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features

Technology: Monitoring group exercise

Tracking systems could be the next frontier for group exercise, delivering member engagement and aiding retention, but their use isn’t always appropriate. Health Club Management weighs up the pros and cons of monitoring the pack

Published in Health Club Management 2017 issue 9

The Pros: Better Customer Engagement and Retention
Despite the relative newness of group exercise tracking, there are undeniable benefits for members and operators, with member engagement one of the most widely cited.

Speedflex, a boutique operator offering high intensity circuit training combined with proprietary resistance training machines, says there are benefits to tracking member effort. “Tracking is an integral part of the Speedflex offering,” says COO, Ben Steadman. “We offer instant feedback to members through our partnership with MYZONE and improvements validate continued spend on membership, while providing a social element in sessions, as participants view each other’s stats and compete.”

Steadman says tracking also provides operators with data that can be used to constantly improve their offering.

“The cornerstone of the boutique gym is personal service and tracking allows operators to build a personal relationship with every member through key data.”

Many operators say performance tracking and proof of progress keeps people coming back. Steadman agrees. He says that tracking is a good retention tool, as it provides members with feedback so they can see their progress, which helps keep them engaged. “Far too often members end up leaving a gym because they’re not seeing results.”

The challenges
However, Rob Beale, fitness industry consultant to The Third Space, says tracking is better suited to some classes than others. He says: “While it’s not appropriate for dance or mind body classes, it's well suited to group cycling and HIIT classes. As HIIT is heart-rate based, monitoring heart rate is the only way you can know if members are performing a HIIT protocol."

Dan Little, head of fitness at Digme believes the industry is lagging behind when it comes to incorporating technology. At Digme, the ride studio is equipped with Spivi technology, which measures the fundamentals you’d see in real-life cycling, such as power, speed, heart-rate and distance. However, Digme’s HIIT classes – called Matrix – don’t have the same features. “It’s important we’re constantly evaluating what we offer,” says Little. “We need to figure out what the equivalent metric is for HIIT. For example, we could introduce leader boards connected to kettle bells that are equipped with technology to track how many times they’re swung, but the tech to track this type of thing is still too new.”

However, Little says tracking can help retention as “the data does keep lots of people coming back, because it gets addictive trying to beat your score every time.”

Sam Theyers, global trend expert and managing director of Core9, the Australian licensed boutique studio group, agrees current group exercise tracking systems have room for improvement: “Tracking is being used as a USP to encourage people to join a gym, but I don’t see the data being used as well as it could be,” he says. “Members like the novelty of receiving a post-workout email containing their workout data but do they do anything with the information?”

Accuracy may also be an issue, says Theyers: “Although it helps members train more efficiently by getting them into the right zone, there’s a school of thought that says heart rate tracking using averages isn’t accurate.”

More Evidence Needed
Theyers believes more research is needed before the industry can claim that tracking has a direct correlation to retention. “We hear a lot about tracking being the holy grail of member retention and community building,” he says. “But we’re not yet seeing robust research backing this up.” Beale has a similar view and says the debate around tracking is similar to the PT debate around retention. “It’s hard to know if it’s the tracking that retains the member, or if the sort of member who gravitates towards tracking is typically more engaged and therefore likely to stay.”

Overall, Beale says adding tracking is a positive thing for both members and operators. “My overall opinion is that it doesn’t do any harm, and providing motivation and encouragement in another form is a positive.”

Cons: Competition, Confusion, Cost
While adding various forms of fitness tracking can be an exciting proposition, there are also reasons operators shy away from the technology. Hilary Rowland, co-founder of Boom Cycle alongside husband Robert Rowland (see HCM August, p44), doesn’t have fitness tracking in her studios. “Our goal is to provide an escape for our riders,” she says. “We don’t want them to feel stressed about competing. Our goal is to allow them to move, and to feel and to be.”

When it comes to retention, she says Boom Cycle riders don’t need to see numbers or measurements to know they’re making progress. “It’s about how they feel, and they feel stronger and happier in every aspect after regularly attending our classes. You don’t need a piece of paper to tell you how you’re feeling.”

