Published: Sep 20, 2018
Updated: Aug 14, 2019

Are Mobile Video Apps and IoT Disrupting the Personal Training and Fitness Industries?

Author: Christy Roland

photo of fit woman on beach

Guest post by Anne Hurley

Digital convergence is all around us—in the entertainment we consume, the news we follow, the work we create and disseminate. So why wouldn’t convergence affect, disrupt, and shape the fitness and personal training industries?

Many people want and need the personal input and accountability that comes with going to a regular class or working out with a trainer in person. And, as we’ll hear from an expert in the field, that need is likely never going to go away completely. Yet digital and connected experiences are giving exercisers more options and flexibility, which that more people will be finding it easier to get, and stay, in shape.


History and Statistics: The Rise of Fitness Apps and Digital Devices

Once upon a time, exercise was a solitary experience. Maybe people would go for walks, or head down to their local Muscle Beach to work the rings. In the 1950s, fitness guru Jack LaLanne started holding exercise “classes” on daytime TV so that stay-at-home moms (and their kids) could do toe-touches and jumping jacks.

Over the decades, fitness became more group oriented, with the running craze introducing running groups, and with gyms offering aerobics classes. Jane Fonda began teaching aerobics in a studio – and then fast-tracked the “connected fitness” landscape by creating wildly popular videotapes and DVDs that helped tone a generation.

But Americans became more and more sedentary, glued to their computers and smartphones, and that’s when the current wave of digital fitness began. Here are some of the earliest digital devices and apps that helped us measure and evaluate our levels of exertion. They also helped set the stage for the current explosion of digital fitness innovation, and many of them are still in use today.

  • Step Trackers: These battery-powered devices became popular in the early 2000s. The user first clipped the device near the hipbone on the waistband of their pants, and an internal sensor measured how many times that hipbone moved, constituting a step. Users aimed to take 5,000 to 10,000 steps in a day, a good amount of aerobic movement, especially for previously sedentary folks.
  • MyFitnessPal: This was one of the first smartphone apps that let users measure and log different types of exercise, calories burned, and even food and calorie intake if desired. Its free version is still one of the most downloaded smartphone apps (see list below). Many dietitians and nutritionists recommend this app for people trying to lose weight, since it functions as a food journal as well as a calorie-burn tracker.
  • Wrist Fitness Devices: The Internet of Things (IoT) opened the door for digital wrist devices, giving exercisers a much more precise measurement of their activity level, without the need to carry around their smartphone. Fitbit and Fitbit Coach are among the most popular of these devices. In addition, Apple introduced the Apple Watch, which can handle many of the functions of a smartphone, like receiving texts and alerts, and it can be programmed to measure activity levels too.
  • Fitmo: Introduced in 2017, Fitmo is one of the more popular more digital fitness experiences. The app connects users with tailored personal training programs, provides feedback and encouragement, and helps hold exercisers accountable.

According to the statistics website Statista, these were the 10 most popular health and fitness apps in July 2017:

  1. Fitbit—23.6 million monthly users
  2. Samsung Health (for Samsung only)—13.2 million
  3. MyFitnessPal—11.7 million
  4. Google Fit—2.1 million
  5. Walk with Map My Walk GPS Walking—2 million
  6. MyChart—1.9 million (a customized portal used by many health-care providers to connect with patients and vice versa)
  7. Garmin Connect Mobile—1.8 million
  8. Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock—1.7 million (for sleep health)
  9. Weight Watchers—1.4 million
  10. Period Tracker—1.4 million (for keeping track of a woman’s period)

The Current Landscape: Take Exercise “Classes” Through Your Device

As apps and exercisers have become more sophisticated, the variety of exercise and fitness apps available have evolved as well. Now, you can download and stream your favorite cardio, weight training, or Zumba fitness class, on your phone, tablet, or Smart TV. Some of the classes make it feel as though you are really there, offering moves for different fitness levels. Now, having a fitness routine on demand you can workout to isn’t really new; most cable companies offer fitness channels. But for those who want to workout in places other than living room can use these popular apps to workout anywhere using your mobile device:

  • Daily Burn: This app costs $19.95 a month after a 30-day free trial and offers more than a 1,000 workouts taught by certified trainers, for every fitness level. Workouts can range from 10 to 60 minutes and focus on everything from cardio to dance to yoga and more. The Daily Burn surfaces trainer and exercise leader bios to help personalize the experience.
  • Beachbody on Demand: Like newer fitness apps, Beachbody on Demand incorporates nutrition features and not only offers single classes, but also has series where exercises build upon the lessons and strength gained from doing previous ones. These classes range from 21 to 80 days. The app also showcases its trainers, offers cooking videos and more.
  • Nike Training Club: This popular app offers more than 100 workouts, with close-ups of how to correctly perform certain moves. You can also use your phone to track your exercise “out in the wild” — shooting basketball after work, walking the stairs outside for 20 minutes, or whatever it might be.

The Case for In-Person Personal Training

Fitness Together in West SeattleFitness Together in West Seattle

Despite the explosion in fitness app use, and the prediction by The Wall Street Journal that traditional gyms may be on the way out, personal training is growing in popularity. According to the trade industry the National Strength and Conditioning Association, jobs in the personal training industry are predicted by the U.S. Department of Labor to grow by 24 percent between 2010 and 2020.

