Apps and wearables have transformed personal fitness in recent years, but it’s likely we’ve only begun to see how advancing technology and business innovation will shape our active lifestyles. Access to a variety of data of all kinds, as well as changes to people’s understanding of all the factors that impact health and wellness, will increasingly transform long-held definitions of fitness and exercise.
For a sneak peek of what’s to come, we asked leaders from Fast Company‘s Most Innovative Companies in Fitness to predict the most significant trends of the next five years in sweat.
The idea of relying more heavily on computers to make working out a more personal experience may seem counterintuitive, but experts say that diverse new datasets and ways to collect it will lead to greater, more relevant customization of physical activity.
“Using data feedback to construct meaningful, uber-custom training programs will transform the personal training business as we know it today,” Equinox president Sarah Robb O’Hagan told Fast Company. “It’s another example of how technology shifts the actions and behaviors of well-established business practices. Equinox is focused on delivering value by infusing a human element (i.e., leveraging the relationships between clients/trainers), and using the data to help people stay engaged and motivated by making the data-collecting process meaningful. Customized content will play a huge role in this too in terms of engagement. Drop-off rates with data tracking due to lack of insights are skyrocketing.”
Polar’s global product director Marco Suvilaakso agrees, saying that better information will make for better wellness planning. “We anticipate more powerful, smarter fitness algorithms in the cloud and in devices, which will in turn provide exercisers more personalized, ‘actionable’ feedback and guidance,” says Suvilaakso. “Going forward, the ‘bigger picture’ will be factored in recognizing correlations, patterns, and progress over a broader timeline perspective and with more inputs from sensors and our environments. This leads to better confidence, because you know you are working toward your own personalized goals. You’ll get the results and continued motivation to keep it up, and the assurance that you are not wasting your time and effort.”
Approaches to gym business models are also likely to get more personalized and flexible. “These box gyms are getting to be known as meat markets–where fit people go to stay fit,” says Downsize Fitness founder Francis Wisniewski. “But not every person in this country is fit and many feel uncomfortable at typical box gyms. You will see more, smaller, individualized training centers pop up–they won’t be huge chains, but they will be focused on the person and their goals rather than the 12-month membership market.”
In some of these new models, group exercise and coaching will no longer mean being at the mercy of your gym or trainer’s set schedule, according to Athos CEO Dhananja Jayalath. “There will be new frontiers in personal training and virtual classes,” says Jayalath. “Coaching will be delivered anywhere, and virtual training will become significantly prominent. Classes will be flexible on timing, and even location, without losing the atmosphere of the classroom.”
Experts say that fitness in the future will put more emphasis on the importance of what happens before and after working out as well as during. “I think people are finally coming around to the science we’ve known has been true all along: that the time you spend regenerating is just as crucial as the time you spend pushing yourself physically,” says O’Hagan. “And, with technology only getting better, I think we will see another wave of innovation in the sleep space. There’s something called HRV—heart rate variability—that many new technologies will be based on. It’s being used prolifically in professional sports now and coaches are tracking it mostly to determine when players need to chill out and take a day off.”
Attention to holistic well-being beyond maximizing training will become more of a foundation, says Suvilaakso. “All aspects of life beyond the workout–including rest/sleep, nutrition, stress management, etc.–will increasingly become just as important as the actual fitness workout and the data that goes with it.”
And applying this focus to those in their formative years will also be critical. “Just like Downsize Fitness has with its nonprofit youth program Downsize For Life, more health companies will start looking into effective early intervention,” says Wisniewski. “Years ago banks also did this after the bottom dropped out and bank officials learned of people’s penchant for not saving for retirement. Now there are huge strides to get kids interested in their financial futures. Same goes for sustainable health.”
Wearables have been enormously successful because people value the real-time information about what’s happening to their bodies while they work out. The potential for useful data collection with wearables is huge, but their current forms can be cumbersome, with limits to utility.
The Performance Innovation Team at EXOS envisions “invisible sensors–the wearable sensor as we know it will be gone. Behavioral data will be collected on all aspects of our life—and without us being aware of it. This will provide a noninvasive and holistic view of our health with opportunities to upgrade our behaviors.”
Jayalath predicts that “today’s wearables will integrate with watches or phones–no more wristbands or special purpose equipment designed for the task.” He also thinks this integration could be taken even further, to smart clothing. “The clothes we wear, specifically when we are being active, will be more than just fabric to cover ourselves. It will monitor and inform software where the experience will come through.”
The good news is that people will have better choices, information, and guidance when it comes to staying fit. The bad news is that no one predicts a futuristic innovation that delivers more results for less exertion–we’ll still have to work our butts off. “Sweating is here to stay,” says the EXOS team. “The idea that high-intensity exercise is the fastest path to results will be deeply engrained in the expectation of consumers and fitness professionals.”
But that doesn’t mean it won’t be more fun. “Gamification and fitness is already visible to a degree via level motivation, challenges, rewards, badges etc., but there remains big growth potential in applying the motivational triggers, data visualization and fun of gaming into the fitness experience,” says Suvilaakso. “Add to that more fitness devices connecting with gaming devices via the new Bluetooth Smart standard, and it’s clear that gamification is only going to become more crucial moving forward.”