A fear of “coming in last” is also a frequent comment from new or hesitant members attending a class with tracking. “We want people to feel good about themselves regardless of their ability,” says Rowland. “Therefore, we have purposely removed any element of competition that could be created through tracking.”

Confusion is another reason some operators are hesitant when it comes to incorporating fitness tracking systems, as some members don’t understand how to train in heart rate zones or what the data means. Operators using these tools agree that having knowledgeable instructors who can explain what the numbers mean is key to avoiding misunderstanding.

Cost is another potential deterrent: “We’re mainly seeing tracking being used in boutiques and I suspect this is because – as a bolt on service – the cost is high,” says Theyers. “Most tracking products tend to follow a licensed model, which means there's an additional cost for the health and fitness operator.”

However, Beale believes the major hurdle to implementing tracking for multi-site operators is logistics. “There’s a lot to consider around using equipment and getting data to members. Major operators are all looking for an all-in-one experience where everything is driven through one cloud platform, and that’s hard to achieve,” he says. “I think a lot of operators are over thinking tracking and it’s holding them back.”

Finding the Middle Ground
Many operators have opted for a middle ground solution, offering a variety of classes on the timetable.

To cater to a broader demographic and avoid alienating data-averse members, operators like Everyone Active have adopted a hybrid approach, offering both music-focused and data focused classes. “At Everyone Active, we only monitor people during our Stages indoor cycling classes,” says Angela Ioannou, area fitness manager at Everyone Active.

“We track members' output and at the end of each class, they receive an email that gives them the full breakdown of how they’ve performed.”

However, in other group exercise classes, the focus is on the experience. “Because we work with local authorities, for us it’s about ensuring our classes are as inclusive as possible. It’s more important that members are taking part and having fun, rather than constantly being monitored, as this can be off-putting for some,” she says.

In addition to the Stages indoor cycling classes, which are currently being trialled across some of Everyone Active’s London facilities, members are offered the opportunity to track their progress independently using the website.

“When members log in, they’re able to track their activity both in and outside the centre, linking up to any other fitness tracking devices that they use. This puts the power into the member’s hands, allowing them to use tracking only if they want to,” says Ioannou.

Similarly, Digme offers three options for members: 'Beat', a class with no tracking or data, 'Performance', a class that tracks all functional performance, and 'Ride', which has the best of both. “Ride classes always have great music, but there’s an element of using data too,” says Little.

Experience Prevails
While there is some evidence to suggest that fitness tracking can be a major benefit, many operators consider tracking to be one element of the whole experience. It's not just the music, the instructors, the workout or the motivation to try to better your score that keeps people coming back for more, it’s the combination of them all.

Sign up here to get Fit Tech's weekly ezine and every issue of Fit Tech magazine free on digital.
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features

Technology: Monitoring group exercise

Tracking systems could be the next frontier for group exercise, delivering member engagement and aiding retention, but their use isn’t always appropriate. Health Club Management weighs up the pros and cons of monitoring the pack

Published in Health Club Management 2017 issue 9

The Pros: Better Customer Engagement and Retention
Despite the relative newness of group exercise tracking, there are undeniable benefits for members and operators, with member engagement one of the most widely cited.

Speedflex, a boutique operator offering high intensity circuit training combined with proprietary resistance training machines, says there are benefits to tracking member effort. “Tracking is an integral part of the Speedflex offering,” says COO, Ben Steadman. “We offer instant feedback to members through our partnership with MYZONE and improvements validate continued spend on membership, while providing a social element in sessions, as participants view each other’s stats and compete.”

Steadman says tracking also provides operators with data that can be used to constantly improve their offering.

“The cornerstone of the boutique gym is personal service and tracking allows operators to build a personal relationship with every member through key data.”

Many operators say performance tracking and proof of progress keeps people coming back. Steadman agrees. He says that tracking is a good retention tool, as it provides members with feedback so they can see their progress, which helps keep them engaged. “Far too often members end up leaving a gym because they’re not seeing results.”

The challenges
However, Rob Beale, fitness industry consultant to The Third Space, says tracking is better suited to some classes than others. He says: “While it’s not appropriate for dance or mind body classes, it's well suited to group cycling and HIIT classes. As HIIT is heart-rate based, monitoring heart rate is the only way you can know if members are performing a HIIT protocol."

