If you’re not already harnessing the power of fitness technology to run your personal training business and make a difference in the lives of your clients, you should be.

Why? Because smartphones, wearable technology, mobile fitness apps and fitness websites have the potential to revolutionize the work of personal trainers—freeing up more one-on-one time with clients, providing more accurate data on their achievements and giving us powerful tools to better manage our fitness businesses. Further, fitness tech can help us motivate clients to increase their daily physical activity and, in our own small way, help confront the global obesity epidemic and fight the spiraling cost of health care.

This article explains the benefits of fitness technology, explores rising trends in the fit-tech industry, and suggests how you can ride this new wave of change sweeping the worlds of wellness and consumer electronics.

Relax: Technology Cannot Replace Trainers

Before we dive into the specifics of fitness technology, we need to confront the reality of what all these tools mean for fit pros. Some people wonder if the new breed of fitness technology will replace the personal trainer. If you are nervous and asking that question, then perhaps you should be. The technology is here, and it’s becoming more popular by the day. But personal trainers who embrace it have the opportunity to reap great success and outcompete rivals who choose not to innovate.

And while it’s true that fitness technology can be effective, it lacks one essential feature—the human touch. At the end of the day, the “personal” in personal training is the killer app. Most people who need your services also need what only you can provide: your insight, judgment and personality.

Look outside of our industry. How many times have you been frustrated when you’ve called a company and been asked to “press 1 for customer service and 2 for sales,” when all you wanted was to talk to a real, live person? The same holds true in health and fitness.

What Is Fitness Technology?

Walk through any sporting goods store, visit iTunes or watch others in the gym or outside running and you will see all kinds of gadgets, devices and apps. From Basis to Fitbit, from Zombie Run to MyFitnessPal, there is an awesome array of tools for making people healthier and more fit.

For this article, we’ll define fitness technology as a category of devices and software that consumers can use to monitor their physical well-being and motivate their behavior. Examples include wearable technology (Jawbone, Basis, Fitbit, etc.) and mobile fitness apps (MyFitnessPal, GAIN Fitness, Endomondo, etc.).

The go-to platform for fitness technology is the smartphone, which passed an important milestone in 2013, outselling the more basic (and cheaper) cellphone worldwide for the first time. Out of an estimated 1.8 billon mobile phones sold last year, 54%—or a whopping 968 million—were smartphones (Gartner 2014).

The popularity and computing power of smartphones have significantly increased the reach and realm of mobile fitness apps and fitness devices, allowing the average exerciser to track, share and evaluate real-time, always-on health data that just a few years ago was available only to hospitals and elite athletes.

This new era in fitness technology will define—and (in a good way) disrupt—the health and fitness industry over the next 10 years. We’ve always preached to our clients that they must make fitness a daily part of their lives. Fitness technology can help them make that change.

A Brief History of Fitness Technology

Using a tool for fitness and motivation isn’t new. The first recorded pedometer dates to 1780, when Swiss watchmaker Abraham-Louis Perrelet created a self-winding watch that allowed users to measure steps and distance as they walked (Neuchatel 2014). Fitness technology has been evolving ever since. Free weights, treadmills, stationary bikes, virtual cycling—you name it, the technology has been tried.

In 1995, former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop predicted that “cutting-edge technology, especially in communication and information transfer, will enable the greatest advances yet in public health. Eventually, [we will have] access to health information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, encouraging personal wellness and prevention, and leading to better informed decisions about health care” (Koop 1995).

Koop’s vision is today’s reality. The tipping point for consumer fitness technology came in 2007 with the release of the first iPhone. That same year, Fitbit released a tracking device using a wireless sensor that “could bring amazing experiences to fitness and health; creating a product that would change the way we move” (Fitbit 2014).

The rise of mobile and wearable fitness technology has broad implications for the fitness industry. People do not have to visit a fitness center for a personal training session; they can do it from their iPad. Trainers who adopt this technology have a chance to produce greater results with their clients while employing a better business model. Fitness technology is to personal training what Les Mills and Zumba® are to group exercise: a way for you to train more clients, more efficiently, using tried-and-true, repeatable systems.

The Science Behind Fitness Technology

Can these new fitness technologies really make a difference in the lives of clients? That depends on who you ask. Researchers have been scrutinizing the effectiveness of these technologies—from the accuracy of step counters to the influences of online social networks on people’s health. Studies have found that digital technologies have generated improvements in health-related knowledge, attitudes, intentions and nutrition, and have helped people stop smoking (Kennedy et al. 2012).

