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A peek into health clubs of the future

The year is 2040, and your members want a workout. They leave their homes, climb into their personal piloted drones, and head for your club. They park their vehicles beside others in a clean, well-lit garage, and step onto the moving sidewalk to be transported into the building. They enter the lobby, which is airy and open and crafted from environmentally sustainable materials.

At the front desk, they’re greeted by an avatar, their virtual trainer, who knows exactly how many times the member has worked out during the past month, how well they slept last night, what they ate for breakfast, and that they opted to fly to the club today.

The virtual trainer has gleaned all this information from the member’s wearable – or, perhaps, even embedded – fitness-tracking device, and has already programmed a workout for them. Perhaps it’s a session on the treadmill, or one with free weights, or a group interval class conducted by another avatar. The trainer knows the member’s short- and long-term goals and current, real-time status, and has the perfect workout ready.

Welcome to the club of tomorrow!

While this scenario may seem like one lifted from an episode of The Jetsons, or one envisioned by Isaac Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke, don’t discount all of these notions. According to the experts in a number of different fields who were consulted by CBI, many clubs are heading toward a future much like the one described––a future full of brilliant equipment, precisely customized workouts, exact exercise tracking, a more rewarding exercise experience, and better results.

Endless entertainment options

One thing is clear, however: Despite astounding technological innovations, workouts will always involve physical exercise, fitness professionals point out.

“Twenty-five years from now, your body will still have to go through the motions of exercise in order to obtain results,” notes Al Rousseau, the vice president of national accounts for Cybex International, Inc., the Medway, Massachusetts–based equipment manufacturer. “Realistically, you can’t expect that there’s going to be some sort of magic pill that reduces your weight and makes you healthy. Your body will still have to do the work. But what we can do is build equipment that works your body more efficiently, allowing you to burn more calories and achieve the results you want more quickly.”

So, what might that equipment look like?

In some respects, it won’t be all that different from what you’re familiar with today––at least, on the surface. Members will still be running on treadmills, and they’ll still be lifting weights, but everything about the process will be infinitely more interesting, customizable, interactive, and educational.

Like today’s cycles, treadmills, ellipticals, and climbers, tomorrow’s cardio equipment will provide a wealth of entertainment options to keep users engaged.

“People will still value the content that’s available on their personal screens,” says Chris Clawson, the president of Life Fitness, the Rosemont, Illinois–based equipment manufacturer. The company’s current line of cardio equipment already allows users to access their personal content via a smartphone or a tablet. And, down the road, Clawson expects that user-driven content will become much more widespread. “The club will provide the portal that a member can use to access their content. If they have Hulu, or Netflix, or whatever – they’ll be able to tune into their accounts right from the equipment.”

Fitness-tracking finesse

That sort of precise tailoring won’t end with the entertainment component, but will extend into the workout itself, as well. When a user approaches a leg press machine, for example, it might automatically set itself to the correct resistance for that individual’s regimen, adjusting it midway through the workout. It could also provide the user with advice on how to get the most out of their time with the machine.

“I do think we’ll see something that provides instant feedback,” speculates Rousseau. “People want to know that they’re getting results. So maybe there will be built-in technology that remembers your last workout session and plans your next one to help you reach your goal, or a virtual coach that pushes you to the next level.”

The data to do so will likely come from the machine’s ability to communicate with a wearable tracking device, a futuristic version of today’s FitBits and Nike FuelBands.

“What we’re seeing today is just the start of these fitness-tracking devices,” says Bryan O’Rourke, a principal in Integerus, LLC, and president of the Fitness Industry Technology Council (FITC), both of Covington, Louisiana. “In the future, they’re going to offer so much more. They’ll be able to let the operator know when a member is in the club, and will download information about their most recent workouts to the club’s equipment. If, for instance, a member went for a run outside, using a mapping app or a fitness tracker, that information will be stored and shared with the club, and the equipment will use it to plot a personalized workout.”

“Eventually, cutting-edge, face-detection/recognition technology could be utilized to automatically identify and monitor the user of a piece of club equipment,” predicts Tony Garcia, the president of MYE Entertainment, Inc.

Infinite exercise interaction

For this type of seamless interaction to occur, the fitness industry will have to achieve a high degree of interoperability. Machines produced by different manufacturers will have to be able to communicate with one another—something that they can’t do today. O’Rourke is confident this will occur—in large part, because it’s the only way to provide users with the smooth, intuitive, and efficient exercise experience they’ll expect in years to come.

