Feature Article - November 2015
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A Wider Field for Fitness

New Trends Expand the Reach of Fitness Equipment

By Deborah L. Vence

Technologically Connected

One growing trend among equipment manufacturers is the incorporation of digital technology and fitness tracking apps.

"From our study, we know that the use of mobile app technology is set to rise from 56 percent to 74 percent by 2016, with 40 percent planning to use wearable technology for fitness purposes," said Isabel Coscia, vice president of marketing, North America, for a Cesena, Italy-based producer of fitness and wellness equipment, referring to a nationwide study her company conducted among 5,000 millennials to find out how they perceive health, wellness and fitness and what they view as the gym of the future.

Coscia said that "Because millennials will drive the fitness market for years to come, we thought it was important to understand what motivates them to exercise. What we found was that group exercise will still be an important trend, with millennials saying that the benefits of group exercise include increased motivation (70 percent), more enjoyable sessions (65 percent) and a great social opportunity to catch up with friends (48 percent)."

She also found that 65 percent of millennials believe it is important to track and monitor their fitness programs.

This interconnectivity—that involves linking a fitness apparatus to a smartphone, or simply wearing a device that tracks your fitness activities—continues to grow in popularity.

"There is a definite growth in wearables, as people are interested in tracking their time, distance, heart rate, blood pressure and fitness gains," said Anne-Marie Spencer, vice president of marketing and communications for a Chattanooga, Tenn.-based company that specializes in developing programs, resources and education in children's play.

Functional fitness and HIIT (high intensity interval training) workouts continue to gain in popularity as well. Gyms are already catching onto the trend, offering members new equipment.

"We haven't noticed it as much in the person-to-equipment field, as people tell us that they don't limit themselves to a single source of equipment, so having the device on your person, rather than the equipment," she said, "is more meaningful over the long term for data collection and tracking."

This opens up an entire world of possibilities for exercisers and facilities.

For instance, metrics from Morelli's company's cardio equipment can be uploaded instantly into any enabled fitness app, such as the popular Google Fit, Apple Health, Samsung S Health and MyFitnessPal, as well as wearables like Jawbone and Fitbit.

"As another example, personal trainers can create and share new workouts for clients based on their previously recorded metrics, such as resistance or speed, for continual progression," he said. "The exerciser then only has to sync up, select the workout and begin. This technology also allows facilities to create their own apps that offer rewards for achieving certain goals and metrics."

"Overall", Albaum added, "there definitely is a trend toward enabling more personalized fitness experiences, using media-enabled fitness equipment in the gym (touch screen, larger, crisper video, messaging, networked and Wi-Fi capabilities, etc.)."

Evidence exists within the industry, too, of early adopters investing in the digital trend and looking at how to integrate data tracking apps and technology into their businesses, Coscia said.

"Up to this point, the interconnectivity of equipment to the Internet of things has only really been embraced by the early adopters. Manufacturers are now starting to recognize that the smartphone is driving the change, and some have begun to create software to interact with a variety of data tracking apps instead of forcing end-users to use a manufacturer-based fitness app," she said.

What Coscia's company has done with its online platform for health and fitness operators, where you can track all of your physical exercise data in one central place, is sync it with a large number of third-party fitness apps and wearables (i.e., Apple Health, Garmin, FitBit, Runkeeper), giving consumers more choices in using the fitness apps that work for them.

"By making the platform open," she said, "we've given consumers more freedom in terms of using multiple devices to track their fitness, and the ability to link it … so that all the data can be aggregated and analyzed as a whole."

Morelli explained that for tracking to be most accurate, though, popular apps and wearable devices need access to an exerciser's workout data directly from fitness equipment, such as treadmills and stationary bikes.

"With this in mind, our machines are built on an open platform …, the first truly open platform in the industry," he said. "This means they can work with whatever technology people use and want to exercise with, from mobile apps to wristbands."