisers looking for more of a challenge than a distraction, interactive entertainment options are becoming more common. Users can take a ride through the Alps on Google Maps or compete against a friend across the country. "There's a lot of technology that allows you to have these interactive experiences," Carter says. "We aren't seeing the racing part that much yet, but it's out there."
In addition to the benefits to the user, personal viewing screens add flexibility to the facility design side. "We don't have to think about where we're hanging TVs. With individual TVs in cardio, it allows us to create a couple different sections of cardio because we don't need those efficiencies."
Still, Carter doesn't expect facility owners to abandon current methods of laying out cardio equipment any time soon. "There's still something about having people walk in and see 60, 70 pieces of equipment and being blown away."
Moreover, just as technology has improved the personal viewing experience, the bank-of-TVs approach has also been improved. "We can get a 70-inch TV for $1,800," says Carter. "Before it was a 32-inch box, now it's a flat screen. It's a much better experience."
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This article originally appeared in the January/February 2016 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Keeping cardio exercisers entertained"