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Collaboration: Get connected

Sony and Precor are collaborating. Henrik Bengtsson, head of business at Advagym, tells Wendy Golledge about Sony’s latest foray into fitness

Published in Fit Tech 2020 issue 1

As with all the best tech innovations, Advagym by Sony started life as a pipe dream – a project to create a piece of kit that would use the human body as a ‘conductor cable’ to connect two pieces of tech.

Even its creator, Henrik Bengtsson, now head of business for Advagym, admits that while the premise for the technology was revolutionary, no one quite knew what to use it for.

“Back in 2015, the project was to develop a chip set, which could communicate using the body as a cable – it was called body area network technology,” he explains. “One usage example was to enable someone to wear a wrist band on one arm, which would unlock their mobile phone held in the other hand. Then Apple created fingerprint ID and the idea became redundant.”

It’s a long way from Advagym’s sleek sensor pucks, which log and save any strength workout, in real time, to a mobile app that also stores custom programmes, offering a complete tracking journey for exercisers.

In the app, members can also log favourite workouts and preferred machine settings, add freeweight workouts, set up training plans and view workout history.
“We decided to research using this technology in the gym. Personally, I hated having my fitness programme on a piece of paper, and having to carry it around with me and fill it in after each exercise. It led me to wonder, could we use body area network technology to create a tech solution for this frustration?”

Bengtsson and his Swedish team wanted to allow consumers to wear a wrist band, which would talk through their body to a sensor on a piece of strength equipment and count reps, etc.

“Our first incarnation came third in Sony’s Mobile Innovation Forum competition in 2015. But in truth, the tech didn’t work faultlessly and we knew it needed to in order to succeed,” admits Bengtsson. “We started to really study the fitness industry, its issues, its wants, its needs and went in a completely different direction.”

Trial and error
Bengtsson’s background is in mobile tech. He worked for a prestigious list of telecommunications giants including Ericsson, Telia and Orange before returning to Ericsson – by then Sony Ericsson – where he headed the Sony Ericsson Research Centre.

It’s perhaps unsurprising then that his research into the fitness sphere eventually led him to focus his attention on the mobile phone.

“RFID bands were out there and making some noise, but we knew the percentage of users bringing their phone into the gym space was constantly increasing. We wanted to create a seamless solution for exercisers to use their phone to access programmes, log their workout and get instant feedback,” explains Bengtsson.

“Our project name was Connected Gym. After countless experiments, on 27 June 2016 I did the first Sony Connected Gym workout. There were thousands of bugs but nevertheless, it was a first. Advagym evolved from there.”

A year later, in November 2017, Bengtsson met with Precor.

The right direction
“We knew we wanted to work closely with a top-five equipment vendor. Precor had the same mindset as us from the start,” says Bengtsson. “As a company they’d already envisaged a similar solution. They understood it must work on all machines; the ability to retrofit onto older equipment was essential and it needed a battery that lasted for several years – no gym would remodel just so our tech could have AC power. Crucially, we knew that mobile must be the interface. Our ways of working aligned with each other, right from the first meeting.”

Advagym, by Sony – a new name that was trademarked in June 2018 after rigorous evaluation of more than 500 options – signed a pilot agreement with Precor at FIBO 2019, an occurrence Bengtsson describes as a “game changer”.

“It was a confirmation that the efforts spent, the patent applications filed and the thousands of small and large decisions made had all been in the right direction,” he says.

There are now 80 sites using Advagym globally – two in the UK so far – and the brand is fast gathering pace. To date, 350 million reps have been performed worldwide across 15 countries. Bengtsson predicts Advagym will reach a billion reps before the end of the year and be across 25 countries.

“We do work with other vendors, but Precor is absolutely the one we are spending our energy with,” says Bengtsson. Advagym’s current functionality works seamlessly with Precor’s PREVA Networked Fitness, allowing customers to log both strength and cardio workouts. Members’ PREVA data is all pulled across into the Advagym app, so they can see their entire workout journey at a glance. “We are aligning our road map and will continue to further integrate Preva and Advagym,” he says.

In the very near future – Bengtsson hopes towards the end of Q1 – users will be able to sign into Advagym using their Precor Preva account, without having to create a separate Advagym one. “We want an absolutely seamless interface and are working closely with Precor US,” says Bengtsson.

The sensor pucks also blend seamlessly with Precor’s new strength line – Resolute – which Precor is planning to launch in the UK during Q2 of 2020.

New evolutions
At Precor’s request, Advagym recently launched ‘zone pucks’ – information hubs for customers. Operators can customise these pucks to play any information video when a user touches their phone to it, whether that’s an introduction to the different PTs at the gym, guidance on the machine areas for beginners or suggested workouts for Precor’s functional training rig, Queenax.