About half of these studies have shown gains in physical activity, weight loss and diet, which is impressive considering how hard people struggle to stick with a regular fitness program or diet over any length of time (Kennedy et al. 2012). Relatively simple technologies like digital weight loss scales have been associated with better weight loss and weight maintenance (Kennedy et al. 2012). Initial studies suggest fitness technology can be effective, but they also suggest it is far too early to establish that devices and software are helping people make lasting changes in their health choices.

Striving For Healthier Workforces

Technology cannot overcome all the difficulties in changing long-lasting healthy habits, but it can be useful in improving fitness participation and motivation. Many companies, for instance, are using personal health technologies to prevent diseases, track progress in health promotion programs, and ultimately cut the costs of health care and health-related absenteeism (Mattila et al. 2013). Personal trainers and health coaches can use these same technologies at a fraction of the original cost.

In one study that offered employees the use of a wide range of technologies—including monitoring devices, mobile applications and Web services—97% of the employees used the services at least once, and 50% did for 7 out of 8 weeks of the “active intervention” period (Mattila et al. 2013). The most sustained users over the yearlong study decreased weight, body fat, BMI and waist size while improving their aerobic exercise and cholesterol measurements. Most respondents who used the health technologies thought at least some of them had helped them maintain or improve personal wellness, and the majority said they would recommend them to others. Many users found that the most important benefits of the tools included the ability to see their progress and be reminded of the need to engage in healthy activities (Mattila et al. 2013).

“Tremendous” Potential

“The potential to impact health-supporting behaviors is tremendous,” says Stephen Yang, PhD, a professor of exercise science at the State University of New York, Cortland, who has been studying physical activity and technology for years. Yang sees three categories of health technology that are especially beneficial: wearable sensors, social networking and games—all of which can accurately measure, track and share health data. A few examples:

  • fitness trackers: Fitbit Flex, Nike+, Withings Pulse, Misfit Shine
  • specialty sports equipment: Zepp® Golf, Babolat® Play, 94Fifty® Smart Basketball
  • mobile device sensors: Endomondo, RunKeeper, Digifit

“The use of fitness and technol-
ogy within clubs is on the rise as more clubs use traditional online social networking to connect with its members,” says Yang, who notes that clients’ demand for diverse programming that suits their schedules is driving the need for automated video exercise classes like Fitness On DemandTM, personalized video training sessions like Fitblok, and interactive fitness training floors such as Pavigym 3.0.

While excited about the possibilities, Yang suggests caution: “Fitness and technology can work together to improve health, but as in all cases improvements can only come through solid programming, assessment, individualization and feedback.”

How Fit Tech Affects Fitness Pros

Trainers and clients alike have limited time, finite resources and everyday life challenges to deal with. That often translates into clients struggling to find time to meet with trainers, and trainers struggling to deal with clients’ scheduling needs. This is where technology can come to the rescue, allowing trainers to keep clients accountable without needing to be in the same room with them. Online social networks allow group members to motivate and inspire one another.

“Technology is enabling the fitness professional to do more, in less time,” says Michael Piermont, founder of amSTATZ, a Chicago technology startup. Piermont predicts a future rooted in subscription-based health coaching in addition to traditional one-on-one and group training. “Technology makes it easy for professionals to maintain a relationship with their clients in between in-person training sessions.”

Lee Jordan, a former 450-pound middle-aged executive turned ACE-certified health coach and personal trainer, sees great value in using technology with his clients. Through his clients’ smartphones, Jordan provides “virtual coaching” that tracks every time they take a step, scan a barcode or record body weight. He expands on the adage that “knowledge is power,” suggesting that the “application of knowledge through data” is the power that drives results.

“True behavior change doesn’t take place during your typical personal training session,” Jordan says. “By using currently available fitness technology, I can be part of my clients’ daily routine, helping them make healthy choices for a healthier life. This accountability is easy to use and noninvasive, which leads to our desired goal of adherence.”

Jordan has clients who are morbidly obese and reluctant to visit a gym. “I’ve been in their shoes. These are the people who have the greatest needs,” says Jordan. “I use technology to bridge the geographic gap and to decrease clients’ hesitations, but also to solve the [challenges of the] old-fashioned ‘session-based’ business model with a time-efficient, recurring-revenues solution for personal trainers and health coaches.”

