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In the business of fitness, we’re always chasing growth through innovation. We’re continuously trying to make the most innovative product on the market to capture the market share of today and tomorrow. To take a step back and understand innovation, it’s worth noting there are two forms of innovation: sustaining and disruptive.
Sustaining innovation is when technology incrementally gets a little bit better, such as the humble treadmill adding a fan, an embedded TV or a smartphone charger. Each year, manufacturers look for that one small advantage over the previous version of the product.
Disruptive innovation is when a new product with a completely different business model and completely different cost base enters the market and does the same job for the consumer (if not better) at a fraction of the cost.
Think computers. In the 1960s there were main frames, they cost a lot, were limited to the large corporations and not very powerful, relatively speaking. Thanks to exponential leaps in technology, personal computers helped permeate the population in the 1980s, and today even the plumbing apprentice riding the bus has a computer in his hand 10,000 times more powerful than way back then. The technology and business model changed, computing became more accessible, easier, quicker, more affordable and now is mass marketed.
The gyms of the future will experience both these forms of innovation with disruptive innovation taking the lead. Just ask Blockbuster how Netflix changed the game. Netflix originally began as a small competitor to Blockbuster. Before long, Netflix was doing a better job than Blockbuster of getting consumers what they wanted at a more affordable price.
Here are innovations that are poised to change the game in the fitness industry:
Wearable technology. Wearable technology today has been a sustaining innovation that has made the exercise experience incrementally more enjoyable through the use of gamification. It has proven time after time to drive the behavior of gym members who do not like the process of working out, which as we know is a large problem in our industry. Further, through this technology, users are able to connect socially, which leads to accountability or peer pressure to keep them honest. But is wearable technology disruptive? Not yet, but with its data it will soon feed into a much bigger picture, which will be truly disruptive.
Virtual Classes and Coaching. Virtual classes and coaching have really taken off in the industry. The virtual classes are taking the 1980s Jane Fonda model of TV-based classes and projecting them on a bigger screen in a club. This is a perfect example of sustaining innovation so far, as it hasn’t replaced traditional classes but has added to them. However, you can absolutely see virtual being disruptive to personal training and classes alike, as it eliminates the cost of real estate, leverages the labor cost of the trainer and is most convenient for the end user. Peloton is a great example of this by creating a live indoor cycling class delivered right in your bedroom and/or basement for just $30 a month.
Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). Similar to virtual classes and coaching, this space offers a huge opportunity for the fitness industry. It has the potential of taking virtual classes and coaching to the next level. Imagine waking up and having Dwayne Johnson aka “The Rock” appearing by your side on the basement wall, telling you to do 10 pushups, then five burpees, then 20 air squats. Could that coaching experience be better than the local personal trainer? What if the sensors gave the artificial intelligence-driven avatar of The Rock the feedback that you only completed nine pushups, and you have one to go? What if it alerted him that your hips were too high in relatively to your shoulders? Could it not only be better but be more affordable and more convenient? This is entering disruptive realms, as it is a game changer. It is using a new model to be cheaper and better, and it positions it to permeate the population. Just ask the financial planning industry how robot advisors are taking financial planning to the masses—no suits and mahogany desk required.
We are bound to see the convergence of disruptive innovation in the next five to 10 years, to make the experience better, cheaper and more accessible to more people. Imagine having a virtual assistant at home (think Apple Home or Amazon's Alexa) that knows the sentiment of your conversation. Imagine that data being linked to a watch’s data that tracks your exact movements and a pad under your mattress knowing when you woke up and whether it was the end of your REM cycle. Imagine the virtual assistant of Facebook known as M alerting you to the fact that your old college buddy is doing an indoor cycle class on bike 12. This platform then suggests you switch out from your scheduled boot camp class tonight and meet her there instead, on bike 13, which is currently available. Imagine that the next morning the AI and AR solution prescribe a body-weight workout in your bedroom with The Rock, knowing that you missed your resistance training with boot camp yesterday, and then imagine your prompt for breakfast being an egg white omelet because your DNA profile suggests you are not optimized on your macro nutrient goal this week. Well, you don’t need to image too hard; most of that already exists. We are now set for the convergence.
Brick and mortar gyms may not go away, but they will have to play in the new ecosystem. How will your club adapt?
Emmett Williams is president and co-founder of Myzone, a global wearable technology brand that started in 2011. Myzone uses a chest strap device that shares heart rate feedback for users in a point system known as MEPS. Myzone's system is installed in more than 2,000 health clubs in 17 countries.
This article was included in Club Industry’s 2018 report, “Forward Five Years: How the Fitness and Wellness Industry Will Change.” You can download the full report for free by going here.