Fitness Apps Are Revolutionizing the Industry

The technology is taking fitness to new levels of hyper-personalization and hyper-socialization, all while tapping into new revenue.

Ten years ago, Apple assembled enough apps—500 titles—to create the first app ecosystem, and opened the Apple Store with 500 titles. Today, it has more than 2 million. Google Play, its Android counterpart, boasts even more: about 2.2 million.

While music tops the list of the most-used apps at 79%, according to comScore’s 2016 US Cross- Platform Future in Focus report, fitness apps come in second at 51%. They beat social media apps by 2%, and leave other core app categories—news, sports, gaming, entertainment, and travel—trailing in the dust.

The public’s fascination with apps continues to grow, the conceivable variations seem infinite, and developers and technology strive constantly to improve their performance.

When one conducts a close survey of the apps environment, it’s clear that two distinct trends are emerging which will affect the club marketplace:

  • There will be increased personalization of health and fitness apps and an even greater degree of social interaction;
  • Apps will produce a wide variety of new, related revenue streams.

Hyper-customization the New Norm

Driven by powerful and increasingly pervasive technology—think of artificial intelligence (AI), augmented and virtual reality, and machine learning—apps are evolving incessantly, their capabilities compounding daily.

One of the things that this makes possible is what tech-maven Bryan O’Rourke refers to as “hyper-personalization.”

“Hyper-personalization involves creating an engagement experience that’s customized for, specific to, a given user,” he explains. “It’s about convenience, about reducing the number of steps a person has to take to get what they want.

“Take a look at Amazon, Netflix, Airbnb, and Uber—they know what you like and steer you toward your preferences.”

O’Rourke, the founder and principal of Fitness Marketing Systems, LLC, based in Covington, LA, also is the president of the Fitness Industry Technology Council (FIT-C).

Emmett Williams, the CEO of Myzone, which manufactures a popular heart-rate monitoring system that features a mobile app, predicts that, at some point, AI and sophisticated algorithms will utilize the data they generate to begin to “coach” users proactively.

“Based on the user’s established goals and behavior, AI will start giving them ‘nudges,’” he suggests. “So, if your goal is to lose weight or keep your blood pressure down, that information would become part of the equation. The app would then recommend appropriate behaviors, letting you know, in real time, steps you should take or changes you should make to reach your goal.”

Josh Lloyd, the co-founder and chief technology officer (CTO) of FitMetrix, a software firm that creates branded apps for clubs, points out that AI and algorithms are already playing a key role.

“For example, if a member needs a little push from a personal trainer, we make it possible for the trainer to provide them with reminders, encouragement, and customized workouts—all with the click of a button,” he says. “If a member is interested in group classes, they can use our Visual Workout Builder to view one on a computer screen, and begin participating in the class, virtually, then and there. For the individual who wants to work out on their own, but needs a plan— content from our mobile app takes care of that.

“And everything is based on the member’s persona and data.”

Keeping abreast of technology can sometimes allow you to meet members’ needs before they’ve even recognized them.

“Keeping abreast of technology can sometimes allow you to meet members’ needs before they’ve even recognized them.”

An increasingly sought-after bit of data is the figure that quantifies excess post-oxygen consumption (POC), a measure of oxygen intake following exercise. Knowing that number may be important, for instance, if one of a member’s goals is to burn fat. If they slip into oxygen debt—i.e., the anaerobic zone—they may be burning stored glucose, or good fat. Having that consumption data can keep them in the right zone.

There are a number of questions regarding how best to use POC, but increasingly sophisticated technology is addressing them.

KORR Medical Technologies, which offers the CardioCoach V02 Max testing app, is among the firms providing answers.

“We recently developed a proprietary formula that, based on a user’s VO2 max test, allows us to monitor a workout with the app, and calculate—with a great deal of scientific certainty—how many calories they’ll continue to burn for the following eight hours,” says Julie Kofoed, the company’s vice president of marketing. “The app shows what fuel source they’re utilizing during a workout. Are they using carbs or fat, and in what combination?

“Users can see when they’re getting out of that fat-burning zone in real time—and that’s unique.”

Hyper-socialization: Linking Everything Together

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The Myzone app allows users to earn points that serve as a benchmark.

For Myzone, KORR, and many other IHRSA associate-member tech and equipment providers, personalization and social interaction are inextricably linked. (For a complete list of technology-oriented companies, visit the Club Business Exchange website.)

