Imagine an all-in-one piece of fitness equipment that knows each of your club’s members better than their own doctors do. It knows all about their past workouts, how well they completed them, tracks their schedule, and is even able to ask how they feel. It then takes all of these factors into consideration and designs the perfect workout for them—even going so far as to raise the arms of the bench press unit to the exact height they require, or increase the resistance on the treadmill as they run.
This equipment exists today, but you won’t find it in most clubs. Where you will find it, however, is on the Chandler/Ocotillo, Arizona, campus of the Intel Corporation, home to some 9,700 of the company’s employees. Best known as a manufacturer of computer processors, Intel is quickly acquiring serious expertise in the fitness industry, and is bringing its computing power to bear to help create some of the world’s most high-tech fitness equipment. Its corporate fitness center in Chandler/Ocotillo is, arguably, the most high-tech fitness facility on the planet.
Intel now hopes to be instrumental in bringing similar technology to the masses.
Searching for state-of-the-art
The Intel center features many of the same types of equipment that you’d find in a typical gym, including stationary bikes, treadmills, and elliptical trainers. It boasts the newest and most sophisticated products from many of the industry’s leading manufacturers, including Keiser, Nautilus, PowerPlate, Star Trac, True, and Woodway. Upon close inspection, you’ll discover that the equipment is all state-of-the-art, much of it Internet-connected and running Intel’s Core 2 Duo processors.
The center’s elliptical trainers, for instance, are from Octane Fitness. The machines feature 15" touchscreens that serve a dual purpose: entertaining people to enhance their workout, and providing additional information about their exercise to keep them focused. “People either want to zone in, or zone out, when they’re working out,” explains Tim Porth, Octane’s executive vice president of marketing and product development. “For those who want to zone in and focus on their workout, we provide information about the equipment they’re using and how they’re using it.
“But most people,” he points out, “just want to get in to the gym, zone out, and get their workout done; for them, we offer really good content—plenty of entertainment options.”
To deliver the latter, Octane has turned to Netpulse, Inc., a media company that produces content that, according to CEO Bryan Arp, is designed to “connect, entertain, and engage active lifestyle consumers…
“When you go into a gym today,” he continues, “you generally see rather ordinary TVs. Our product represents the next generation—it’s a touchscreen interface that provides on-demand content, interactive fitness tracking, and an iPod dock.” He notes that it transforms the workout experience into a personal one, no matter where the user is. “You step on a treadmill and enter your ID,” he explains. “The treadmill says, ‘Welcome Susie. Here's your personal playlist.’ You can see your entire workout history and your video playlist at any club in the country.”
Netpulse’s content is delivered through its own aftermarket product, a monitor that’s universally compatible and sits on top of any type of fitness equipment. In March, during IHRSA’s 30th Anniversary International Convention and Trade Show, the firm announced that its service will soon become available on equipment with integrated touchscreens manufactured by companies such as Life Fitness, Matrix Fitness Systems, Technogym, and Woodway.
The high-tech innovations at Intel’s Chandler/Ocotillo center, however, go far beyond Internet-connected, touchscreen-enabled devices. A separate section of the fitness facility houses the Core Performance Center, which features CPro all-in-one fitness trainers, produced by Athlete’s Performance. The company, based in Phoenix, Arizona, provides integrated performance training, nutrition, and physical therapy services, principally for professional, Olympic, and elite athletes, and its CPro units are utilized primarily by corporate fitness centers.
CPro provides a “completely customized” workout experience, according to Jon Zerden, the chief technical officer at Athlete’s Performance.
Before using the CPro, a client undergoes a thorough screening, which evaluates everything from their medical history, to their blood pressure, to their functional mobility. Then, each time they log on to the CPro, it generates a customized workout based on factors that include their prior workouts and even their current mood.
“It factors in the data from your evaluation, your schedule, and everything that you’ve done in the past, here in this facility, that we’re able to measure—even your heartbeat—and sends that information to a prescription engine,” Zerden explains. “The engine utilizes 33,000 rules that are based on research and science, which allow it to develop the optimal training program for you; that program is sent back to the CPro, and the device automates the workout for you.” It can, for instance, increase the weight for each lat pull-down a member does or adjust the incline of the treadmill they’re using.
