The fitness industry is fluid, with new trends developing every few months across all facets of a health club: equipment, design, programming and beyond. More so than any other area of the industry, technology’s role in the typical health club has been changing every year.
And now, as digitization sweeps the industry, clubs are left with more technology choices than ever before, ranging from virtual fitness classes to heart rate monitoring and several more offerings. For club operators, this is not a bad thing.
“What excites me regarding fitness technology is 2018 seemed to be the year we, as operators, finally took on a pull strategy toward what technology we select in our clubs,” said Mike Rucker, the vice president of technology at Active Wellness. “Technology products have traditionally been pushed on us, and sometimes their adoption has actually created more problems than they solved.”
With more options to choose from, clubs can tailor their technology offerings to their membership. “There is now a myriad of new technology providers, fueled in part by the success of smaller studios, which has made the fitness technology space more competitive,” said Rucker. “This competition has created more interesting offerings that cater to a wider spectrum of business problems.”
But no matter which of the countless new services you pick for your needs, the most important quality of a new technology offering is that it makes members’ workouts better, or helps your club’s daily operations run smoother.
“When technology removes friction or reduces steps from an existing workflow, you have a winning recipe,” said Rucker. “Technology is a tool to make people’s lives easier or do their job better.”
It can be difficult to sift through this myriad of new technology providers, but determining the right technology trends to adopt, such as virtual fitness, can create better solutions for members and set clubs up for success in adapting to constantly changing trends.
Perhaps what members seek most out of fitness technology is a sense of immediacy, and virtual fitness allows clubs to meet members where they are.
“We lean on technology to drive immediate, tangible results,” said Jeff Helfgott, the director of strategy and business development at Excel Fitness Holdings. “It allows you to engage your members on whatever channel and in whatever time of day they want.”
Consumers can now access anything via mobile devices, so it makes sense for health clubs to make personalized fitness accessible from anywhere at any time. And in recent years, the quality of these workouts has improved drastically.
“I have been bearish on virtual fitness for some time, but I think what finally cracked the code is real-time, versus on-demand,” said Rucker. “The virtual products previously out there were not close to the health club experience. That’s quickly changing.”
The key to this shift in workout streaming quality was capturing the in-club workout experience in a workout app or platform — a feat that was, until recently, very difficult to achieve.
Peloton and Aaptiv, two virtual workout brands that each give users the ability to stream live workouts from their devices, have changed the way members can participate in workouts, according to Rucker. The ability to “tune in” to a live workout without actually being inside the facility — and still feel like part of the class — was critical to enhancing the member experience.
“Video-based personal training has been around for years and struggled to take shape,” said Brad Wills, the former CMO of MINDBODY. “Aaptiv focused on delivering higher-quality training in an easily consumable manner at an affordable price. Industry pros should take note of their emphasis on putting the trainer more front and center in the experience.”
As it is with in-person workouts, your trainers are an important asset. By having your trainers conduct virtual workouts, your members will feel more connected to the class — even if they’re watching it on the smart TV in their living rooms.
According to Helfgott, you can even use the time before and after classes to put your club’s culture on full display, and give virtual participants a taste of the live experience. “Livestream your next session — including the banter before and after the class — on Facebook Live,” said Helfgott. “By showing what your class environments are like, you can use technology to connect with members and assist with building culture.”
That’s not to say your club shouldn’t offer on-demand, pre-recorded workouts. Many consumers join workout classes in your club to feel a sense of belonging while reaching their fitness goals. If you can deliver that in-class experience whether they’re in the building or on their devices, they’re more likely to stay engaged.
“We’re beginning to recognize members need solutions that extend outside the gym,” said Helfgott. “Consumers don’t want more problems, they want solutions. Asking them to workout, record every rep and document their food consumption throughout the day — that’s giving them a problem.”
The bottom line is technology trends should help you create more effective solutions for your members. A common trap with technology is selecting a product that looks good, but lacks the real functionality your clients need.
“All members want is the outcome — living a healthier life, getting in great shape or being able to pick up their grandkids,” said Helfgott. “And I think big tech players are racing to provide this faster than traditional fitness companies.”
In this digital age, convenience is the name of the game. As a club operator, you’re looking for the right apps, equipment and services to help your members reach their goals effectively — remember, they just want the outcome.
This makes it extremely important to evaluate which technology trends you’re going to adopt.
“Clubs can’t afford to be on tech’s bleeding edge — trends change too rapidly, and no one wants to invest in the Betamax of fitness,” said Helfgott. “Instead, clubs need to step back and understand where their members have friction points, and how technology can improve the experience.”
The member experience should always come first in a health club, and technology selection is not immune to this principle. There is a certain lens through which all technology decisions should be examined in your club.
“To ensure you are positioned to adapt to relevant technology trends, make sure whatever you implement does one or more of three things: reduces costs, expands your member base, and improves your employee and/or member experience, thus creating value, which affords you the ability to charge higher prices,” said Rucker. “If it doesn’t do one or more of those three things, you’re wasting everyone’s time and money.”
There are also various measures you can take to lay a “technological foundation,” making it easy for new technology to be integrated into your club’s setting. Doing so can set your club up for success, no matter how often technology trends change in the future.
“It makes sense for club owners to ‘future proof’ their clubs so they can always offer whatever solutions provide sustained value for members,” said Helfgott. “Get your telecom providers to dig fiber optic cables directly to your club, invest in high-speed wireless and enterprise-grade routers, and look to cheap, scalable solutions like chat bots to engage members.”
The sheer amount of services on the market will seem less intimidating when you filter all technology trends through that certain lens — making your experience and operations more convenient.
Doing so will make you more receptive to the technology you need to help drive your club’s success. “As an industry, will we duck our heads in the sand and allow these virtual offerings to be a competitive threat?” asked Rucker. “Or, alternatively, will we become customers and use this trend to augment our brands’ value propositions by expanding our offerings outside our four walls?”