Journey Through the FitTech Space

As I sit here thinking of what to write about digital business and transformation, I can’t help but think – it really hurts to be sitting right now! Last Monday I started an Orange Theory membership, my latest fitness adventure. For those that have never heard of Orange Theory, it’s a fitness class that is entirely based around technology. Before class you strap an Orange Theory branded heart-rate monitor to your arm and for the next 60 minutes you move through various interval workouts. However, it takes a different approach to intervals in that instead of having them based on speed or how many reps you complete, each interval is defined by how fast your heart-rate is at any given moment. Displayed on monitors located throughout the studio, you see you and your classmates tiles colored according to your current heart-rate “zone,” as well as the calories you’ve burned, your “splat” minutes (i.e., time you’ve spent in the “orange zone” aka the fat-burn zone), and your heart-rate.

Orange Theory’s technology doesn’t just stop at the end of class though. All your stats are collected and sent to you via email after class. Additionally, they have an app where you can find your past classes’ workout data, compare this week’s cumulative data to prior weeks’, sync out of class workouts using their OTbeat wearable device, can attend remote live classes, and sign-up for classes. You can even connect the Orange Theory app with your Apple Health data to help them make an even better estimate of your calories burned based on things like sleep, activity outside of class, and nutrition. Have we gone from cool to creepy yet? I’m freely giving this company a ton of my data and I’m not entirely sure how they use it. I mean does anyone actually read those million page terms of use agreements?

But the benefit to me is greater than the creepy factor, so I let it go and sign up for more classes. I’m no stranger to giving my fitness data away willingly (or as I like to call it my “un-fitness” data). I got my first Fitbit almost a decade ago (that’s back before they even had the heart-rate monitors in them and were literally just a pedometer with a fancy app). I impulse bought a scale in the Home Depot checkout line a year and a half ago because it tracked not only weight, but also body fat %, hydration level, bone mass, and muscle mass through an associated app. Like the gin and TV reading, these purchases/habits/activities were a symptom of greater shifts occurring in my life. Each of these products coincided with a specific struggle to improve my health while living an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. I got my first Fitbit after graduating from undergrad and the realities of my first office job started setting in. I bought the “smart scale” when I realized an MBA program had me moving even less than my office job and needed another motivator in my life. And finally I started at Orange Theory because a year of working from home means I rarely have a reason to leave the house (other than to sit in a classroom). All throughout my un-fitness journey there’s a different technology (and thus a digital business) to help me through these struggles. So I willingly and ignorantly give them my data and thank them for taking it.

After my Orange Theory class today, I hung around and asked one of the “coaches” how they personally use the data and found out it helps them refine their teaching techniques. Their goal is to have a certain number of total splat points after every class (based on the group size and each individual attendee). However, the coach said they always reach those KPIs because of the structure of the class: 20 minutes treadmill, 20 minutes rowing, and 20 minutes strength training always ends up being more than 12 minutes of fat-burn zone time per person. Instead, they use members’ data on the screens to know when they should help encourage someone to push harder (if it’s supposed to be “All Out”), tell someone to pull back (if it’s supposed to be “Base Pace”), or alter/correct their instructions (if members’ tile colors are all the different colors of the rainbow) to ensure attendees have the most effective interval training. After all, more effective training –> better results –> higher member retention –> more money for the business. The coach also said he knows the company uses member data to refine workout segment order, number of reps, time per activity, etc., but hadn’t really considered data privacy issues or the other ways the company could use member workout data (he also must have skimmed the terms and conditions).

Orange Theory is just one example in the fitness space where consumers are expecting greater individualization, tailoring, and remote access. We went from having basic gyms to Mirror home gyms (still can’t wrap my head around that one) and SoulCycle to Peloton. I can’t help but find it interesting how the more permeated our society is with technology, the more sedentary we become in our work and day-to-day lives, which in turn makes us rely on technology to help us become more active.

Do you use any technology to help you stay healthy (meditation/sleep apps, nutrition apps, fitness apps, etc.)?

If yes, what do you use and what do you like/dislike about it? What are your thoughts on the data they collect about you? Do you care or know how they use that data?

9 comments

  1. ritellryan · ·

    I use Weight Watchers for dieting (now maintaining) and initially it was really just height, weight, and gender for their algorithm to determine how much I can eat in a given day/week. However, over the past few months or so they have tried to become a 1 stop shop for health asking about how much I exercise (not much in the past year), sleep, and my mood throughout the week. I haven’t utilized any of these newer features, but it might be helpful for those who want to keep everything in one place, or need to track that information more than I do.

    Over the 5 years or so I have had the app, I have seen them go from 1 plan to 3 and change how many different types of food you can eat without consequence. I have to think this is all related to data that users put into the app and how much weight they have lost to determine “grilled chicken breast is unlimited on this plan”. If that is the case, like your workouts I would be happy to hear if that is how they are using the data because there is no one size fits all in health and fitness. Whether it be giving me more options to find what works best for me, or to match me with a similar “physical profile” so I can reach my goals quicker, then I would not only find that acceptable, but smart business in an attempt to strive for customer satisfaction

  2. abigailholler1 · ·

    My husband and I purchased a Peloton in the deep despair of the Covid-19 pandemic; I was a regular spinner, but honestly having a piece of workout equipment in your living room/designated workspace really adds to the whole ‘walls closing in’ feeling we all know so well from the pandemic. But I digress…in addition to Peloton’s collection of copious amounts of workout statistics from it’s users, they also collect data on follower relationships and recently rolled out peloton tags. These additional features definitely seek to reinforce a user’s engagement with Peloton, but I’m sure they have other (more secret) uses for this data. One such use the Peloton CEO has teased is for health insurance providers; providers could start to offer Peloton subscribers with premium discounts provided they use their bike or treadmill a certain number of times each month. Definitely pushing towards the ‘creepy’ side of the spectrum…but if there’s savings to be had, maybe I’d feel differently!