Other new developments set for early 2020 include the launch of Advagym Groups, to enable PTs or fitness instructors to contact a group of clients and send information or programming in one go, for example for bootcamp sessions.

“Advagym runs five-week development sprints and we constantly update the apps, the web tool, and even the cloud service,” Bengtsson explains. “It ensures that Advagym is always adapting to the needs of the market.”

Alongside this, Advagym is working with Precor’s input to develop a premium offering, to enable operators to better monetise the use of Advagym. “Currently anyone with the app can login and use Advagym and the pucks,” explains Bengtsson. “Our Premium offer will enable sites to upsell it as an optional extra membership benefit, at a fee.”

Finally, Advagym and Precor are working on a customisable rest timer. “Rest is an important part of strength training, but how long you should rest varies for every individual. We are developing a functionality so fitness instructors will be able to customise rest timers,” says Bengtsson.

The winning formula
For operators, what are the benefits to digitising the whole gym floor?

“Advagym brings three values to the table,” says Bengtsson. “At the simplest level it’s just a good app which logs workouts, provides inspiration, insights and statistics. The Advagym pucks enhance members’ training experience.

Furthermore, Advagym is a digital platform for gyms and personal trainers to distribute workouts to their clients, to follow their results and give feedback. And every piece of research on retention says that connection is key. A US research study of 10,000 gym goers in 2014 showed that making progress, and meaningful interactions with their gym result in members staying longer. We have based Advagym on these principles from day one.

“The third pillar is that operators can monitor kit. Gyms think they know how strength equipment is used but with Advagym operators get valuable insights about machine usage and user preferences. It could be that bicep curl machines are rarely used, for example, but cable machines are used a lot. When it is time to update the gym that is invaluable information.”

Bengtsson concludes: “Everyone carries a mobile with them nowadays. I believe Advagym is just the beginning in terms of technology’s potential to help us lead healthier lives.” His eventual aim? A totally seamless automated gym where every metric is logged automatically. “There’s no reason why Advagym shouldn’t be everywhere. What it’s being used for right now is quite modest compared to its full potential.”

Case study: Aberdeen Sports Village
Aberdeen Sports Village installed Advagym as part of its refurbishment

One of the first clubs to install Advagym is Aberdeen Sports Village, who opted to install it on Precor’s Discovery and Icarian Range as part of a £500,000 refurbishment. Health & Fitness Development Manager, Kris McIntosh, says: “Advagym sensors on our strength machines record reps and sets, with members tracking their workout in real-time and stats automatically uploaded to the app on their mobile. I’ve been incredibly impressed so far. To be in partnership with global brands like Sony and Precor really puts us on the map in terms of our digital offering.

“Our PTs and gym staff use the app to increase interaction with members and create bespoke training programmes. The PT Client function means my team can interact via messaging, track use and completed workouts so customers achieve their goals faster. We all know users who see progress towards their target are more likely to stay members.

"Our PTs and gym staff use the app to increase interaction with members"

“I use the system to monitor machine utilisation so I know what kit is being used, how often and when. The insights into user preferences are unreal. I can run reports on every single bit of kit and make much more informed decisions. To give you an idea, we had over 1.8 million repetitions across the fixed weight machines throughout September – these are astonishing statistics.”

The highest number of reps was on the cable machine, with 147,366 reps in the first month after opening. The centre’s Net Promoter Score – the percentage of people who would recommend Aberdeen Sports Village to a friend or colleague – has risen to 49 per cent, which is categorised as ‘great’ says Kris McIntosh.

Advagym has caused the centre’s Net Promoter Score to rise to 49 per cent
Sign up here to get Fit Tech's weekly ezine and every issue of Fit Tech magazine free on digital.
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Collaboration: Get connected

Sony and Precor are collaborating. Henrik Bengtsson, head of business at Advagym, tells Wendy Golledge about Sony’s latest foray into fitness

Published in Fit Tech 2020 issue 1

As with all the best tech innovations, Advagym by Sony started life as a pipe dream – a project to create a piece of kit that would use the human body as a ‘conductor cable’ to connect two pieces of tech.

Even its creator, Henrik Bengtsson, now head of business for Advagym, admits that while the premise for the technology was revolutionary, no one quite knew what to use it for.

“Back in 2015, the project was to develop a chip set, which could communicate using the body as a cable – it was called body area network technology,” he explains. “One usage example was to enable someone to wear a wrist band on one arm, which would unlock their mobile phone held in the other hand. Then Apple created fingerprint ID and the idea became redundant.”