Many in the fitness industry believe that the personal touch will never go away. Bonnie Katz, owner of Fitness Together, a personal training studio in West Seattle, has been a personal trainer for more than 20 years. She sees more demand for this personal attention now, not less.

“So many people just aren’t motivated on their own,” Katz explains. “Having the one on one attention, and personal accountability of having an appointment, creates a bond and a connection between trainers and their clients. We take into account someone’s illnesses and injuries, and can really tailor a program just for them.”

Bonnie Katz of Fitness Together
Bonnie Katz of Fitness Together

Katz thinks that apps and devices may work for younger people who have more energy and motivation. “But sometimes our clients don’t even know where to start—and we help them do that, and see results. Our studio is private, and we provide a good and safe atmosphere. Everybody starts somewhere.”

What’s more, Katz says, an app or device can’t help someone switch things up when they hit a plateau. Nor can it get to know the exerciser’s mental and emotional state, along with the physical. “I see apps as an enhancement to what personal training provides,” Katz emphasizes. “If an app can help you stay on track between sessions, that’s great. But there’s nothing as effective as being accountable to someone who is committed to your unique fitness goals.”

How AI and IoT Are Helping You Exercise at Home

For those who want to stay at the forefront of the digital experience in exercise, there are a growing number of home fitness equipment and tools that use the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence to keep you motivated. Here are some examples:

  • Peloton Home Bikes: The popular and high-end IoT-powered Peloton bikes found in some exercise studios are now available for individual sale and use. The purchase price can be hefty—about $2,000, plus $39 a month for the streaming class subscription. But the flexibility for people with no time to go to a gym, and the sense of participating in a real class—since real cycling classes are streamed live onto the bike—are big draws for consumers. Peloton also offers IoT-powered home treadmills, as well as a digital “gym” that lets you take live streaming classes with you on your mobile device.
  • Smart Home Elliptical Machines: Elliptical workout machines that feature streaming workouts and other digitally connected features are also growing in popularity. Brands like NordicTrack, Precor, and Bowflex offer varying degrees of IoT functionality, but typically not as much as the Peloton machines. Using a Peloton machine revolves around participating in classes. Traditionally, classes for elliptical use have not been offered.
  • CARROT Fit: If what you really need for motivation is an AI app to yell at you, this could be the solution for you. CARROT Fit and its popular “Seven Minutes in Hell Workout” uses a library of data from user stories, training tips, and much more, to keep your “trainer” motivating you in fresh and offbeat ways. If you ever wanted a workout where you were on the run from a pack of wild ostriches, or repeatedly punching Justin Beiber in the face, this just might be the AI trainer for you.

How Gaming, eSports, and Fitness Are Converging

Breaking away from the couch potato stereotype, some game players have found ways to incorporate physical activity into the online gaming experience. People playing Pokémon Go, for example, take an average of an additional 2,000 steps a day, a significant boost in physical movement and exercise.

The world of mobile eSports is also a huge trend—a $1.5 billion industry—as demonstrated at the 2018 AT&T SHAPE conference. These eSports champions are not just agile with their thumbs and hand-eye coordination; many of the top eSports athletes train just like, well, real athletes. Men’s Health magazine reports that top eSports competitor Mike “Glaurung” Fisk focuses on fitting in intense workouts every day, in addition to playing the games he competes in. Why? “As far as numbers go, when I live a healthier lifestyle, I’ve been able to be more consistently close to the top,” Fisk told the magazine. He must be on to something, as he is ranked in the top 10 of eSports players worldwide.

Imagine these worlds converging further, with fitness and exercise competitions becoming more than just what you do on a mobile screen at gaming expos. Perhaps weightlifters could square off on a stage, responding to goals and commands coming to them via their smart devices. Maybe fitness circuits could be set up where commands are coming via smart devices or Iot.

Digital eConvergerge in Meditation Apps

Once your digital fitness experiences helped you bring up your heart rate, it’s time to bring it back down again. In 2018, one of the hottest digital trends can be found in the convergence of meditation. Guided meditations — the kind that have been shown to increase mental clarity and lower blood pressure and stress — have typically been held in a class setting. Meditators would gather on mats or rugs and follow the meditation and breathing instructions of a teacher leading the class.

Now there are popular apps that perform the same function, so you can meditate, deeply, wherever you can find a spare five, 10, or 20 minutes. There’s nothing like being able to grab a few minutes, wherever you are, to get grounded and be clearer for the rest of the day. Here are some popular options, for adults and kids:

  • Headspace: A user can try the guided-meditation app for several sessions before deciding whether to subscribe. Some employers have even begun offering subscriptions to Headspace as an employee perk, along with gym memberships and other fitness and health benefits.
  • Calm: This meditation app also provides soothing sounds like waterfalls, rain, and birdsong to help you relax. Use the app to virtually “attend” a guided meditation class, right on your own living room sofa.
  • Mind Yeti: Aimed at “kids and their adults,” the app offers guided meditations to help kids calm the “hubbubbles”—the thoughts and feelings that can crowd and overwhelm the mind. The meditations walk kids through breathing and other exercises, so that they can feel calmer and more focused. Mind Yeti is available as single app purchase or as part of a group license for use in schools by teachers and counselors.

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