The Future of Fitness

As our society becomes increasingly focused on health and wellness, the fitness industry continues to see exponential growth. The fitness and mind and body industry grew from $595 billion in 2017 to $624 billion in 2018. Traditional gyms and fitness studios are struggling to maintain customers as pay-as-you-go and subscription-based virtual models continue to grab consumers attention. Due to consumers’ (especially Millennials) desire for more personalized and convenient fitness experiences, the industry is shifting to new technologies and experience platforms in order to remain relevant.

New technology for traditional fitness

In an attempt to not get disrupted by virtual fitness classes and apps, traditional gyms are beginning to incorporate more technology into their normal customer experience. A leader in this space is Equinox, the high-end luxury gym that I picture Upper East Side moms going to on a regular basis. With membership packages starting at $185 per month, Equinox offers its members the latest in high-tech gym equipment including a state of the art “running lab” in the Chestnut Hill location tailored specifically to the Boston running community. Members that download the Equinox app have access to a chatbot which uses AI to analyze the member’s individual gym use and workout schedule. The bot can then suggest different personalized workouts and classes.

Equinox is currently experimenting with adding advanced tracking technology to the Equinox app. This update would allow for Equinox to gather data on where each member spends their time in the gym, what machines they use, and at what times they use them. The goal is to be able to recommend more personalized workouts to the user as well as improve the flow of overall gym traffic in the future.

Spin studios like CycleBar are also attempting to use tech-enabled spin bikes to keep their customers from migrating to the increasingly popular Peloton bike. Similar to a normal stationary bike, these bikes track speed, resistance, RPM, calories burned, heart rate and distance. The difference comes after the rider has finished their workout. Throughout the ride, the bike syncs the user’s data to its online database so that users can track their fitness progress. After every ride, the user gets an email with a link to how well they did and how they rank against the other riders in the class. This “gamification” of the ride has been shown to increase rider engagement post-workout and keep them motivated to attend more classes in the future.

At-home devices that are changing the game

As consumers place higher importance on the convenience of their workout routines, the market has been flooded with at-home fitness devices that combine the personalization of a personal trainer in the comfort of your home.

The Mirror

It’s exactly what it sounds like. When turned off, it looks exactly like a full-length mirror. When it’s on, you can see yourself, your instructor and an interactive display where you can choose from a library of workouts. You also have the option of tuning into a live-streamed workout from their studio in NYC. Various types of workouts are offered including cardio, yoga, and boxing. Mirror connects to a Bluetooth heart rate monitor, utilizing your personal fitness profile and biometric data to optimize the intensity of the workout in real time. The device itself costs $1,495 plus $250 for shipping and handling. The required subscription is another $39 per month which gives you and five additional members of your household access to the device and its workout library.

Tonal

Tonal is marketed as “the world’s most intelligent fitness system.” The device can be mounted on any open wall and consists of a screen and two adjustable arms. Tonal uses an electromagnetic engine and an advanced pulley system to fit an entire weight room into a device the size of a TV. The computer chips built into the device digitally manipulate the magnetic field created by the engine in order to model the physics and mimic the feel of a traditional weight stack. The weights continuously measure speed, acceleration, force, power, and range of motion, adjusting in real time to make each rep more efficient. Tonal also features a spotter function that will automatically dial back the weight if it notices you are struggling with the weight you selected. AI and machine learning algorithms track each rep performed and compare it to every rep of that exercise you have ever done. Training programs adjust over time increasing the weight and suggesting new workouts and target areas as your fitness improves.

The user can choose from a library of fitness classes, recorded or live-streamed, or use the machine to perform their own workouts. Tonal is $2,995 for the device plus $49 per month for the required library subscription. The smart accessories (that are necessary for you to use the Tonal system) are an additional $495.

Fitness Experiences

To compete with at-home fitness devices, there are several new gyms and fitness studios that are focused on creating an immersive experience for consumers.

Performix House

Performix House is an exclusive, luxury gym located in NYC. It has all of the newest training machines available as well as every possible amenity: cryotherapy, infrared sauna, physiotherapy, and an in-house nutritionist. But there’s a catch. If you want to be a part of this gym, you have to apply. With your application, you have to give them your Instagram handle. If your aesthetic appears to match their standards, you are scheduled for a phone interview where you discuss your fitness goals and aspirations. If management still finds you interesting, only then are you allowed to purchase a membership. I personally think this level of vetting is a mix of hysterical and ridiculous…but I guess that is one way to create a new type of experience for consumers. Memberships start at $240 per month for the basic package and go up to $900 per month for the elite package.

