The Accuracy of Wearables Can Make or Break Your Programming

With these devices playing a larger role in critical SGT sessions, health club owners are voicing concerns about data reliability. Here’s what you need to know.

Biometrics are bigger than ever. With personal devices becoming increasingly affordable and easy to use, more exercisers are taking advantage of these tools to achieve their fitness goals.

This is great for the health club industry. Integration of heart-rate monitors and devices that measure energy consumption are playing a large role in the growing popularity of small group training (SGT). These HIIT and functional training workouts, such as the training system popularized by F45 and others, utilize heart rate zones and other biomarkers as a guide to energy efficiency and fitness improvement.

But savvy operators and trainers have learned that not all wearable devices are as accurate as they need to be to deliver a quality experience for their clients. And without accurate data, workouts are less effective than they should be and can lead to members becoming discouraged from poor results that have nothing to do with program design or instructor quality.

Researchers have discovered the same thing. According to one study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, accuracy of energy expenditure measurements isn’t guaranteed with certain devices.

“Our paper shows that estimates are often poor and they vary depending on the activity being performed,” Ruairi O’Driscoll, the study’s lead author, told Reuters. “Consumers should be aware of the potential for error in their devices, especially if they are using it to inform their eating behaviors.”

Other research has reached similar conclusions. Heart rate data has to be accurate to be useful and that is not the case with all devices on the market. And once the HR data is harvested, how it is interpreted by fitness apps can be tricky as well.

Achieving True Integration Is the Goal

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Avoiding wearables and the advantages they provide isn’t an option for clubs any longer. In the IHRSA webinar, Wearables 2.0: Leveraging the Evolution of Digital Health Technology for Fun and Profit, Michael Rucker, Ph.D., vice president of technology for Active Wellness, said that clubs should put an effort into encouraging members to utilize wearables.

“By integrating wearables into the member experience, it shows the club is taking an innovative approach to fitness,” said Rucker. “This is important from a marketing standpoint, because people want to believe they’re getting the latest and greatest.”

On-boarding, programming, marketing, sales, retention—wearables can play a central role in the increasingly crucial digital strategy of today’s health club. Rucker stressed it’s important for clubs to know how to utilize the data beyond activity tracking.

“On-boarding, programming, marketing, sales, retention—wearables can play a central role in the increasingly crucial digital strategy of today’s health club.”

“In many instances, these wearables now allow individuals to track their activity outside of whatever they were doing in the club, so that creates an experience where the club is touching the individual outside of the two to three hours they’re in the facility,” Rucker said.

But, he warned, the data itself isn’t going to change member behavior if it’s not actionable.

“In the past, wearables have been primarily focused on tracking,” Rucker said. “The thought was that providing data and making people aware of it was going to prompt behavior change. Now we know that we need to present data in a more meaningful way.”

Simply counting steps isn’t going to motivate a consumer to increase physical activity. Echoing Rucker, research from JAMA and other scientists have “called into question the utility of these devices to effect meaningful change,” according to the words of one meta-analysis.

To make sure the wearable-based workout is effective, club owners need a voice in the choices their members make when it comes to biometric devices. One way to do that is to offer programming that’s designed around specific brands that are proven to be reliable. True integration of wearables and programming means that the technology must work seamlessly in a cohesive digital ecosystem.

Choosing the Right Wearable Tech for Your Programming

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In the fitness industry, one of the most experienced brands in fitness wearables is Polar. For more than 40 years, Polar has specialized in creating precision biometric measuring devices for health clubs and other industry players and is universally regarded as the “gold standard” for accuracy and reliability. Polar’s latest wearable innovations, the Polar OH1 +, Polar H10, and the Polar Ignite, promise to help both the consumer and club owner utilize actionable data that’s precise and easily accessible.

Polar OH1 + is an optical heart rate monitor developed for maximum durability and comfort. With its long-lasting built-in memory and large storage capacity (200 hours of training information), Polar OH1 + can be paired with a range of fitness apps, sports watches, and even smart watches via its Bluetooth and ANT+ connectivity.

The Polar H10 is attached via a chest strap and has many of the same connectivity advantages as the Polar OH1 +. The Polar H10, however, has a longer battery life and ECG measurements, but for those who find chest straps inconvenient, the Polar OH1 + would be a better fit.

The Polar Ignite is a water-proof fitness watch with integrated GPS. It provides precise data in the most demanding environments, and is ideal for performance training. It also measures recovery progress and sleep quality with its Sleep Plus Stages tracking software.

Polar has expanded their services beyond wearables and is now offering an all-inclusive HR group training experience called Polar Club. By integrating Polar’s wearables and software system into today’s most popular fitness programming, Polar Club delivers all the benefits you need from these specialized sessions with none of the hassle. And with the Polar Club app and Polar Open AccessLink API, your coaches and members can easily utilize the services and data that make these tech-based workout sessions competitive, motivational, and effective.

For those clubs struggling with a way to bring wearable-based workouts to their clubs, Polar products and Polar Club programing is a proven plug-and-play solution from a prestige brand that has powered the industry for decades.

Learn more about Polar devices, Polar Club, and other related products on their website.

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Jim Schmaltz

Jim Schmaltz is a contributor to IHRSA.org