Feature Article - March 2007
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Running the Trend Mill

The ever-evolving workout world

By Emily Tipping

Technological breakthroughs

Many manufacturers of fitness equipment have begun to add technology-enhanced or interactive elements to their equipment. Now common even in smaller park district gyms (which generally have smaller budgets) is equipment with built-in heart-rate monitors, important for people who are new to exercise and therefore need to learn more about maintaining their target intensity level. Some equipment also lets users keep track of their pace. The user enters a desired time and distance, and the machine helps them stay on track by letting them know if they've fallen behind or gotten too far ahead.

But this is practically standard fare these days. Newer equipment is incorporating technology to make workouts more interactive, with screens showing exercisers their progress over a course of different types of terrain. One manufacturer offers users a choice of a track, a mountain course or a 5K nature trail. Some companies even offer Web sites that let users compete with one another and take part in virtual races and tournaments, so an exerciser working out on a rowing machine in Boston can compete with another rower in Anchorage, Alaska.

You also can find equipment manufacturers that have incorporated "speedpass"-like technology into their equipment. This allows exercisers to log in at the gym, at home or at work. "It really brings the trainer and user closer together by providing additional outlets for input," said one manufacturer's rep.

Elements has incorporated workout technology that allows members to plug in a smart card to the machine, providing immediate guidance and personalized feedback.

"So when a member comes in, she takes her card and puts it into the equipment, which 'knows' who she is," Palumbo said. "It tells her what to do, how many reps, and where to go next. It actually can track cardiovascular health over time."

But you're not completely on your own with your smart card, workout equipment and your own body when you step into an Elements for Women fitness club. "We also incorporate that with our lifestyle coaches," Palumbo explained. "We catch up periodically to review your progress. It's quantified, so you can say I got 10 percent stronger, or got my heart rate down by 5 percent. It tells you where to go next, so you can customize the workouts."

If you really want to get on the technology bandwagon, adopt technology that not only helps your users get more out of your facility, but also helps you run your facility with more smarts. Some technology lets you schedule programming, keep track of equipment and its usage, and manage staff, as well as help personal trainers and other staff members maintain a higher level of communication with your users.