Black Box VR

This San Fransisco-based startup is the first virtual reality gym experience. Black Box “gamifys” working out in order to make fitness more appealing to those who are not easily motivated to go to the gym. When members enter a Black Box location, they are placed in a room with pulley systems that use a similar digital resistance technology to Tonal. Based on your biometric information and fitness profile, your weights and resistance are personalized to you. Users put on a VR headset and small bracelets on each arm in order to track movement. You are then immersed in a world similar to a video game where you perform certain exercises and gain points based on your power, strength, and form. AI and machine learning track each rep, increasing intensity over time according to your progress. These 40-minute sessions will be available at Black Box boutiques in San Fransisco, Manhattan, and Beverly Hills. In the near future, licensing will be available for gyms to include Black Box-based classes as part of their offerings. No membership prices are available yet, but I’m assuming it is going to be fairly expensive.

Main Takeaways

  1. The traditional fitness industry is being disrupted from every angle. Traditional gyms and studios need to figure out how to differentiate themselves if they don’t want to be replaced by at-home fitness devices or experiential business models. Incorporate new technology, like digital weights or interactive VR, into your traditional offerings.
  2. All of these offerings are tailored to wealthy consumers who are probably already fit. I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford to spend over $3,000 on a machine or over $50 on any sort of monthly subscription. There is a large gap in a market for a fitness experience/device that offers a similar service or product at a lower price.
  3. Most of the offerings are tailored towards younger people. There is an untapped market for the large aging population that wants to maintain their health and fitness levels without the high intensity required for most of the newer fitness platforms and devices.

If money wasn’t a concern, would you use any of these fitness services?

11 comments

  1. Super comprehensive blog! I really like how you separated out the different ways in which the fitness industry is being disrupted. I have never heard about Tonal and I think this technology is extremely intelligent and attractive to those who can pay for it. I agree with you that a lot of this tech is tailored to wealthy and fit individuals, so it will be interesting to see if there are any disruptions that are less expensive and more inclusive. I was shocked that Performix House has a vetting process, which includes providing your Instagram handle. I understand that exclusivity can be a competitive advantage, but this just seems discriminatory. I also like that you mentioned many of these products are not catered to older people who truly need to watch their health. Great in-depth article!

  2. Love this topic! I’m actually a member of Equinox in Boston, and a couple of years ago my club subbed out all of their old spin bikes for new “Stages” bikes that allow the rider to track and download their riding data after class. At the time, I imagined it had to do with the rising popularity of studio spin classes and trying to keep up with trends so they didn’t lose members to these other studios, but I didn’t think too much about the data/gamification aspect until recently, so I agree with takeaway #1. Your other takeaways pose good questions – given that the “luxury” fitness sector is trending towards more technological applications, I wonder if we will ever see a secondary disruption of lower-cost fitness programs, or if there will be an increasing gap between the two.

  3. Found this topic really interesting! Really helpful how you separated everything out into different categories/products. The Performix House needing to review your instagram to ensure you’re the right aesthetic and conduct an interview seems absolutely absurd to me, but I don’t doubt that the application process makes it more appealing to some (still don’t agree with it though). While I agree that the industry is being disrupted and traditional gyms should try and incorporate some technology, the difference in price point between all of these new technologies and a traditional gym membership (my Planet Fitness membership at home costs around $10/month) makes these innovations completely out of reach for the majority of the population. Because of this, even though the young and wealthy may be largely transitioning away from the traditional, I still see a lot of people sticking to classic gym memberships until these products and new gyms become more reasonably priced (if they ever even do).