This sort of exercise automation is key to bringing equipment similar to CPro to the masses, notes Ed Hill, the director of marketing for Intel’s embedded and communications group. Hill, who has used the CPro machine at the Intel center, describes it as “a significant change in the way training is delivered…
“As a recreational fitness user, I don’t always know what I should be doing when I go into a club,” he confesses. “The CPro focuses attention on the muscle groups that you need to work on. It feels as though you’re getting that overall, full-body balance and working on areas that, otherwise, you might not have realized required your attention.”
But, Hill notes, with CPro, the possibilities extend beyond its ability to customize workouts. Like a growing number of products from a growing number of manufacturers, it provides important feedback for both the member and the club. “Anyone can walk into a gym and complete a workout, but, with the CPro, you’re able to monitor, gauge, and track your performance, so you know if you’re exercising correctly,” he explains. That sort of intelligence, valuable for any user, is compelling for those who want to “zone in” on their workout.
The technology built into many of the newer machines also allows operators to monitor usage. “Our system allows club owners to go to a Website and obtain a detailed history of each machine,” points out Porth. “You might, for example, have a line of 10 ellipticals, and discover that one of them is being used four times as much as the others. It could be because of positioning, or the view, but, whatever the reason, you’ll know that you need to rotate your equipment. Otherwise, you’ll eventually be replacing one machine that has 10,000 hours and one that only has 4,000.”
Other systems, such as Netpulse’s, allow clubs to track exactly what members are doing, and can even be employed to send them personal messages. “When a member logs in, the club can communicate with them, personalizing the message,” says Arp. “It can send a message like, ‘Hi, Susie, yoga classes are Thursday at 5:00.’”
Bridging fitness and healthcare
One of the most promising implications of the ability to track workouts is that it allows healthcare professionals to monitor and evaluate the effect that a fitness regimen is having on a patient’s health. Intel is particularly interested in the relationship between the healthcare and fitness industries.
“Intel is much more than a microprocessor manufacturer. They’re heavily involved in healthcare, and they see a lot of convergence between healthcare and fitness. They’re allocating a lot of resources to explore how they can help build a bridge between these two industries,” says Kevin Steele, Ph.D., the co-creator and co-chair of the Fitness Industry Technology Council (FITC), which is backed by Intel. “They recognize the huge problem with worldwide obesity, its escalating cost, and the profound impact it has on corporations. And they think, ‘Hey we can help.’”
The council is currently studying a number of issues, including the standardization of the calculation, capturing, reporting, and sharing of data across equipment produced by different manufacturers, a major requirement to serve the healthcare sector. In the future, the work being done by FITC could allow a club to seamlessly send information directly to a doctor, who could then prescribe a workout for a patient and send it directly to the gym.
The members of FITC currently include: ABC Financial Services, Inc.; Athlete’s Performance; BCM; ClubCom; Dedham Health and Athletic Complex; Eurotech; Gainesville Health and Fitness Centers; IHRSA; Intel; Life Fitness; Life Time Fitness; Matrix Fitness Systems; Netpulse, Inc.; Octane Fitness; Planet Fitness; Plus One; Precor, Inc.; Star Trac; Twin Oaks Software Development; Town Sports International (TSI); and Woodway.
Intel has documented the health benefits of regular exercise at its Chandler/Ocotillo facility. Earlier this year, the company conducted a study to evaluate its impact on employees. The 14-week corporate wellness pilot program followed 75 workers who trained three times per week on the CPro strength and cardio equipment. Over that period, the average participant lost 14 pounds, and reduced their body fat percentage by 6% and their cholesterol by more than 5%.
Interactive state-of-the-art fitness equipment serves a host of needs, offers incalculable opportunities, and provides a plethora of benefits. It attracts prospects, engages members, makes exercise more entertaining, precise, and rewarding, and, overall, enhances the industry’s professionalism in profound ways. “Whether we like it or not, the consumer is going to have a certain level of expectation with respect to the experience they have in a club,” says Hill, “and operators need to make sure that they’re meeting those expectations.” And, today, that means, among other things, providing them with all of the intriguing options that are the hallmarks of a wired society.