Dan Little, head of fitness at Digme believes the industry is lagging behind when it comes to incorporating technology. At Digme, the ride studio is equipped with Spivi technology, which measures the fundamentals you’d see in real-life cycling, such as power, speed, heart-rate and distance. However, Digme’s HIIT classes – called Matrix – don’t have the same features. “It’s important we’re constantly evaluating what we offer,” says Little. “We need to figure out what the equivalent metric is for HIIT. For example, we could introduce leader boards connected to kettle bells that are equipped with technology to track how many times they’re swung, but the tech to track this type of thing is still too new.”

However, Little says tracking can help retention as “the data does keep lots of people coming back, because it gets addictive trying to beat your score every time.”

Sam Theyers, global trend expert and managing director of Core9, the Australian licensed boutique studio group, agrees current group exercise tracking systems have room for improvement: “Tracking is being used as a USP to encourage people to join a gym, but I don’t see the data being used as well as it could be,” he says. “Members like the novelty of receiving a post-workout email containing their workout data but do they do anything with the information?”

Accuracy may also be an issue, says Theyers: “Although it helps members train more efficiently by getting them into the right zone, there’s a school of thought that says heart rate tracking using averages isn’t accurate.”

More Evidence Needed
Theyers believes more research is needed before the industry can claim that tracking has a direct correlation to retention. “We hear a lot about tracking being the holy grail of member retention and community building,” he says. “But we’re not yet seeing robust research backing this up.” Beale has a similar view and says the debate around tracking is similar to the PT debate around retention. “It’s hard to know if it’s the tracking that retains the member, or if the sort of member who gravitates towards tracking is typically more engaged and therefore likely to stay.”

Overall, Beale says adding tracking is a positive thing for both members and operators. “My overall opinion is that it doesn’t do any harm, and providing motivation and encouragement in another form is a positive.”

Cons: Competition, Confusion, Cost
While adding various forms of fitness tracking can be an exciting proposition, there are also reasons operators shy away from the technology. Hilary Rowland, co-founder of Boom Cycle alongside husband Robert Rowland (see HCM August, p44), doesn’t have fitness tracking in her studios. “Our goal is to provide an escape for our riders,” she says. “We don’t want them to feel stressed about competing. Our goal is to allow them to move, and to feel and to be.”

When it comes to retention, she says Boom Cycle riders don’t need to see numbers or measurements to know they’re making progress. “It’s about how they feel, and they feel stronger and happier in every aspect after regularly attending our classes. You don’t need a piece of paper to tell you how you’re feeling.”

A fear of “coming in last” is also a frequent comment from new or hesitant members attending a class with tracking. “We want people to feel good about themselves regardless of their ability,” says Rowland. “Therefore, we have purposely removed any element of competition that could be created through tracking.”

Confusion is another reason some operators are hesitant when it comes to incorporating fitness tracking systems, as some members don’t understand how to train in heart rate zones or what the data means. Operators using these tools agree that having knowledgeable instructors who can explain what the numbers mean is key to avoiding misunderstanding.

Cost is another potential deterrent: “We’re mainly seeing tracking being used in boutiques and I suspect this is because – as a bolt on service – the cost is high,” says Theyers. “Most tracking products tend to follow a licensed model, which means there's an additional cost for the health and fitness operator.”

However, Beale believes the major hurdle to implementing tracking for multi-site operators is logistics. “There’s a lot to consider around using equipment and getting data to members. Major operators are all looking for an all-in-one experience where everything is driven through one cloud platform, and that’s hard to achieve,” he says. “I think a lot of operators are over thinking tracking and it’s holding them back.”

Finding the Middle Ground
Many operators have opted for a middle ground solution, offering a variety of classes on the timetable.

To cater to a broader demographic and avoid alienating data-averse members, operators like Everyone Active have adopted a hybrid approach, offering both music-focused and data focused classes. “At Everyone Active, we only monitor people during our Stages indoor cycling classes,” says Angela Ioannou, area fitness manager at Everyone Active.