  4. Wow! What a thorough treatment, and you didn’t even hit on some of the big players (e.g. Peloton). Nice work!

  5. I’d only ever heard of the Mirror while reading your blog post but wow there are a ton of other new fitness options out there. I watched Ready Player One recently and the commercial for Black Box was extremely similar with users placing themselves fully in the game. I continually go back and forth on whether I would like having an at home interactive fitness device, like any of these, because I personally enjoy the community and people watching that going to the actual gym brings. If I know real people are watching me, whether they care or not about what I’m doing it still motivates me more than when I’m at home for christmas and just have a workout bike to use. However, some of these may have changed my mind. I think Tonal is the strongest player as I think it plays into a lot of gym aspects that users are looking for. Most of the exercises shown are things normal people amy see an Instagram fitness influencer do in their workout video but don’t have the proper training for how to do it properly without injury. I think this program makes it easier for consumers to step out of their comfort zone and try exercises they may have been to scared to try in the gym on their own. The fitness game is completely changing and after reading your blog I’m excited to see where things are going to go next!

  6. Very interesting to hear about all of these companies! I had never personally heard of any other than Equinox, and even then I didn’t know how technologically savvy they are becoming. While I personally cannot imagine working out anywhere other than traditional gyms, I think it would be interesting to try some of these new fitness technologies/classes. I’m not sure if I could ever justify the expenses that come with most of them, but I would be interested if other cheaper options arise as popularity in this sector grows. I’m interested to see what will come next in the fitness industry!

  7. I had never heard of Tonal but it seems like a super intriguing concept. I’m also in love with the Performix model. I know I wouldn’t make the cut, but it seems like an awesome way to build a community of fitness-focused individuals who are passionate about fitness. Also, the Black Box VR experience looks so cool, I’d love to try it! However, having worn one of the headsets in the commercial (the HTC Vive), I can say that the ad is a little misleading. First off, the HTC Vive requires a pretty decent gaming PC to run VR games. In addition, it requires a cable that tethers the headset to the computer, which limits the range of motion. Finally, I can’t imagine how sweaty and gross the headset would get after using it in an intense workout. However, I’m super excited for where this technology is headed! The next iterations of VR equipment would likely ditch the cable connection and move all the hardware into the headset, solving my biggest issue with it!

  8. I’ve heard of Equinox, but NONE of the fitness systems that were mentioned afterwards. Mirror and Tonal seem awesome and so much of this is possible because of data. Black Box VR isn’t something that I would try just because based on the video it seems like too many elements of it is clunky and if you’re doing an intense workout, it may easily slip off or just make the experience feel a little less seamless. Tonal system seems super sophisticated and I definitely see the appeal there. I just wonder how it can differentiate between knowing you’re struggling and trying to push through, or really struggling and need some help. The fact that the AI can run through all the previous workouts and data to perfect the plan for you makes it super convenient and the user can easily leverage that rather than Googling a bunch of workouts and putting together their own workout plan. As technology advances, I think the traditional gyms will have a tough battle ahead because they’ll have to incorporate better apps to have their members leverage workouts at home as well and earn points to reward them for attending the gyms. Ultimately, the subscription model is something that makes even the most expensive technology fitness programs affordable, but where traditional gyms stand out is the fact that physically going to a gym for a workout can make someone feel accomplished vs. someone that buys the programs on their phones and decide to skip out.

  9. Great post! The Equinox app looks really cool. Very interested in the AI-enabled chatroom. This seems like a great idea to allow individuals to discuss workout options. Occasionally, I am looking for guidance in the gym and find myself asking my friends for advice. This options seems to be a better route.

  10. Now this may be because I grew up in a household that entertained a lot of these, but some of these products just feel like the infomercials of the digital age. So they don’t seem as much as a disruptor in this industry but instead more gimmicky I would say. When I got to the Tonal product I genuinely thought it was put out by Bowflex. That aside I do wonder how attractive of products some of these truly are. I can’t see many people buying what is essentially a $1,500 tv with odd aspect ratios and only one fitness channel.

    I do think where this has really innovated is extending the current gym experience. The equinox app seems interesting and I’m sure an optimal space to connect personal trainers with users.

    Perfomix seems ridiculous, but then again it’s probably catering to celebrities and other high net worth folks in nyc.

  11. This is super interesting and I really enjoyed your presentation as well as this article. I think there is a huge amount of room for disruption across this industry and I am glad you highlighted several of the current key players. As fitness continues to become a mainstay in our everyday lives and Gym memberships continue to skyrocket, at home solutions like Peliton are going to become the norm!

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