Are your primary personal training tools still the lowly clipboard and pen? Do you still schlep a stack of audiotapes to every group fitness class you teach? If so, you may want to consider a more technologically advanced approach to your career–soon!

Today’s tech-savvy trainers use digital cameras and Palm Pilots to attract new prospects and help existing clients achieve faster results. An increasing number of instructors excite their participants with the very latest music they have downloaded from the Internet using an MP3 player, a pocket-sized device that can store thousands of songs.

Fitness professionals who embrace the latest technology say it helps them manage business tasks more efficiently. And clients of all ages are apparently responding favorably to high-tech training. Read on to discover how a gaggle of emerging electronic gadgets is changing the fitness landscape.

It’s a Brave New World

Fitness professionals who hope to remain competitive in the industry should waste no time jumping on the technology bandwagon. “Using technology puts you ahead of the competition because it gets you noticed,” says Curb Ivanic, CSCS, owner of Ultra Fitness, a personal training company in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“The day of paper records and pats on the back from trainers is over,” adds Michael Scott Scudder, a veteran fitness industry consultant and president of Fitness Focus in Taos, New Mexico. “Today, fitness professionals need to provide [clients with] objective, documented feedback.”

Gregory Florez is the chief executive officer (CEO) of FitAdvisor Health Coaching Services in Salt Lake City, Utah. He says that taking advantage of technological gadgets such as heart rate monitors, cell phones, instant messaging and websites has “changed the very DNA” of his business. “It allows us to work with many more clients, since location is no longer an issue.”

Kay L. Cross, MEd, a personal trainer and owner of Cross Coaching & Wellness in Fort Worth, Texas, has experienced a similar business transformation. “Technology makes [my business] more portable,” she says.

Portability is important for busy industry professionals like Lawrence Biscontini, MA, group fitness manager of the Golden Door Spa in Puerto Rico. As a fitness presenter who travels frequently, Biscontini relies on technology to stay in touch with clients and other contacts. In fact, he used an electronic gadget to respond to an e-mail interview for this article while flying at an altitude of 37,000 feet!

“Before a flight, I set up my computer’s America Online (AOL) timer to retrieve all e-mail onto my laptop,” Biscontini
explains. “Then I answer e-mails on the plane. After landing,
I synchronize my laptop to my AOL-capable phone to send off all those messages.”

You May Experience
Brief Technical Difficulties

Introducing new technology into your existing business isn’t always a cyber walk in the park; it can and will present some challenges. In addition to purchasing new software or electronic devices, you may have to spend substantial time training yourself and/or your staff on how to apply or use the new equipment. “Some of our software had to be strenuously and repeatedly taught to personnel who were not computer literate and were resistant,” notes Scudder.

At first, Florez worried that using electronic devices might take the “personal” out of personal training. “It does not,” he stresses. “Across the board, it has been extremely beneficial—and well
received by both clients and our trainers.”

Others agree that the benefits of going high-tech far outweigh any drawbacks. Gregory Mack, founder and CEO of Physicians Fitness in Columbus, Ohio, and the IDEA 2003 Personal Trainer of the Year, says that using heart rate monitors and digital cameras for posture assessments has increased his company’s perceived value. “We come across to clients as more scientific, and they love to tell their friends about their training programs.”

“Technology saves me time, paper and money,” says Cross, who regularly uses the Web, a cell phone, heart rate monitors, fitness software and a Palm Pilot to conduct business. “It gives me an edge with the competition and helps me attract better clientele,” she says. “I rarely mail promotional information anymore.”

Justin Price, MA, is the owner of BioMechanics, a San Diego–based personal training studio. He says that taking digital photos of his clients as they perform exercises doesn’t save him time, but it does help promote his business. “My clients improve much faster,” says Price. “They are very satisfied with their results, so they tend to refer more clients to me.”

According to Ivanic, today’s technology means that fitness professionals are no longer restricted to helping only those people they meet face to face. Florez agrees. “Personal training has been so limited by the need for the trainer to be physically present,” he says. “Technology leverages this greatly, allowing for additional coaching/training revenue and, most importantly, giving us the ability to stay connected and create greater accountability for our clients.”

An Arsenal of Electronic Devices

To find out which electronic gadgets fitness professionals use most—and why they swear by these technological tools—we queried a range of tech-savvy fitness professionals. Computer software, websites, digital cameras, Palm Pilots and heart rate monitors topped their lists of favorites. For a look at who is using what, see “High-Tech Toolbox.”

COMPUTER SOFTWARE

Fitness facility owners and managers across the globe now rely on different forms of computer software to perform everything from planning nutrition and lifestyle programs to tracking membership and equipment usage.

Scudder says that applying a myriad of computer software programs allows his company to capture more accurate data at a faster rate, as well as develop more sophisticated exercise programming for members. “All this saves us time and money, serves our clients better, creates new income streams and results in stronger member
retention,” he says.

