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The Connected Console Drives the Health Club Member Experience

Technology continues to bring equipment and the user experience to the next level. Consoles now make interactivity more robust—and easier—than ever.

In no aspect has digital transformation been as apparent in the health club industry as its manifestation in equipment. Since its inception, coupling technology with machines has always been about improving the member experience.

A Brief Digital History

It all began in 1968 when a chemist, Dr. Keene Dimick, decided to develop a way to improve his own workout. He invented the Lifecycle, the first digital piece of equipment. His bike was equipped with a display that ticked through a 12-minute workout that tracked progressive resistance, pulse, calories burned, exercise level, and speed, and depicted hills the rider was traversing. What looks low-tech nowadays was the foundation for most of what we see today in interactive connected machines and the first foray into interval training.

The original bike came with a pulse detector ear clip and a Lifecycle progress card where users could—with a pen or pencil—manually track their weekly progress. The original model was priced at $4,000, which at the time was roughly the same price as a Corvette coupe.

Consumers drive demand and, as gaming began to heat up, the Lifecycle entered the fray.

In 1994, Life Fitness and gaming giant Nintendo teamed up to release the Exertainment Lifecycle. Based on the Lifecycle 9XS, it featured a Lifecycle trainer and access to a Lifecycle program screen or regular TV, through which users could choose their mode: video game, full-screen, or picture-in-picture. The bike worked with Nintendo-produced programs such as Exertainment Mountain Bike Rally and the Exertainment Mountain Bike Rally/Speed Racer. The Exertainment system also featured Hill, Random, Manual, 12 Speed Race, and Fit Test programs, along with 13 different effort levels, including one especially for the deconditioned or those just starting out. Ahead of its time, the Exertainment Lifecycle was also cable, satellite, and antenna ready.

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Less than a decade later, the console—the heart of interactive, connected equipment—would take a quantum leap forward. From 2007 to 2008, Life Fitness introduced the first integrated LCD touchscreens, the Engage and Inspire consoles, with an attachable TV on Elevation Series cardio machines, in addition to device and USB connectivity.

Expect innovation in connected equipment and consoles to continue. The Global Fitness Equipment Market: Opportunities and Forecasts, 2020-2027 report notes that global fitness equipment market size—led by cardio equipment—was valued at $11.5 billion in 2019 and is slated to reach $15.2 billion by 2027. The Connected Gym Equipment: Global Market Trajectory & Analytics report reveals that the global market for connected gym equipment, estimated at $255.7 million in 2020, should hit the $1.5 billion mark by 2027. Outpacing all other forms of connected machines, connected cardio equipment alone should reach $913.5 million by 2027.

Moving the Connected Console Forward

Behind the connected experience lies the console. Like everything else, notes Nick Yogerst, senior product manager at Life Fitness, advances in console technology have been driven by consumers.

“Innovation has a lot to do with people’s expectations for electronics in general,” he relates. “As consumer electronics evolve, users expect everything to function like their smart phone, and they want information in an instant. Technology should be updated automatically behind the scenes and connect to all their other devices. So, the smart phone has become the gateway to their personal technology ecosystems. As far as development goes, we’ve found ways to replicate that functionality for the console within a club’s ecosystem.”

In terms of a foundation, the bulk of technology and function delivery for every organization today takes place through the cloud. Life Fitness has a proprietary open platform, the Halo Fitness Cloud. Halo is what enables communication with consoles, allowing members and operators to track usage on machines; a wide range of interactive fitness and entertainment options; program and software updates; and much more.

Halo also gives operators real control over their consoles and machines through the Halo dashboard. As Life Fitness develops new features and functions, for example, operators can decide what they want to turn on and when to do it. They can also automate or schedule updates and maintenance.

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“As an open platform, Halo makes adding partners much easier,” adds Yogerst. “Access to such platforms as Myzone, PlutoTV, Apple GymKit, Samsung Watch, and many others that make the console experience more engaging—as well as our motivational, instructor-led Life Fitness On Demand workouts—are facilitated by Halo.”

Because console functionality is identical across Life Fitness treadmills, ellipticals, climbers, cross trainers, and exercise bikes, members have a consistent experience—and an instant familiarity—with the machines regardless of where their regimens take them.

Recently, Life Fitness introduced the next iteration of its connected LED console, the Integrity Series SL. Key to the latest innovations are improved functionality and a sleeker form factor—and the two are intertwined.

“Going back to the smart phone analogy, we know they get smaller and more streamlined each year, yet they’re increasingly packed with more features,” he says. “That’s what we were aiming for. The Integrity SL console is thinner and loaded with features, but still intuitive for users and is built to handle a tough club environment for years to come.”

On the technology side, the console offers members and facilities detailed usage data, synergy with the Life Fitness Connect app, a myriad of workout choices, Bluetooth and ANT+ connectivity for several types of wearables and headphones, personalization, and more.

Among the core aspects of the console is the ease and speed with which users can connect.

“For example,” Yogerst says, “a member can walk up to any of the consoles, tap their Apple Watch on the Connect to Apple Watch log, and the console will automatically start pairing and populating workout and other data. After their workout is complete, that data is automatically saved in their Apple Fitness app.”

The Integrity SL features a user-friendly interface with an LED readout that has simple, highly intuitive adjustments.

“Our research told us that users are looking for sleek, modern consoles that don’t intimidate them and are easy to simply get on and go,” he says. “The Integrity SL is the perfect combination of a familiar design with the ease of use exercisers have grown accustomed to, now with the added technology they expect.”

To learn more about Life Fitness products, visit their website.

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Jon Feld

Jon Feld is a contributor to IHRSA.org.