Fitness pros and brands expect the industry to shift toward using a lot more technology than we’ve seen so far. While it’s easy to agree that fitness tech is more than a passing fad, getting on board with the nascent tech trend does take some effort (unless you’re engrossed in it already). Read on for practical tips from the experts about weaving apps, wearables and/or activity trackers—and all their ensuing data—into your fitness services.
How Significant Is the Need for Fit Tech?
Fitness technology is new enough that there’s still room for fitness professionals to ask if it’s truly necessary in the trainer-client or member-gym relationship. Yes, it is, and it’s probably going to become more so. “Technology is changing how people approach their fitness goals,” observes Hayley Hollander, fitness director at Midtown Athletic Club in Chicago. “And the options are making them more aware of how fitness can be adopted into the lifestyle they want to live.”
Any debate about whether fitness pros want fitness technology to be part of their services is somewhat moot. Rather, the degree to which fit tech will eventually permeate the industry has a lot to do with the desires of future clients and prospects. Ignoring this fact is risky business, declares Bryan O’Rourke, MBA, founder and CEO of Integerus Advisors and president of the Fitness Industry Technology Council. “Technology is creating a wider range of choice to meet a larger potential market by giving people what they want at the price they are willing to pay,” he reports. “In today’s world, successful trainers and fitness brands must take a view of their services that’s designed to meet consumer wants and needs.”
Broaching the Fit-Tech Topic With Clients
If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to jump ahead of your clients with fit tech and make plans for merging it into your services or facility. Don’t wait for the demand to become so great that you appear “late to the party.”
Leading the charge might mean you’ll need to convince some current clients about the merits of using activity trackers, apps and/or wearables—and collecting data on heart rate, calories burned, calories consumed, food logged, steps per day, hours slept and more. Perhaps not all clients will buy into fit tech, but they should have the choice.
“Giving clients the choice to use [fitness technology] helps create ownership for the use of the device and an easier understanding of what it is doing for them,” notes Hollander.
Addressing Data Collection.
And what about all that data coming from apps and wearables? “When you’re getting to know clients or vetting their willingness to incorporate technology into their training, all it takes is a simple question: Would you be willing to share your data with me so I can review it?” says Patrick Jak, MSc, a coach, trainer and director of metabolic testing at Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego. “All clients I have asked this of have been more than open to this type of service—actually providing more information than I really want or need.”
Explain to clients why you’d like access to their metrics, and what exactly you’ll be looking for. Steer the discussion back to how tracker/app data can help clients get closer to their goals. Jak provides some examples: “With technology, my clients and I are able to track progress; avoid injury, overtraining and undertraining; push to new limits; personalize training; and share between open and private groups, even within a network of healthcare specialists,” he says.
“The data is quantified information that gives you more awareness to upgrade people’s programs for better results. It’s like balancing your checkbook and then making spending choices,” comments Darcy Norman, PT, of Truckee, California, director of the Performance Innovation Team for EXOS.
Factoring Fit Tech Into Higher Fees
One reason to build a strong case for fit tech with clients is that using it might reasonably warrant a fee increase. Guiding clients through the fit-tech experience and analyzing their data is a new, sought-after skill set for fitness pros. Charge accordingly. “Whether you are coaching on form or advising on the proper use of technology, in my view it is all billable,” says O’Rourke.
Hollander concurs: “I raised my rates simply because I knew I was offering something as part of my services [that clients] could not get anywhere else. It creates value, gives credibility to the programming and allows coaches to differentiate themselves from others.” Her main tech focus is with biofeedback: for example, measuring stress levels through heart rate variability, or measuring the intensity of a workout, an exercise or a training load through heart rate or percentage of max to calculate the client’s need for either recovery or more of a push.
Jak taps into an array of tech tools for his clients, including activity trackers, physiological sensors, social connection, analytical software, nutrition databases and video capture devices and apps. “I absolutely factor data analysis and time spent into my fees,” he shares. “While it takes some initial setup, when tracked regularly the program writes itself, and I find I spend less time writing programs and more time with my clients—enhancing the relationship, because we are able to monitor, tweak and watch constant progress.”
Handling Clients’ Fit-Tech Data
Your ability to manage your clients’ tracker/app data intelligently and sensitively is key to your success, and theirs.
Just as with exercise motivation, what gets some clients enthused doesn’t have the same effect for others. “Your clients will guide you in how much they want to hear [about the data],” advises Jak. “Some of my clients don’t want to know their numbers. Others want to see the data even though they will freely admit they have no idea what it means. Others are very interactive, and we develop a dual coaching relationship.”
Jak explains that the best way to keep data meaningful to clients and to avoid data analysis overload is to select a handful of relevant metrics. “This way, change is focused, goal oriented and not overwhelming to the point where [clients] feel like every move they make is under a microscope,” he notes.
According to Jak, the metrics you choose will ultimately depend on individual clients’ needs and motivations. The numbers that he prioritizes are often revealed in baseline assessments. “Without those baselines, collecting data can be quite meaningless,” says Jak. While data points differ from person to person, the ones that Jak commonly tracks include exercise duration and intensity, diet and nutrition, and sleep and mood. “In addition to the personal aspect of data collection,” he continues, “clients need to see trends. This is the best way to give a great picture, show progress and validate effort, motivate individuals and make them more accountable for their choices.”
Finally, resist allowing metrics to take over the training. “Coach behavior change, not data collection,” Jak advises. He adds that clients become more vested and less overwhelmed when you emphasize personal value, progress realistically and use data to show how small changes make a huge impact.
Unplugging From Fitness Technology
For some fitness consumers, giving too much attention to data collection and to surpassing yesterday’s metrics (more steps taken, higher intensity, better sleep, more minutes working out, etc.) could contribute to anxiety about meeting goals and performing well. For others, the process of knowing themselves through numbers is empowering. (There is actually an established “quantified self” movement: communities of people immersed in self-tracking through health/fitness apps and wearables.)
“[Apps and trackers] do intentionally increase awareness as a means of motivating people to do more or change their habits. That’s partly why they are effective,” says Mark Berman, MD, vice president of health for Mark One Lifestyle in San Francisco. “The concern is that for some, this may in turn feed anxiety if used incorrectly. So yes, there is a risk of overdoing it, or being too fixated on the goals, numbers, badges, progress, etc. Cultivating a mindfulness practice alongside using technology can be an effective antidote. Being mindful of how these tools are making you think and feel is important.”
No matter how helpful and exciting fitness technology can be, there’s still something to be said for “exercise unplugged.” “We progress the best with our physical training by building in recovery,” states Jak. “The same goes for technology.” He suggests planning breaks from fit tech, so clients don’t feel like “every moment of their life is tracked for the world to see.”
Finally, as with any workout, maintain a sharp sense of what your clients are able and willing to withstand. “I always ask clients how they are feeling, and what type of workout they are in need of that day,” says Hollander. “There are some days they don’t want any frills. They just want to move, play and feel better.”
Embracing This Industry Game-Changer
The more thought you put into getting yourself, your brand and/or your business set up with basic tech systems and offerings for your customers, the better the results will be. “The future of fitness technology is incredibly promising, provided we approach it openly, intelligently and with the understanding that we as an industry need to change our approaches and who we are,” claims Jak. “We are no longer counting reps; we are analyzing data to identify trends and progress. Technology is our game-changer.” n
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