“The industry has seen an explosion of exercise equipment connectivity solutions during the last few years, with ‘open-platform’ systems becoming more of a standard offering,” notes Garcia. “There’s a tremendous opportunity for manufacturers to work together to provide solutions to operators’ needs.”

Going forward, fitness-tracking devices will do more than just communicate with the club and its connected equipment. In all probability, they’ll also share information with doctors and other healthcare providers, and perhaps even employers and insurance companies that require individuals to work out regularly to obtain a discount on their premiums.

Now for a hard question: Will this type of information sharing tend to make some club services obsolete? Hardly, say the experts. Rather, it should position the club, as it were, at the center of the member’s lifestyle, suggests Nerio Alessandri, the president and founder of Technogym, the Cesena, Italy–based equipment producer. The company’s Wellness on the Go platform, which was introduced at IHRSA’s 33rd Annual International Convention and Trade Show in March, is a step in that direction. It allows Technogym equipment to access a member’s fitness data, entered from their computer or smartphone, which is then stored in the cloud.

The concept, Alessandri insists, is going to grow and expand.

“The future is going to be about personalization,” he predicts. “The challenge for clubs will be to offer every person a totally different wellness experience - it’s not going to be the same recipe for everyone. The club will be the hub for their lifestyle. And this represents a real opportunity for the club staff. They’ll not only be able to manage the member during the two to three hours a week they spend at the club, but also when they’re exercising at home, outside, or when traveling.”

“Our goal,” says Garcia, “is to provide club operators and fitness equipment manufacturers with solutions that will personalize the user experience, and, at the same time, create new profit-center opportunities.”

MYE’s latest entry, along these lines, is AppAudio, which allows members to access TV audio anywhere within a facility. Operators, for their part, can customize the experience with their club’s logo and graphics, targeted messages, advertisings panels, etc.

Virtually no limitations

The same sort of increased customization is already having an impact in group exercise venues, and, in 10 to 20 years, members will simply assume that they’ll be able to take the class they want whenever they want. A growing number of facilities are currently offering this type of on-demand programming, which can be accessed via a video screen or wall in an existing studio. Among the providers are Fitness On Demand, Wellbeats (formerly Fitness On Request), Wexer Virtual, and Les Mills Virtual.

Garrett Marshall, the business development director for Fitness On Demand, based in Chanhassen, Minnesota, is convinced this type of user-driven group format is going to become the norm and will increase in sophistication.

“Right now, classes are offered via a video, and the video is a dynamic feed, but it’s a one-way process,” he explains. “Down the road, there will be two-way video interaction. You’ll have the instructor on one side—maybe he’s a world-class instructor at a given location—and, on the other side, he’ll be leading 15 classes in various locations. All of the members will see him, and likewise, he’ll see all of the participants, so he can provide guidance and specific feedback.”

Eventually, Marshall says, the instructor might appear in all of the various club locations simultaneously in holographic form. Users will be led by a computerized version of the instructor, but one that appears in the room in 3D, and is able to interact with the members who are there in the flesh.

The screens that allow ondemand group exercise classes also facilitate virtual programming, a feature that’s already available. Employing these programs, participants can savor the sensation of running though an Amazon rain forest or riding their bikes through the Grand Canyon. In years to come, this type of technology will become ubiquitous, and will evolve, conceivably leading to rooms with walls consisting entirely of high-definition screens.

Club users also will encounter more spaces where lights and sensors are embedded in all the walls and floors. “Embedded technology is beginning to appear, and will become more and more relevant,” observes O’Rourke. “It creates an intelligent space—one that senses where you are and creates games to engage you. For instance, maybe you have to play tag with colored lights that flash sequentially in response to your progress. These sorts of inventive programs can be used to encourage all kinds of movement for different kinds of training.

“Technology is an enabler of the human spirit, but it’s not going to replace humans,” O’Rourke concludes. “Technology will simply take what the health club industry does now and elaborate and amplify on it. That will create new possibilities that didn’t exist before.”

Liane Cassavoy can be reached at



Reader Comments (1)

Some very interesting comments that are closer to reality than we might think. I wish I had pursued my idea of virtual spinning ten years ago.
June 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRich Andrae

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