It’s a long way from Advagym’s sleek sensor pucks, which log and save any strength workout, in real time, to a mobile app that also stores custom programmes, offering a complete tracking journey for exercisers.

In the app, members can also log favourite workouts and preferred machine settings, add freeweight workouts, set up training plans and view workout history.
“We decided to research using this technology in the gym. Personally, I hated having my fitness programme on a piece of paper, and having to carry it around with me and fill it in after each exercise. It led me to wonder, could we use body area network technology to create a tech solution for this frustration?”

Bengtsson and his Swedish team wanted to allow consumers to wear a wrist band, which would talk through their body to a sensor on a piece of strength equipment and count reps, etc.

“Our first incarnation came third in Sony’s Mobile Innovation Forum competition in 2015. But in truth, the tech didn’t work faultlessly and we knew it needed to in order to succeed,” admits Bengtsson. “We started to really study the fitness industry, its issues, its wants, its needs and went in a completely different direction.”

Trial and error
Bengtsson’s background is in mobile tech. He worked for a prestigious list of telecommunications giants including Ericsson, Telia and Orange before returning to Ericsson – by then Sony Ericsson – where he headed the Sony Ericsson Research Centre.

It’s perhaps unsurprising then that his research into the fitness sphere eventually led him to focus his attention on the mobile phone.

“RFID bands were out there and making some noise, but we knew the percentage of users bringing their phone into the gym space was constantly increasing. We wanted to create a seamless solution for exercisers to use their phone to access programmes, log their workout and get instant feedback,” explains Bengtsson.

“Our project name was Connected Gym. After countless experiments, on 27 June 2016 I did the first Sony Connected Gym workout. There were thousands of bugs but nevertheless, it was a first. Advagym evolved from there.”

A year later, in November 2017, Bengtsson met with Precor.

The right direction
“We knew we wanted to work closely with a top-five equipment vendor. Precor had the same mindset as us from the start,” says Bengtsson. “As a company they’d already envisaged a similar solution. They understood it must work on all machines; the ability to retrofit onto older equipment was essential and it needed a battery that lasted for several years – no gym would remodel just so our tech could have AC power. Crucially, we knew that mobile must be the interface. Our ways of working aligned with each other, right from the first meeting.”

Advagym, by Sony – a new name that was trademarked in June 2018 after rigorous evaluation of more than 500 options – signed a pilot agreement with Precor at FIBO 2019, an occurrence Bengtsson describes as a “game changer”.

“It was a confirmation that the efforts spent, the patent applications filed and the thousands of small and large decisions made had all been in the right direction,” he says.

There are now 80 sites using Advagym globally – two in the UK so far – and the brand is fast gathering pace. To date, 350 million reps have been performed worldwide across 15 countries. Bengtsson predicts Advagym will reach a billion reps before the end of the year and be across 25 countries.

“We do work with other vendors, but Precor is absolutely the one we are spending our energy with,” says Bengtsson. Advagym’s current functionality works seamlessly with Precor’s PREVA Networked Fitness, allowing customers to log both strength and cardio workouts. Members’ PREVA data is all pulled across into the Advagym app, so they can see their entire workout journey at a glance. “We are aligning our road map and will continue to further integrate Preva and Advagym,” he says.

In the very near future – Bengtsson hopes towards the end of Q1 – users will be able to sign into Advagym using their Precor Preva account, without having to create a separate Advagym one. “We want an absolutely seamless interface and are working closely with Precor US,” says Bengtsson.

The sensor pucks also blend seamlessly with Precor’s new strength line – Resolute – which Precor is planning to launch in the UK during Q2 of 2020.

New evolutions
At Precor’s request, Advagym recently launched ‘zone pucks’ – information hubs for customers. Operators can customise these pucks to play any information video when a user touches their phone to it, whether that’s an introduction to the different PTs at the gym, guidance on the machine areas for beginners or suggested workouts for Precor’s functional training rig, Queenax.

Other new developments set for early 2020 include the launch of Advagym Groups, to enable PTs or fitness instructors to contact a group of clients and send information or programming in one go, for example for bootcamp sessions.

“Advagym runs five-week development sprints and we constantly update the apps, the web tool, and even the cloud service,” Bengtsson explains. “It ensures that Advagym is always adapting to the needs of the market.”

Alongside this, Advagym is working with Precor’s input to develop a premium offering, to enable operators to better monetise the use of Advagym. “Currently anyone with the app can login and use Advagym and the pucks,” explains Bengtsson. “Our Premium offer will enable sites to upsell it as an optional extra membership benefit, at a fee.”

