If you’ve used the Nike+ Running App, you’ve likely heard the voice of five-time Olympic medal–winning sprinter Sanya Richards-Ross congratulating you for completing a run. Browse the health app section on your smartphone or slap on a wearable device, and you’ll observe the endless opportunities for tracking fitness data and even getting workout inspiration.
In 2014, almost one-third of U.S. smartphone owners (about 46 million people) used apps from the fitness and health category, and about 1 in every 6 consumers who had heard about wearables was using them (Nielson 2014). It’s no secret that smartphones and wearable technology have caused a disruption in the fitness industry. But will these devices replace the need for personal trainers and fitness facilities? This article will dive into the world of fitness technology and answer the big question: Are apps and wearables our fiercest competitors?
The Benefits of Fit Tech
The fitness world is no stranger to new gadgets. We’ve seen all sorts of trends come and go (hello, heart rate monitors; goodbye, Skechers® Shape-Ups). While some trends are questionable, wearables and health apps have their place. For one thing, they make users more aware of how active—or inactive—they actually are. This reduces the chance of overestimating activity levels, and it may push users to move more.
Another benefit is the data derived from tracking activity, sleep, heart rate, meals, etc. This information can be valuable in developing a personalized fitness program. It also helps point out inhibitive habits and areas that need improvement.
These are the reasons why wearables and fitness tracking apps have become so popular. They help us change our habits and they force us to find more time to be active.
. . . Or do they?
Fitness Tech Usage Stats
Despite the growing popularity of wearables and the use of fitness tracking apps, the technology is not a replacement for personal trainers. According to research by the strategy consulting firm Endeavour Partners, “A third of U.S. consumers who have owned one stopped using the device within 6 months of receiving it” (Endeavor Partners 2014).
If the benefits are so great, why do we abandon the technology? There could be several reasons for this. And fortunately for our industry, these reasons further justify the need for fitness professionals.
Reason #1: Data Overload
Just because you’re collecting large amounts of data doesn’t mean you know what to do with it. Knowing your running distance and time is not the same as knowing when you need to rest, how to increase your pace or what to do to avoid injury. Most users don’t have graduate degrees in exercise science; they can’t really interpret the data that’s being produced—which makes having all that data simply overwhelming.
Reason #2: No Personal Touch
Your sports band can’t get into your head. It can’t learn what motivates you and what doesn’t. After your run with the Nike+ app, all the device does is have Sanya Richards-Ross say, “Way to go!” three different ways. Wearable tech and fitness apps put the responsibility for motivation on the user. You don’t have to text your fitness app to say that you won’t make it to a workout. Your fitness app won’t express disappointment when you miss a run. However, your trainer will.
Max Ogles, an entrepreneur who writes about technology, psychology and behavior change, says, “the number-one reason people give up on good habits generally is that [those habits] just aren’t enjoyable” (Ogles 2014). While an app can’t make fitness satisfying for the long term, a fitness pro sure can!
Reason #3: Too Much Upkeep
We shop online, and we have groceries delivered to our doorstep. We choose the path of greatest convenience most of the time. Wearables require the diligence of keeping them charged, putting them on, syncing them and analyzing the data. At some point, new technology becomes a burden. In the end, it is easier to go back to being inactive—or to turn to a professional to track and motivate you—than it is to manage the app’s upkeep.
So How Will Fitness Technology Affect the Industry?
At this point, technology cannot replace the need for trainers and fitness facilities. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of personal training jobs in the United States is slated to grow another 8% by 2024 (BLS 2015).
However, while some stats show that many users get bored with technology and quit using it, you shouldn’t underestimate it. Developers will continue to dial into their device users to learn how to gain and retain more of them. Smart fitness professionals should embrace the technology and figure out how to leverage it to help push and encourage their clients.
A growing number of fitness facilities now sell wearables to members and use the technology to gamify fitness and make it fun. From offering gymwide challenges to using data for personal training sessions, clubs have harnessed the power of fit tech and are using it to keep members engaged. According to researcher Paul O’Keefe, “Engaging in personally interesting activities not only improves performance, but also creates an energized experience that allows people to persist when persisting would otherwise cause them to burn out” (Medical Xpress 2014).
Technology has disrupted many industries for the better. Are apps and wearables the fitness professional’s fiercest competitor? In short, no. There will always be a need for the personal touch and motivation that a trainer or a fitness facility can provide. Wearable tech and fitness tracking apps just make “being active” more attainable.
BLS (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). 2015. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Fitness trainers and instructors. Accessed June 20, 2016. www.bls.gov/ooh/personal-care-and-service/fitness-trainers-and-instructors.htm#tab-1.
Endeavour Partners. 2014. Inside wearables—Part 2. Accessed June 20, 2016. www.endeavourpartners.net/assets/Endeavour-Partners-Inside-Wearables-Part-2-July-2014.pdf.
Medical Xpress. 2014. Study finds interest in the goals you pursue can improve your work and reduce burnout. Accessed June 21, 2016. http://medicalxpress.com/news/2014-04-goals-pursue-burnout.html.
Nielsen. 2014. Hacking health: How consumers use smartphones and wearable tech to track their health. Accessed June 20, 2016. www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2014/hacking-health-how-consumers-use-smartphones-and-wearable-tech-to-track-their-health.html.
Ogles, M. 2014. The number one reason good habits don’t last. Nir and Far (blog). Accessed June 20, 2016. www.nirandfar.com/2014/07/the-number-one-reason-good-habits-dont-last.html.