There is a very high probability that many of you are reading this article on your smartphone, tablet or computer, which also makes it likely that you’re already using technology in your personal training business. That’s hardly surprising, given that more than 92% of American adults own a mobile phone, and most of those devices (68%) are smartphones (Anderson 2015).
I have been watching, using and studying fitness technology since the early 1990s, and I can say without a doubt that today is the most exciting time yet for personal trainers who want to help clients make the most of technology. From what I learned doing my doctoral research on fitness technology and social networking, I see massive potential in mobile apps, smartphones and fitness trackers.
There’s no time like the present to integrate technology into your personal training business. The trick is figuring out where to start and where to go.
Who Buys Fitness Technology?
For starters, let’s look at what motivates people to buy fitness technology.
“Health and fitness devices help consumers feel that they’re more successful in setting personal fitness and health goals and tracking progress, and that their lives are improved by these devices,” says Steve Koenig, senior director of market research at the Consumer Technology Association (CTA 2016).
CTA’s research finds that among fitness users, 61% say monitoring calories burned is the most important characteristic of fitness technology, followed by heart rate (52%), steps taken (42%), distance (34%) and blood pressure (23%). Among health users, the most desired characteristics are heart rate (58%), calories burned (48%), blood pressure (47%), steps taken (28%) and distance traveled (21%) (CTA 2016).
So, what are fitness pros doing with this data? I gleaned some great insights from Lee Jordan, an ACE-certified health coach and personal trainer from Jacksonville Beach, Florida, whose journey to the fitness industry is a familiar one. As an IT executive in Washington, DC, Jordan was stressed, out of shape and unwell. When his weight ballooned to 455 pounds, he changed course, got his health in check and fell in love with helping others succeed with their own health goals.
Jordan used his vast expertise from his previous IT life to create a powerful—and successful—platform for accountability and motivational coaching. His experience illustrates fit tech’s potential for our profession.
As Jordan shared over a recent Skype call, “Some of the most common challenges fitness pros face involve how to facilitate their clients’ ability to become more empowered and accountable, ultimately improving their adherence. Utilizing wearable, cloud-based, portable technology—to decrease, if not eliminate, geographic and time barriers to delivering our health and fitness programs—increases my free time, allows for greater success for my clients and in the end increases my profit margin.”
Making effective use of technology—via simple tools like smartphones, wearable devices and text messaging—can transcend the four walls of a gym and help trainers improve the lives of people around the world.
The Big Questions for Trainers
A 2015 American Council on Exercise survey on wearable tech provides fresh insights into how personal trainers view this technology. While 72% of the personal trainers who responded to ACE’s survey said their clients had asked them for insight and feedback on wearable devices, only 51% felt prepared to answer those client questions (Green 2015).
The most-asked-about wearable was the Fitbit®, and the most-asked-about app was MyFitnessPal. Particularly noteworthy is that 71% of surveyed personal trainers said they would be interested in allowing clients to purchase devices either directly through them or by using a promotional code, and 75% were interested in the ability to run fitness challenges with clients using wearable activity devices (Green 2015).
Next up: how to turn your interest into action.
5 Steps to Get Fit Tech Into Your Training Business
One of the hardest things about adding fitness technology to your current business is figuring out how to go from where you are today to where you have the potential to grow. The following five steps should provide an effective roadmap to fit tech success.
Step 1. Do Your Research, and Kick the Tires
You would never have your clients try a new class or piece of gym equipment without first trying it yourself, and the same should be true of any app or wearable you recommend to clients. Remember, your credibility is at stake. There’s no way you can try all of the thousands of apps available for download, so pick a few of the more popular ones, download and/or purchase them, and test them yourself. Keep in mind that just because an app has a large number of downloads doesn’t mean it is a great app. Maybe its creator has a great public relations team and a lot of money to spend on advertising.
There are a handful of fitness wearables that track everything (and more) you might need to measure with your clients. Order a few of these tools and test away. (Try this: Contact the companies separately over social media, explaining that you are a trainer and you’re looking for a vendor to partner with. There’s a good chance that the organizations will respond with either a free device or a discount on one.)
Step 2. Pick Companies to Work With
Create a review system to evaluate each app and wearable, so you can justify to clients why you prefer one device or app over another. There is no right or wrong answer; pick whatever fitness technology you feel most comfortable with, and be confident in your decision. Don’t forget to ask your clients about the fitness technologies they use. Their honest feedback will help you decide.
Also ask your fellow trainers (in person, via online discussion boards or through social media posts). There are more than enough clients to go around, and having your peers help you make an informed decision will alleviate any lingering fears you might have about adding fitness technology to your training business.
Step 3. Set Up Affiliate Relationships With Companies
Adding fitness tracking to your training packages can help you charge higher rates, but there’s another cash-flow opportunity you may not know about: affiliate relationships. Fitness technology companies may give you a slice of the revenue from customers you send their way. Some of the bigger players in the fitness tracking industry already do this—and if the ones you decide to work with don’t offer affiliate programs, just ask! The worst they can do is say no. Some will even handle all the ordering, shipping, customer service and returns, allowing you to focus on using the technology.
Step 4. Get Serious About Monetizing
Some trainers, like Jordan, are virtual coaches who don’t see their clients in person (other than over Skype or FaceTime) and who rely heavily on fitness technology to manage their business and motivate their clients. Other trainers supplement their weekly in-person training sessions by adding fitness technology that clients can use whenever they choose.
No matter which of these options (or others) you choose, remember to monetize the fitness technology in your training business. Consider creating a monthly membership plan that includes 24/7 monitoring with weekly in-person training sessions. See what works best for you and your clients, then take the plunge.
Step 5. Market Your Services
Once you’ve become an expert at using fitness technology to train clients, you need to tell the world that you understand and embrace this new type of personal training model. According to the ACE report on fitness technology, the most common questions that fitness professionals hear from their clients regarding fitness technology are these: “Which device should I purchase?” “How accurate is the device?” “Will the device help me achieve my fitness/health goals?” Be sure you have an answer for each of these questions, to set yourself apart from other trainers.
I have seen only a few trainers include their use of technology in their marketing efforts. A great way to start is to offer free consultations where you can set up potential clients’ new fitness wearables and create simple goals for their fitness journey. Consider introducing yourself to the manager of your best local electronics store and offering this free service to anyone who purchases a wearable from the store. Even ask to set up a table at the location. This 20 minutes of one-on-one time will allow you to show your expertise and knowledge of fitness technology while gauging whether the store customer might see value in your fitness technology services.
Disruption and Innovation
The health and fitness industry is in a critical transition period regarding fitness technology. Some adopters are existing clients, and some are potential clients who need the human interaction that only a personal trainer can provide.
Fitness technology does not replace the personal trainer in stimulating long-term, sustainable behavior change. However, it does give forward-thinking, innovative trainers a new way to create successful and profitable personal training businesses while helping people along on their journey to wellness.