Let’s call it hyper-socialization.

The Myzone system, for example, allows users to earn points that serve as a benchmark, indicating how far they’ve progressed in terms of achieving their goals.

“Those points aren’t generic, in the way that calorie-burn numbers are. Rather, they’re adjusted with respect to a member’s specific fitness level,” says Williams. “Then, on the social side, we’ve introduced a feature that lets members upload photos and share their metrics and tales. It’s similar to Instagram or Facebook, in that they can add some details, introduce some depth, to the story they’re telling and sharing on our ecosystem.”

“There’s no question that the social component is valuable and growing,” says Kofoed. “Our initial studies and site-testing tell us that giving members the ability to post results, participate in small group challenges, and create a community outside the club helps them to maintain their exercise program and increases retention. So, we’re focused on adding those functionalities to CardioCoach in the near term. That’s why, initially, we designed the app to allow users to share their test results and workouts with their social media communities.”

Ancillary Revenues: A New Opportunity

In any growing market segment, rising penetration and greater functionality tend to go hand-in-hand with expanded revenue opportunities.

Apps are no exception. In addition to their ability to make money directly, they also can serve as a spring to feed several different revenue streams.

In some cases, they can act as mini-portals, offering the same opportunities to generate topline revenue as any website.

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FitMetrix is a software firm that creates branded apps for clubs.

“Clubs can use branded apps to construct a new revenue conversion funnel by offering DIY (do-it-yourself) programs; trainer-created programs; and, eventually, hyper-personalized trainer-client programming—all focused on specific goals supported by rich data and a strong trainer-client relationship,” says Kevin Dawidowicz, the president of CoachMePlus, which markets an athlete-management app. “Moreover, retention increases as the client makes the connection between their success in achieving goals and their use of the club’s app.”

Apps can also be rewarding disruptors, especially for those who zero in on underserved or unidentified markets, such as filling personal training session downtime. Rob Shapiro, who owns 10 BodyScapes Fitness facilities throughout the metropolitan Boston area, has crafted a solution specifically designed to fill that gap.

“We looked at personal training and asked, ‘How can we make it more relevant within our own properties, but also for everyone else who’s running a club or studio?’ ” he says. “We thought about the expense of personal training, the intimidation factor, and the fact that sessions may not be as social as they could be.”

Those factors led Shapiro to develop SPLITFIT, an IHRSA-member company, in 2017. Today, the SPLITFIT app serves a network of local club brands—Burn, CrossFit, the Boston Sports Clubs, Wave Health and Fitness, and the Beacon Hill Athletic Clubs, as well as the BodyScape units. The app lists all open personal training times, and, for a $20 pay-as-you-go fee, users can take advantage of any slot, on-demand, in those clubs—without having to be a member of any of them. The cost of a session can even be shared by up to three people, priming the social aspect.

As proof of concept, Shapiro says, “Approximately 70% of our approximately 8,000 users had never tried personal training before.”

Like so many others, Myzone also is expanding the app envelope.

“We’re in the process of releasing our MZ-20 Bluetooth scale,” Williams says. “It will speak wirelessly to our app, record bodyweight and body fat percentage, and graph them over time. It’s our way of providing greater granularity in tracking outcomes.”

Yet, counsels O’Rourke, constraints still exist.

Pulling Back on Omnipresent Interaction

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CoachMePlus markets an athlete-management app.

Clearly, apps pose what seem to be unlimited possibilities. They can reach members when and where they want, provide them with the information they desire, generate revenue, and lift retention levels.

“Right now, we have too many siloed information systems,” he says. “At this point, data drives everything, so every data point you can gather increases, for example, how much you can personalize a member’s experience. But, if a proprietary app gathers that information in a way that’s not easily integrated, you obtain a limited benefit from it.”

On the other hand, he acknowledges, apps and their ability to aggregate and execute on data offer the potential for omnipresence—that is, the ability to provide members with the information and services they want everywhere, all the time.

“Omnipresence has profound implications,” he says. “The brands that deliver content, coaching, workouts, and other benefits on demand, as well as satisfying experiences wherever members are, will have a critical advantage. The apps that deliver on that promise are the foundation for success in a winner-take-all marketplace.

“Convenience is the key driver today, and the ability to give members a seamless, frictionless experience, both inside and outside the club, will define the competitive fitness technology landscape, as well as the club market, for years to come.”

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Jon Feld

Jon Feld is a contributor to Club Business International.