QR codes and immersive tech to change the way we workout says Virgin Active
Virtual technologies that provide ways to work the body smarter – more effectively and in less time - are the biggest opportunity for fitness clubs to stand out from the crowd and the sky's the limit says Virgin Health's fitness boss.
Never mind TV screens playing Sky News or convenient headphone sockets hooking you into motivational gym radio, your local fitness club is set to go through a tech revolution.
The explosion in new fitness gadgets and tracking tech is providing gyms with new ways to keep us motivated and to help us get fitter, faster but they also face a challenge from companies who want to get us working out outdoors.
With the advent of smartphones and apps, the way we get fit has seen a huge shift. Tools like Adidas miCoach have empowered people to create their own fitness programmes without the need for a personal trainer. Meanwhile a multitude of tracking apps such as RunKeeper Pro, Endomondo and iMapmyride provide us with increasingly detailed stats on everything from pace, cadence, heart rate and route tracking and the fitness clubs are starting to catch on.
"The explosion of apps is a huge current trend and gym apps, although there are plenty already, still have a lot of runway ahead of them," says Head of Fitness at Virgin Active Health Clubs, Tim Foster.
"For example, I see a future where QR codes on kit can be scanned and correct exercises recommended for that specific piece, plus programmes could be formulated with specific personalised goals and available equipment taken into account. The sky’s really the limit."
Current economic conditions mean increasing numbers of us are weighing up the benefits of monthly gym fees so the likes of Virgin Health and Fitness First are constantly searching for new ways to add value. Technology provides one such opportunity.
"Innovation is one of our core values and we will always seek to challenge the norm." said Foster.
"For example, members at our new Adlersgate club, will enjoy a virtual studio cycling timetable, heart rate tracking and recording (in and out of club), swim tracking and Anti-Gravity Yoga – to name just a few."
Foster also points to the growing importance of immersive technologies, such as using screens and augmented reality to recreate the experience of cycling a stage on the Tour de France right there on the exercise bike in the gym, or running through the Swiss moutains from the (dis)comformt of the treadmill.
"There will always be a segment that don’t prefer this style of training but it will become prevalent."
But fitness clubs are not alone. Other big names in the sport and technology worlds want our gym time and fitness dollars.
While the arrival of activity managing gadgets like the Fitbit Ultra and the new Nike+ Fuelband are aimed at making us all more active - a good thing for the gyms - they also appeal to a new idea that the right fitness gadgets can turn your everyday activity into a fitness regime.
The soon-to-be-released Nike+ Training system, for example, will offer a level of statistics ordinary sport lovers have not been able to track before. Where tracking watches such as the Garmin Forerunner 610 provide standard GPS-based distance, pace and time, the Nike+ Training system can measure foot speed, lateral movement and even how high you jump - the kind of information normally reserved for elite athletes and sports labs.
The result? Activities like skipping rope and running on the spot can now be measured, meaning more detail on your gym-based workouts but also less reliance on being in a gym in the first place.
"What we’re seeing is a fantastic intersection between technology." says Stefan Olander, Vice President, Nike Digital Sport
"As we come further, we will see more digital uses of technology in everything that we do. We’re seeing more connected products and we’re seeing sensors pretty much everywhere. What that’s allowing us to do is ultimately to figure out how to serve people better."
Nike clearly holds social networking and competition to be another key force in the shifting fitness world.
"Ten years ago, making a product like Nike+ Training would have been impossible, because certain things like Facebook hadn’t developed to make it truly interesting." claims Kwamina Crankson, one of the brains behind the new Nike system.
"You could do create the chips but the concept wouldn’t be this interesting because you wouldn't be sharing, it would be kept to a small group. Now I could be in Portland and you could be in London and we could compete with each other, that’s pretty cool."
Whether that competition takes place in a gym, in the parks or on the pavements is one to watch.