  3. olivia_levy8 · ·

    This post immediately caught my eye because I am super into fitness and the overlap of fitness and tech has always been on my radar. Pre-covid, I didn’t use any fitness apps consistently, but now because of COVID I have become a Peloton subscriber. I do not own a bike or tread, but the platforms offerings for strength, yoga, meditation, cardio, etc are vast and have me hooked.

    On top of that I am also an Apple Watch owner. In regards to data and my feelings towards data collection in the fitness industry, I don’t have many concerns. I would love the opportunity to opt-in or out of this, but for me at the end of the day, if OrangeTheory knows my heart rate throughout their class, thats fine by me, they can have it. Bring in location and personal data into the conversation and that is another story, but most of the fitness data gathered doesn’t bother me at the moment.

  4. Scott Siegler · ·

    This is an awesome reflection on technology and fitness. I had a very similar moment when I enrolled in my health insurance company’s incentive program that essentially pays me every quarter to share my diet, sleep, and fitness data with them. I had a similar conclusion that the benefit of getting paid outweighs having to share my data, but I do think it is probably worth more of an investigation on my part to figure out to what extent this data is used.

    I got an Apple Watch not too long ago to try to create more transparency around my daily calorie intake vs. output and it has been life changing. I use a food diary app to log my meals and snacks and I’ve integrated that with Apple Watch’s native activity tracker to set up a dashboard view of my calorie balance at any point in time on my wrist, which is so cool. It’s also fascinating to see how my resting heart rate moves in response to other things happening in my life. Overall, I’d say I’m a fan on technology and fitness coming together.

  5. Great post! We got a Peloton bike last February, just before lockdown, and it has absolutely been a godsend. Beforehand, I exercised occasionally, mostly walking the dog about 30 minutes/ day. Now, I’m on the Peloton about 60 minutes every other day. While the content and the community is great, it’s the data that has made the biggest difference. When I can actually track my fitness improvements, I am far more likely to keep getting back on the bike every other day, because I can see the difference. Rides that I struggled to finish a year ago now I exceed on days when I’m just “taking it easy.” I’m definitely a convert!

  6. therealerindee · ·

    Awesome post and I applaud the use of memes. You’re right the creepy/cool line very much comes into play when it comes to fitness trackers and health apps. I used to wear an Apple watch on a daily basis and compete with friends for how many calories I could burn during a workout which was both motivational and also too much at the same time. If the Apple Watch isn’t intense enough for you though, then step up to the Whoop band, which has all kinds of cool features but is also a company that your just willingly throwing your data at. In the words of a beloved Christmas carol, “Whoop knows when you are sleeping, they know when you’re awake.” Too creepy?? Anyways, I think if you as a user feel you are benefitting and feel better from the exercise etc, then the fact that your fitness tracker knows everything about you is a small price to pay.

  7. I really enjoyed this post because the idea of fitness tracking through technology has been something I have given a lot of thought to over the past couple of years. It feels like everyone I know under 30 has an Apple Watch that tracks their activity. The arguments I have heard for it so far have not convinced me that it was worthwhile. The most compelling argument was that the competiton between friends is a good motivator for getting active (which I could use). As someone who does not like to wear a watch in general, this was not enough to get me to buy or wear one. However, the way you described how the tracking is done to improve and optimize your workouts has me reconsidering that idea. If it leads to better performance and results, then I could be swayed into supporting it.

  8. AndraeAllen · ·

    Hi Lisa, you are an excellent writer! Your post was engaging and super easy to read. I don’t own any internet connect fitness devices, but I do have one of the scales that displays weight, body fat percentage, and bone mass. It is an excellent tool that can accurately classify where you are losing/gaining weight. Regarding those Mirror home gyms, I still can’t believe those are a thing, but I bet they won’t be going anywhere. As the adoption rate increases and manufacturing prices fall, I can see them becoming standard in our bathrooms. Less of a fitness tool but geared towards weather and basic health diagnostics. Hmmm, a Fitbit mirror that shows ads for Colgate.

  9. changliu0601 · ·

    I really enjoy your post.I bought a smart weight scale which can measure my BMI, body fat and protein%,etc to maintain my health goal. After it ran out if battery, I never bought another battery for it.The data put a burton on my diet.I also tried Peloton to keep fitness.After each class it will show the calories i burn, but I’m skeptical about the data.I wonder there is no device to be attached to my body, how can Peloton know my data.I think i am asking a stupid data.From my perspective, these platforms will be more attractive to me by recommending me courses that are more suitable for you, or guiding me the way how to work out more effectively through reading my data.

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