Embracing Technology in Your Fitness Business

Developing tracking technology was the first phase of fitness tech. The next phase is the creation of specific wellness-related services that help people alter their habits. Yet for all the potential of technology, there’s a disconnection between device and delivery. Most of these technologies fail to drive long-term, sustained engagement and behavior change for most users.

That gap represents an opportunity for entrepreneurial fitness professionals. More than half of the people who own a fitness device no longer use it, and a third of them stopped using their device within 6 months of acquiring it (Ledger & McCaffrey 2014). Fitness professionals can help ensure people make good on their investments in these technologies.

Accountability is one of the main reasons why clients hire personal trainers and health coaches. Equipment like bands, steps and cardio machines can make people stronger, but it still takes a trainer to be sure clients feel responsible for changing their behavior. That’s why adding a few technology tools to your bag of tricks can really enhance your clients’ progress.

For example, think about one of those Wi-Fi–enabled weight scales. Want to make a real difference with your clients? How about providing one of these scales to your clients as part of your training package? Perhaps part of their training is to weigh themselves each Monday morning and share the result with you automatically, in real time. For clients comfortable with a bigger challenge, perhaps you can up the ante on accountability by having their weight tweeted or broadcast on some form of social media. Does that simple tool, a Wi-Fi–enabled scale, used from the comfort of a client’s bathroom on Monday morning change behavior over the weekend? If the answer is even a small yes, then you’ve done your job in keeping your clients accountable to you and to themselves.

Fitness devices have brought millions of potential clients off the couch, ready for the human touch of a personal trainer. These devices show that being physically active does not mean spending hours in a gym. Simple things during the course of the day, like walking and using a step counter, encourage behavior change that, over time, can generate dramatic changes in a person’s health.

It’s only natural for fitness pros to be nervous about all these changes. But look at it this way: The academic research, the Wall Street investments and consumer demand represent your invitation to become better educated about the power of fitness technology.

Business leader and author H. James Harrington, PhD, best sums up the potential of fitness technology for personal trainers: “Measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement. If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it.”

A Bright Future for Fitness Technology, From Start-Ups to Wall Street

Companies providing integrated health/fitness technology solutions continue to grow. The market for fitness technology is estimated at $1.6 billion in 2014 and expected to grow to over $5 billion in 2016. That is close to a 230% increase in just 24 months (Gartner 2014).

The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association saysthe U.S. health club industry took in $21.8 billion in 2012 and had more than 50 million members (IHRSA 2013). Now consider this for a moment: Six of the most popular mobile fitness apps (MyFitnessPal, RunKeeper, MapMyFitness, Nike®, Runtastic and Endomondo) have a combined 132 million users (at press time)—more than twice the number of fitness center members in the U.S. (Comstock 2013; IHRSA 2013).

Still think fitness tech isn’t a game changer?

In just the past year, fitness tech has emerged as an active investment sector for Wall Street. Well-known companies like Nike, Apple, Intel®,LG and Under Armour® have either released their own fitness technology or acquired smaller startups. A few highlights:

  • Speaker company Jawbone® purchased BodyMedia® for more than $100 million in April 2013 (Goode 2013).
  • Under Armour acquired MapMyFitness for $150 million in November 2013 (MapMyFitness 2013).
  • Computer chip superpower Intel purchased the Basis “smart watch” for a reported $100 million in early 2014 (Tsotsis 2014).

Industry experts expect this trend to continue in the near future. ABIResearch suggested in 2013 that the wearables market will exceed 485 million users by 2018, and 61% of the devices will come from the health-and-fitness segment (Comstock 2012).

Mobile fitness app usage grew from 39% of overall mobile health apps in 2013 to 50% of mobile health apps in 2014 (Citrix 2014). As of September 2013, 1 in 10 U.S. consumers over the age of 18 owned a wearable fitness device from Jawbone, Nike, Fitbit® or some other company, and forecasts suggest this trend will steadily increase over time (Ledger & McCaffrey 2014). Of these users, the younger group (aged 25-34) is primarily focused on fitness optimization, while the older group (aged 55-64) is intent on improving health and extending their lives (Ledger & McCaffrey 1014).

The 2014 Consumer Electronics Show saw a 30% increase in the digital-fitness floor space from the previous year, with over 11,500 square feet focused exclusively on the newest technologies for sports and fitness from more than 75 companies (CES 2014). “With improvements in sensor technology, devices can monitor everything from steps taken to stairs climbed, which allows consumers to better monitor their daily activity and create smarter goals. There is no denying that fitness has gone high-tech,” said Karen Chupka, senior vice president with International CES.

