For outrunning its rivals in wearable tech. Fitbit sold 67% of all full-body activity trackers in 2013, besting Nike's FuelBand and Jawbone's Up in both sales and critical reviews. And as the future moves to smartwatches, Fitbit is already there, thanks to a recent software update that lets its latest device, Force, sync with an iPhone to show an incoming caller's name on its scrolling screen. It's the sort of thing you'd expect to see from the iWatch—if it existed. The Force is a far more stylish device than the clunky Samsung Galaxy Gear (or any other smartwatch on the market), but Fitbit is poised to get even more chic: In January, the company announced a collaboration with high-end designer Tory Burch, who will make pendants, bracelets, and wristbands for the Fitbit Flex activity band. Read more >>
For polishing its rep as the purveyor of fitness tech. As quantified-self devices continue to roll out, Nike is focused on a different slant: providing tools to help you achieve your individual fitness goals. That was the purpose behind the Nike+ Accelerator program, where Nike brought 10 startup developers in-house to create new products that sync with its NikeFuel offerings, such as charity-driven fitness projects like FitCause, and GeoPalz pedometers for kids. Unsurprisingly, Nike was also the first of its competitors to seize upon the iPhone 5s's advanced M7 "motion coprocessor chip"—effectively turning the phone into a FuelBand and further insinuating the Nike experience into the daily lives of its athletic acolytes. Read more >>
For creating its own community of fitness fanatics. Reebok is doing its best to sprint past competitors by partnering with some of the biggest trends in fitness, including Spartan Race, the multicity obstacle challenge, and CrossFit. The company's expanded portfolio led to double-digit growth in both apparel and footwear, and its strategic relationships have rolled over into R&D. (Reebok will soon release a shoe designed for adventure-course racing.) Its biggest contribution to the fitness world thus far might be ReebokONE, a global online community designed for fitness professionals to create profiles, promote their services, and, of course, buy Reebok products. The curated list of 5,000 trainers also serves as a directory for consumers to find professionals based on philosophy and skill set. Consider it the online dating of training resources—but without any fees.
For evolving the way technology is used in gyms. Imagine walking into a gym with no weights or treadmills and walking out in the best shape of your life—and for a drop-in price of $35, only a fraction of the cost of a personal training session. That's the concept behind Fitwall, a company started by a scientist and former martial arts champion. With locations in California and Wyoming, the "gyms" are filled with walls that are 7 feet high and 30 inches wide. Each class is monitored by iPads mounted on the walls, which track performance via an algorithm that factors in all your personal variables (like height, weight, and sex) to ensure that every workout is designed to push your body as hard as possible—but allow you to progress at your own pace. Fitwall is expected to add more locations in 2014.
For putting the fun back in fitness. Wouldn't it be great if working out were as enjoyable as playing a video game? Forget Nintendo's flailing Wii—Fitocracy is gamified exercise at its best. The social network and tracking app allows you to upload your workout information and amass points to level up and earn props from other users (and even challenge other Fitocracy "players"). It's this type of support from the community of Fitocrats—which crossed the 1 million mark in 2013—that provides continuous motivation, encouragement, and accountability, making it easy to stay on a plan. It's also why the typical user spends more than four hours per month on the site—more than any social networking site other than Facebook.
For allowing anyone to train like a pro. Athletes' Performance, the premier name in high-level training, not only got a new name—it rebranded as Exos to provide more unity with its other label, Core Performance—but it has continued to shift its business model toward corporate health. With clients like Intel, the company has scaled its "energy systems development" workouts and created an online and mobile platform that delivers simple health strategies that have been tested on the world's best athletes. The company also works closely with the military to help wounded soldiers return to duty through the Eagle Fund.
For strengthening the next generation of young athletes. Muscle Milk, created by nutritional-product manufacturer CytoSport, is best known as having the most popular (and tastiest) protein supplements. However, it's the brand's continuing education program that's had the biggest impact: Last year, Muscle Milk's grant program provided $250,000 to high schools around the country to provide gear, facilities, and a safe place to exercise. CytoSport also employs an army of "protein trainers" around the country to educate people on the benefits of protein, all in an effort to eliminate the concern of tainted supplements.
For helping to change the face of personalized health care. Where apps and wearable devices fall short, WellnessFX provides a new generation of preventative health and delivers it all to your mobile phone. Simply take a blood test at one of 38 LabCorp locations, and you're connected with doctors, dieticians, and nutritionists who offer advice on how to improve your blood pressure, lose more fat, or hack your body to become a superathlete. Last May, the company doubled its user base with a free annual checkup and plans to significantly expand the number of doctors in its network.
For upping the activity-tracking game with a next-gen supercharged wristband. Unlike competitor wearables, Jawbone's Up24 motivates your lifestyle—not just your steps. The wristband was released last fall and received positive critical reviews. Thanks to its Bluetooth Smart technology, it constantly tracks activity, provides feedback, and wirelessly syncs with computers (meaning no annoying slip-on, slip-off interactions to plug the band into a computer). The Up24 can also connect with other apps on your phone to brew your coffee or secure your front door's smart lock.
For ensuring that you'll never have a bad training day. You know how some days you just don't feel like working out? Turns out you're not just lazy. Heart rate variability (HRV) analyzes how much your heart changes from one beat to the next, and this information indicates when you're fatigued, how you're burning fat, and even if you're able to lift more weight. BioForce broke ground in this area with its apps and wearable devices that measure fatigue before exercising, and now a wealth of competitors are following suit.
[Image courtesy of Nike]