Computer software can create new profit streams outside the club setting, as well. For example, fitness professionals everywhere are discovering that technology can help them bring a new product to market that may have been too time-consuming or costly to produce in the past. (For a related article on launching a new product, see page 64.)

Ivanic and his business partner, Colin Westerman, used a digital video camera and editing software to develop a series of training videos under the name Sport Shape-Up Enterprises Inc. “Without the technology that allowed us to cost-effectively produce the videos on our own, we wouldn’t have gotten the project off the ground,” says Westerman, a Vancouver-based personal trainer.

If you don’t already have a website, it’s time to get one, urges Ivanic. “In this era, fitness professionals need to use the Internet in order to advance their careers to the top,” he says. “Having a website is no longer a ‘luxury’ or something that’s nice to have—it’s a necessity.” However, to take full advantage of this 21st century medium, Ivanic says, you need to go beyond simply establishing a cyberspace presence. “Having just a brochure site won’t cut it. Clients and potential clients are looking for good information; if you provide that on your site, you increase your value and marketability.”

Personal trainer Lori Anne Goodwin, owner of Childbirth Connections in Belleville, Ontario, uses her website as a time-saving promotional device. “When we get a call regarding our services, we always refer the person to our website for more information.” But Goodwin knows that to entice prospects back to her site, she must also offer valuable resources, such as an interactive question-and-answer section for expectant parents, downloadable guidelines on exercising during pregnancy and online session handouts from her appearances at fitness conferences.

DIGITAL CAMERAS

Digital photography—using a camera or cell phone with built-in photo capabilities—is fast becoming a popular business tool for personal trainers because it helps clients remember and execute exercises correctly. “Sending clients digital pictures of exercises makes their home programs easier to understand and follow,” notes Ivanic.

Price uses digital photography to take snapshots of his clients to help them improve their technique. “I take digital pictures of clients performing new exercises that I want them to practice before I see them again. At the end of the session, we review the points I want them to focus on with each exercise. This way, they can actually see what they look like doing the exercise correctly, rather than just looking at a stick-figure drawing.”

The digital photos Price takes for clients can also be shared with allied health professionals. “I get a lot of referrals, [so] I use the digital pictures to show the referring professional exactly what types of exercises I am using to improve the client’s condition.”

Similarly, Mack relies on a digital camera to document his clients’ posture assessments. “Clients like the immediate feedback and visual input,” he says. “[The images] help them really understand what our exercise programming is trying to do for them, as well as how they progress.”

PERSONAL DIGITAL ASSISTANTS/PALM PILOTS

A personal digital assistant (PDA) is a handheld computer that stores calendars, appointments, contacts and other data. Tech-savvy fitness trainers use different brands of PDAs, such as Palm Pilots, to organize clients’ personal and training stats. Says Cross, “My Palm Pilot stores information such as client training anniversaries and birthdays.”

Biscontini has upgraded his PDA with special applications tailored to his personal training needs. His Palm Pilot includes a built-in body mass index calculator and software that makes tracking and analyzing client progress quick and easy, especially for clients who are equally high tech. “Clients who record their meal diaries on their PDAs can ‘beam’ their files right onto my Palm,” he says. Biscontini then links client information directly from his PDA to his computer. “Everyone seems impressed with the 2004
approach!” he says. Most important, the time saved on the drudgery of paperwork allows Biscontini to spend more quality time with his clients.

HEART RATE MONITORS

If you think all a heart rate monitor does is tell time and display heart beat, you haven’t seen the latest high-tech versions. Many of today’s devices allow users to download data stored in the monitors directly into a computer. From there, special software can be used to track, compare and analyze the workouts. This innovative technology makes it easy for trainers to conduct ‘virtual’ workout sessions with clients outside of the club setting.

“Some of our clients use heart rate monitor technology to download their training information to us when they travel,” Florez says. He has also noticed a hidden benefit when using this technology with a particular clientele: “There’s a ‘geek factor’
associated with high-tech heart rate monitors that keeps certain clients motivated.”

Embrace New Technology

If you’re interested in incorporating today’s technology into your business but don’t know much about it, take time out to learn. Luckily, there are lots of resources to get you started.

“Take courses through a college, community group or club,” suggests Ivanic. “Read [about] and research gadgets using the Internet and ‘techie’ magazines, such as Wired.” Your own client base can be a valuable source of information, as well. “Chances are,” says Florez, “one of your clients knows the world of technology very, very well and would be happy to point you in the right direction.”

Applying electronic equipment to your business can position you above the competition and render your job-related tasks easier and more time-efficient. Although taking the leap to a more high-tech approach may be daunting at first, the positive impact it can have on your facility, your classes, your training sessions, your bottom line and—above all—your clients, will no doubt make it worthwhile in the long run.

“Technology expands how you express yourself, so your clients clearly receive your message and use it to better their lives,” says Ivanic. “At the end of the day, that’s what all clients want.”