Finally, Advagym and Precor are working on a customisable rest timer. “Rest is an important part of strength training, but how long you should rest varies for every individual. We are developing a functionality so fitness instructors will be able to customise rest timers,” says Bengtsson.

The winning formula
For operators, what are the benefits to digitising the whole gym floor?

“Advagym brings three values to the table,” says Bengtsson. “At the simplest level it’s just a good app which logs workouts, provides inspiration, insights and statistics. The Advagym pucks enhance members’ training experience.

Furthermore, Advagym is a digital platform for gyms and personal trainers to distribute workouts to their clients, to follow their results and give feedback. And every piece of research on retention says that connection is key. A US research study of 10,000 gym goers in 2014 showed that making progress, and meaningful interactions with their gym result in members staying longer. We have based Advagym on these principles from day one.

“The third pillar is that operators can monitor kit. Gyms think they know how strength equipment is used but with Advagym operators get valuable insights about machine usage and user preferences. It could be that bicep curl machines are rarely used, for example, but cable machines are used a lot. When it is time to update the gym that is invaluable information.”

Bengtsson concludes: “Everyone carries a mobile with them nowadays. I believe Advagym is just the beginning in terms of technology’s potential to help us lead healthier lives.” His eventual aim? A totally seamless automated gym where every metric is logged automatically. “There’s no reason why Advagym shouldn’t be everywhere. What it’s being used for right now is quite modest compared to its full potential.”

Case study: Aberdeen Sports Village
Aberdeen Sports Village installed Advagym as part of its refurbishment

One of the first clubs to install Advagym is Aberdeen Sports Village, who opted to install it on Precor’s Discovery and Icarian Range as part of a £500,000 refurbishment. Health & Fitness Development Manager, Kris McIntosh, says: “Advagym sensors on our strength machines record reps and sets, with members tracking their workout in real-time and stats automatically uploaded to the app on their mobile. I’ve been incredibly impressed so far. To be in partnership with global brands like Sony and Precor really puts us on the map in terms of our digital offering.

“Our PTs and gym staff use the app to increase interaction with members and create bespoke training programmes. The PT Client function means my team can interact via messaging, track use and completed workouts so customers achieve their goals faster. We all know users who see progress towards their target are more likely to stay members.

"Our PTs and gym staff use the app to increase interaction with members"

“I use the system to monitor machine utilisation so I know what kit is being used, how often and when. The insights into user preferences are unreal. I can run reports on every single bit of kit and make much more informed decisions. To give you an idea, we had over 1.8 million repetitions across the fixed weight machines throughout September – these are astonishing statistics.”

The highest number of reps was on the cable machine, with 147,366 reps in the first month after opening. The centre’s Net Promoter Score – the percentage of people who would recommend Aberdeen Sports Village to a friend or colleague – has risen to 49 per cent, which is categorised as ‘great’ says Kris McIntosh.

Advagym has caused the centre’s Net Promoter Score to rise to 49 per cent
Sign up here to get Fit Tech's weekly ezine and every issue of Fit Tech magazine free on digital.
Gallery
More features
people

Ian Mullane

Founder, Keepme
Using predictive and machine learning models, operators can hyper-personalise engagement
interview

Sharon Hegarty, Samsung

We envisage a world where someone’s smart home can support their fitness regime
interview

Will Ahmed, Whoop

Whoop is taking wearable technology to the next level, providing deeper insights into individuals’ physiology and enabling optimised training. Founder and CEO Will Ahmed talks to Steph Eaves about the importance of personalised feedback
interview

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I think the big ‘a-ha’ moment was when we had the idea that a mirror would be the best way for somebody to learn

Fighting COVID-19

In the aftermath of the pandemic, people will be more aware of the importance of their health and the strength of their immune system. Can fit tech alert users to potential immunodeficiencies or symptoms? And might these products assist governments? We asked industry leaders for their predictions
interview

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The digitisation of the sector was going to happen anyway. COVID-19 has simply accelerated the digital transformation

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A breakthrough in technology means wearable devices and other health and fitness products could soon be self-powered. Steph Eaves talks to Dr Ishara Dharmasena to find out how this could impact health and fitness
interview

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Functional wearables

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interview

Paul Bowman, Wexer

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people

Richard Hanbury

Founder and CEO, Sana
I was in Yemen, close to the capital, Sana’a, when I had the accident that put me in a wheelchair and gave me a chronic nerve damage pain problem. This led me to develop the underlying technology of Sana
interview

Daniel Sobhani, Freeletics

Our company vision is to challenge and inspire people to become the greatest version of themselves. And I firmly believe that this can be achieved through what we do
Core Health & Fitness
Core Health & Fitness