Small Players Invest in Simplified Technology

At this year's International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) show, I saw some inspiring fitness equipment that was more elegant and, in many cases, simpler to use than in the past.

On the cardiovascular side, it is clear that some type of iPod or MP3 interface will become standard on almost all cardio equipment. Most larger manufacturers are embracing this platform across their treadmill, cross trainer (formerly elliptical trainer) and bike lines.

Manufacturers have taken cross trainer platforms in a new direction that redefines the category. Most new cross trainers use terms that address functional training and promise to provide the user with movement capabilities beyond adjustable stride length.

Our team tried several of these machines and were impressed. This year's models go beyond previous years' minor changes. Some of the leading manufacturers in the industry are refining differentiated products with breakthrough movement patterns.

Small technology start-up companies continue to lead the push to determine how to launch technology that educates, motivates and tracks user workouts in clubs. After meeting with several of these start-ups, I think that one or more of them will get it right. The door is open for smaller, more nimble players who work from the customer perspective to gain a foothold. Consumer need for simplicity and the industry's need for affordable, portable solutions are driving this trend. Many of these solutions offer small wireless modules on each piece of equipment that can upload workout data that is simple, makes sense and is easier to use.

Just as important, truly personalized entertainment options have arrived. Remember, the more steps a club member must take — using button clicks, data entry and reading lengthy printouts — the less likely they are to use this technology.

As with all new technology, barriers exist, not the least of which is the reluctance of club owners to embrace something new — especially new technology. Start-up companies must partner with established equipment manufacturers to integrate their offerings and gain distribution channels.

The real proof will come in the form of consumers who embrace these platforms. Your members want quicker paths to everything — from front desk check-in to choosing their workout and entertainment options for the day. New players will offer this in ways that the large, less nimble companies have not.

Displays on cardio equipment and kiosks have evolved dramatically. The best companies have beautiful screens that use familiar images, look inviting and co-exist with standard programming readouts without looking like an airplane cockpit control panel. Club owners I saw trying to navigate more complicated displays were perplexed. Think about how their members will feel.

Several companies have figured out how to make my 30 minutes on the cardiovascular machine interesting and entertaining — if not fun — through entertainment and workouts that have a “personality.” Club members want to track their progress, but again, doing so has to be simpler than in previous iterations.

Manufacturers are at last connecting with their members by designing technology according to what people are using in gyms and in their homes — portable devices including phones, iPods and other personal entertainment equipment. Companies are doing this without trying to lump too much technology into one machine. Pay attention to the start-ups. They get it, and hopefully, so too, will the industry.

Gregory Florez is CEO of FitAdvisor Health Coaching Services and First Fitness Inc., which was rated as the No. 1 health coaching online training service by The Wall Street Journal. Florez can be contacted at

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