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.
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 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.
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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?