In addition to the tradeshow, the Fitness Tech Summit was a full day conference specific to fitness technology. “Tech provides a shot of adrenaline to the fitness industry. The fact that fitness technology has outperformed the industry’s projected growth shows that we’ve tapped into an increasingly important part of the consumer electronic industry,” said Julie Sylvester from the Fitness Tech Summit.

Fitness Technology Examples at a Glance

The following list provides just a taste of how the fitness technology landscape is being shaped and the categories in which you can find offerings.


Product: Fitbit
Purpose: inexpensive wearable technology that does more than count steps
Pros: enables clients to sync daily physical activity with website, allowing trainers to see more than just a workout
Cons: recent rash scare, but company still has a number of quality devices and plans for new ones


Product: GAIN Fitness
Purpose: training tool that allows trainers to share a video workout with clients
Pros: high-quality video
Cons: available only from the iTunes store


Product: iHealth Scale
Purpose: wireless Internet-enabled body weight scale that measures, tracks and shares nine different characteristics of body composition
Pros: easy to connect and share information from client to trainer
Cons: doesn’t look like a normal body weight scale (but it works)

What to Look for in Fitness Technology

When suggesting fitness technology to your clients, consider these three factors:

Ease Of Use

If the device isn’t easy to use right out of the box, then you have a problem. Your client shouldn’t need a PhD in engineering to use it. Some devices are great concepts but lack real-world, easy-to-use features. Your clients have enough excuses not to be physically active. Don’t let substandard technology give them another one.

Try a few yourself, kick the tires, and get an understanding of the features before suggesting them to your clients. The more you know, the better you can train your clients.

Battery Life

Smartphone apps in particular need to take battery life into account. If your clients keep an app running all day, they’ll also need to recharge their phones a few times during the day. It’s helpful to determine which of the two most common ways fitness devices are used:

  • Tracking. Devices like the Jawbone Up,Nike FuelBand and Fitbit are designed to be worn all day, measuring daily activ-ity and workouts throughout the week. Many will run for several days on a single charge. Typically, though, they also sync with a smartphone, so they may rely on the phone’s battery life as well, depending on how they are used.
  • Workout measurement. Many mobile fitness smartphone apps are designed to track activity only during a workout, (e.g., RunKeeper during a run or Endomondo during a bike ride). These apps can drain a smartphone battery fairly quickly.

Purpose Of Measurement

If you want to measure everything your client does during the day, focus more on fitness devices rather than mobile fitness apps. Fitness devices allow for a just-in-time, persuasive nudge to your clients, showing how little things throughout the day can make a big difference—like taking the stairs rather than the elevator, getting off the couch and takinga walk around the block a few times, or parking farther away at the mall.

Key Benefits of Fitness Technology

Research into health and fitness interventions using technology suggests several key benefits:

  • reduced delivery costs
  • convenience to users
  • timeliness
  • reduction of stigma
  • increased user and trainer control of the intervention
  • reduction of geographic barriers
  • reduction of time-based isolation barriers
  • reduction of mobility-based isolation barriers (Griffiths et al. 2006)
Devices Cannot Build Engagement in the Way You Can

In the midst of amazing growth within fitness tech, a dirty little secret remains: Most of these devices fail to develop long-term, sustained engagement for a majority of users. Endeavour Partners’ research reports that more than half of U.S. consumers who own a modern activity tracker no longer use it, while one-third stopped using it within 6 months of receiving it (Ledger & McCaffrey 2014).

This should come as no surprise. With many technologies, the first phase centers on developing products and services with little regard to how their makers will make money. Now that the technology is widely available, fit-tech companies are looking for new ways to engage their users and to create revenue streams. Still, some of these companies lack a basic understanding of the science behind health and fitness.

As a certified fitness professional, you have that understanding. Innovative and entrepreneurial personal trainers who can combine their own knowledge of exercise science and behavior change with different types of fitness technology will be able to create a unique and powerful system that their clients can affordably use on their journey toward better health.


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MapMyFitness. 2013. UnderArmour to acquire MapMyFitness, one of the world’s largest open fitness tracking platforms. http://about.mapmyfitness.com/2013/11/underarmour/; accessed Mar. 13, 2014.
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Ted Vickey, MBS

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