“We track members' output and at the end of each class, they receive an email that gives them the full breakdown of how they’ve performed.”

However, in other group exercise classes, the focus is on the experience. “Because we work with local authorities, for us it’s about ensuring our classes are as inclusive as possible. It’s more important that members are taking part and having fun, rather than constantly being monitored, as this can be off-putting for some,” she says.

In addition to the Stages indoor cycling classes, which are currently being trialled across some of Everyone Active’s London facilities, members are offered the opportunity to track their progress independently using the website.

“When members log in, they’re able to track their activity both in and outside the centre, linking up to any other fitness tracking devices that they use. This puts the power into the member’s hands, allowing them to use tracking only if they want to,” says Ioannou.

Similarly, Digme offers three options for members: 'Beat', a class with no tracking or data, 'Performance', a class that tracks all functional performance, and 'Ride', which has the best of both. “Ride classes always have great music, but there’s an element of using data too,” says Little.

Experience Prevails
While there is some evidence to suggest that fitness tracking can be a major benefit, many operators consider tracking to be one element of the whole experience. It's not just the music, the instructors, the workout or the motivation to try to better your score that keeps people coming back for more, it’s the combination of them all.

Sign up here to get Fit Tech's weekly ezine and every issue of Fit Tech magazine free on digital.
Gallery
More features
Editor's letter

Into the fitaverse

Fitness is already among the top three markets in the metaverse, with new technology and partnerships driving real growth and consumer engagement that looks likely to spill over into health clubs, gyms and studios
Fit Tech people

Ali Jawad

Paralympic powerlifter and founder, Accessercise
Users can easily identify which facilities in the UK are accessible to the disabled community
Fit Tech people

Hannes Sjöblad

MD, DSruptive
We want to give our users an implantable tool that allows them to collect their health data at any time and in any setting
Fit Tech people

Jamie Buck

Co-founder, Active in Time
We created a solution called AiT Voice, which turns digital data into a spoken audio timetable that connects to phone systems
Profile

Fahad Alhagbani: reinventing fitness

Let’s live in the future to improve today
Opinion

Building on the blockchain

For small sports teams looking to compete with giants, blockchain can be a secret weapon explains Lars Rensing, CEO of Protokol
Innovation

Bold move

Our results showed a greater than 60 per cent reduction in falls for individuals who actively participated in Bold’s programme
App analysis

Check your form

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Profile

New reality

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Profile

Sohail Rashid

My vision was to create a platform that could improve the sport for lifters at all levels and attract more people, similar to how Strava, Peloton and Zwift have in other sports
Ageing

Reverse Ageing

Many apps help people track their health, but Humanity founders Peter Ward and Michael Geer have put the focus on ageing, to help users to see the direct repercussions of their habits. They talk to Steph Eaves
App analysis

Going hybrid

Workout Anytime created its app in partnership with Virtuagym. Workout Anytime’s Greg Maurer and Virtuagym’s Hugo Braam explain the process behind its creation
Research

Physical activity monitors boost activity levels

Researchers at the University of Copenhagen have conducted a meta analysis of all relevant research and found that the body of evidence shows an impact
Editor's letter

Two-way coaching

Content providers have been hugely active in the fit tech market since the start of the pandemic. We expect the industry to move on from delivering these services on a ‘broadcast-only’ basis as two-way coaching becomes the new USP
Fit Tech People

Laurent Petit

Co-founder, Active Giving
The future of sports and fitness are dependent on the climate. Our goal is to positively influence the future of our planet by instilling a global vision of wellbeing and a sense of collective action
Fit Tech People

Adam Zeitsiff

CEO, Intelivideo
We don’t just create the technology and bail – we support our clients’ ongoing hybridisation efforts
Fit Tech People

Anantharaman Pattabiraman

CEO and co-founder, Auro
When you’re undertaking fitness activities, unless you’re on a stationary bike, in most cases it’s not safe or necessary to be tied to a screen, especially a small screen
Fit Tech People

Mike Hansen

Managing partner, Endorphinz
We noticed a big gap in the market – customers needed better insights but also recommendations on what to do, whether that be customer acquisition, content creation, marketing and more
More features