By 2017, the number of wearable health and fitness devices on the market worldwide will be 169.5 million, according to an estimate by ABI Research, a New York-based market research and intelligence firm. It seems everyone from elite athletes to soccer moms has become obsessed with logging steps, counting calories and analyzing their daily fitness data. Though wearable fitness trackers can be found attached to the bodies of health club members around the world, most club operators have yet to leverage this technology to their benefit.
"The early opportunity is to be able to track data from outside the club and translate it to inside the club," says Gregory Florez, vice president of V2 Performance, a Salt Lake City-based health club consulting company. "The other opportunity is for gyms to have equipment that talks to these devices. They could have a kiosk with a computer where people could upload or download information from their wearable devices into the club setting and it creates a complete picture of their health."
Life Time Fitness is one club chain that has put some of these opportunities into practice. The company launched its movement tracker campaign in 2012, and it has ramped up steadily since then, according to Jen Keskey, program manager of health technology for Life Time Fitness, Chanhassen, MN.
"We have been selling heart rate monitors for practically 10 years, so we are not new to the world of fitness tech or tracking," Keskey says. "But tracking movement was definitely a change in philosophy for us."
Life Time initially partnered with Fitbit, a brand of wearable movement trackers. The company gained access to Fitbit's API and created a website for Life Time members to sync data and track progress. Recently, Life Time added the Garmin Vivo Fit to its lineup of preferred tracking devices.
"Not many people have unlimited income to spend on things health and fitness related," Keskey says. "The Garmin gives us the ability to give someone a movement tracker and a heart rate tracker. It's a great product to get people aligned with the Life Time philosophy."
Other club companies are either exploring wearable technology or are selling devices right now. The New York Times recently reported that Anytime Fitness, Hastings, MN, began testing Fitbit and the Up by Jawbone in March and will decide which to recommend to franchisees in September at its annual conference. The company will likely bundle the devices with training or membership and charge for "virtual coaching," Chuck Runyon, CEO and co-founder of Anytime Fitness, told the Times. Anytime Fitness later confirmed this to Club Industry.
Equinox, New York, recently began selling the Up24—Jawbone's newer model—in its shops, according to The Times, and is testing the device with personal and small-group training clients. Crunch, New York, sells Exerspy while two other New York clubs, Sports Club/LA and Reebok Sports Club/NY, sell the Polar Loop, The Times reported and Club Industry confirmed with each. Sports Club/LA, which is operated by Millennium Partners Sports Club Management, Boston, also recently began a pilot project in two clubs with blood testing, which The Times reported is conducted by a company that has identified the top 20 biomarkers for performance.
With Wearable Technology, Will Members Need Trainers?
Thirty-three percent of mobile device users have used a mobile device to track their personal health and fitness in the past year, according to a 2013 survey conducted by the Consumer Electronics Association. Although the ability to track workouts may appeal to members, some club owners have expressed concern about members deciding that with this data they might not need a trainer, which would negatively affect personal training revenue.
"It's really the exact opposite," Keskey says. "When we connect the member with education and a device that gives them feedback, all we are doing is encouraging them to live a healthy life 24/7. Nobody has time to interpret data. We know how to slice it and dice it and display it so it is meaningful. It's a way for us to stay connected with our members when they are not in our club."
The online portal has given trainers at Life Time a real-time look at what each of their clients is doing on a daily basis so they can help members reach their goals faster.
"They can see their performance and can say, 'Great job,' or, 'I can't believe you haven't moved at all today,' or whatever that may be," Keskey says. "We've got someone who is going to be a member with us forever because they're there getting results from the tools we've provided them."
This April, Life Time launched a 10,000-step challenge for all club members. Members who sign up online and move 10,000 steps each day are entered to win prizes and cash. As part of the challenge, members can build teams and connect with friends, adding a social media component.
"What we find is that when we get people up and moving, all the right things happen. The energy flows the way it should, your muscles stay warm throughout the day and it makes coming in for a workout a lot easier," Keskey says.
The extreme rate that this technology is entering the marketplace is enough to make even the most tech-savvy health club operators' heads spin. Large companies such as Life Time Fitness are able to create custom online networks that take advantage of the device's data output. For smaller club owners, integrating this technology is not as easy. The fractured landscape of products may need more time to crystalize into a clear and solid solution before wearable fitness trackers can be incorporated into programming at most health clubs.
Cardio and strength manufacturer Freemotion, Logan, UT, is seeking to be that solution with the launch of its wearable tracking device called the iFit Active band. Released at the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show, the band links fitness activity at home, in the club and outside with a single login to an iFit account.
"We think that our device has one really unique benefit over other wearable fit trackers in the space: It is powered by a unique iFit technology that is already being used in the environment," says Colleen Logan, vice president of marketing for Freemotion. "We feel that most of these device makers are, if anything, pulling people out of the club and telling them they don't need to work out in the gym, which is entirely opposite of what we are trying to do. What we are trying to do is get an entire 360-degree view of someone's day. We think we can deliver a better experience of a workout on our cardio equipment."
The iFit Active band interacts with fitness equipment to offer real-time coaching, taking the tracking aspect to a new level.
Other fitness equipment manufacturers are taking more of a wait-and-see approach to device integration. Some of them want to make sure the market is viable and club operators are interested before jumping in. Some have said they are more interested in integrating solutions that are compatible with multiple devices rather than the single-device approach taken by Freemotion.
For this technology to become fully integrated in the health club environment, equipment manufactures will eventually need to become a piece of the puzzle, some say. Keskey, for one, is excited by the prospect.
"Having the ability," she says, "no matter what the equipment is or what workout they are doing, to be able to tie together the various pieces of their day, to be able to educate or coach them up, or reward them for their performance, that's definitely what we are looking at."