Technology has revolutionised the fitness industry by giving anyone the ability to monitor, measure and improve their performance. From the humble electronic scales, to innovative sleep monitors, fitness technology is here to stay.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recently revealed that technology will be the biggest health and fitness trend of 2016, and in particular they predicted that wearable fitness tech will continue to dominate the market, so expect to see even more sophisticated fitness trackers, smart watches, heart rate monitors and GPS tracking devices being launched in the coming 12 months.
Walter R. Thompson, the lead author of the ACSM report and associate dean in the College of Education & Human Development at Georgia State University in Atlanta, commented on the predicted increase of technology in the health and fitness industry.
“Tech devices are now central to our daily lives and have changed the way we plan and manage our workouts. Wearable devices also provide immediate feedback that can make the wearer more aware of their level of activity and can motivate the user to achieve their fitness goals,” he said.
How can fitness tech developers improve their products next year?
Walk into any gym in the UK and you’ll see many people’s wrists adorned with Fitbits and Garmin devices - fitness tech is big business, but it’s certainly not perfect. Technology can always be improved, and with this in mind we conducted our own research, asking UK consumers what they found most annoying about fitness tech.
- 44% of people believe fitness tech is too expensive
- 24% said the biggest drawback is that there isn’t one piece of equipment that does everything
- A further 13% of respondents feel that devices are too bulky
So, will our fitness tech issues be addressed in 2016?
As technology becomes more and more sophisticated, we can only hope that the concerns highlighted in our survey will be taken on board by designers and manufacturers. There’s no doubt that fitness tech has its uses, but there are still a lot of people who find it awkward to use or even embarrassing to wear.
That said, many of us have high hopes that 2016 will be the year when fitness technology really comes of age and provides us with exactly what we need.
Cedric Hutchings, CEO of Withings, who invent and develop innovative health and fitness technology, told Fitness First Clubs that things are moving in the right direction and that developers are creating gadgets that appeal to a wider audience.
“There is no question that health tech is on the rise with new wearables and at-home health monitors readily available to track everything from steps and sleep to blood pressure and blood oxygen levels,” he said.
“These devices have certainly become ‘smarter’ and more user friendly over the last year, allowing not just health addicts and tech geeks to use them, but also the average user. Therefore, Withings is interested not only in launching products to track health, but also focusing on sleek design, simple setup, and interoperability - the ability to connect to other devices with hundreds of apps. The future of this category is how devices will move from just tracking to learning user's habits and providing insights, ultimately guiding them to live a healthier lifestyle.”
Wearable tech is set to evolve quickly
Wearables will inevitably be a big trend in 2016 and it’ll be intriguing to see what developers come up with.
We spoke to Dr Kevin Curran, a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers and Reader in Computer Science at Ulster University. He shared his thoughts on apps, gadgets and the types of technology that could change how we workout in 2016.
“Wearables will become more ubiquitous than computers in the near future. This makes sense as you can wear multiple devices on one’s self as opposed to carrying one or two computing devices. The wearable technology market is a growth area for mobile technology, as smartphones reach a 70% saturation point in developed markets including the US and UK,” he remarked.
“In 2014, 90 million wearables, including fitness trackers and smartwatches were sold worldwide, and this number is expected to reach 200 million in 2015.
“The latest wearable trend is single-function devices; activity-specific clothing, such as Hexoskin. Smart clothing technology like Sensatex Inc.’s SmartShirt System and Under Armor’s E39 compression shirt enable remote monitoring of a wearer’s heart rate, breathing, and other vital signs. Besides helping athletes identify and address performance issues, such clothing could also be used to monitor the vital signs of anyone trying to get fitter,” Dr Curran continued.
He concluded by saying: “We are seeing more wrist-wrapped devices with increased processing and power in addition to many more sensors for reading heart rate, bio data, steps taken, estimated calories burned, quality of sleep and more.”
We’re still in 2015, but already we’re seeing the development of wearables being ramped up a notch. Fitbit announced in November that it was launching new software, bringing a raft of new features to users of the popular devices. ‘SmartTrack’ enables automatic exercise recognition, identifying the type of activity that a person is partaking in and recording their progress in the Fitbit app, alongside a summary of the workout, including calories burnt, the duration of the activity and heart rate stats. The company also confirmed that wearers would benefit from greater personalisation, which is great news. We all exercise differently and we all have our own individual fitness goals, so it’s crucial that technology is adaptable.
As our data shows, one of our biggest bugbears with fitness tech is that it can be overly clunky and not particularly comfortable to wear. We asked World Champion British cyclist Elinor Barker for her thoughts on fitness tech, and she suggested that she’d like to invent some form of “internal Fitbit”, as she’s not overly keen on wearing watches when exercising.
The YouTube video explains how it works, and it’s fascinating to ponder what technology developers will come up with next. Whether or not they become mainstream remains to be seen, but it’s certainly worth keeping an eye out for “Tech Tats” in the coming year.
DW’s health & fitness expert has her say...
Carly Tierney is a health and fitness expert with many strings to her bow. She’s a qualified personal trainer, nutritionist, published fitness author, ambassador for South Yorkshire Eating Disorders Association and award-winning Bikini Fitness contestant. Fitness First Clubs got the chance to exclusively pick her brains about the future of fitness tech.
Fitness tech in gyms
“I predict that more gyms will provide intelligent equipment that supports users by providing advice around performance through tracking weights, reps and intensity,“ she said.
Wearable fitness tech can be a brilliant way to monitor your progress throughout the day, but what about when you are actually working out in the gym? The majority of fitness equipment measures your distance covered, the amount of calories burnt and heart rate, but how much can we rely on the number we see on the screens? If Carly’s predictions come true, more intelligent machines to improve the way that we workout will come to the fore in 2016. Carly explained how an average gym-goer could integrate fitness tech into their workouts to enhance their performance.
“[People can] use wearable technology to understand which of their exercise choices is the most effective for their goals, thus making exercise more informed and effective. For example, if someone is wanting to lose weight and only has two hours to spend in the gym per week, they'd benefit from understanding which activities will burn the most calories and will be able to make their workouts high intensity for maximum results.”
“I would argue that wearable fitness technology can be beneficial in that it provides the user with a reality check regarding their current activity levels. I am concerned, however, that some people still regard a Fitbit as a magical shortcut to [achieving] their fitness goals, which it is obviously not.”
Carly is right, simply owning a piece of fitness tech doesn’t automatically mean that you will lose weight or become healthier. It does help people to understand how healthy their lifestyle currently is, for example if you work in an office you may not realise how few steps you take in a day and a step counter could help you to move more. With this in mind, fitness tech that is geared towards measuring and monitoring will continue to be in high demand in 2016.
We also took to twitter to ask different athletes and fitness professionals whether there were any apps or pieces of fitness tech that they regularly use or anything they want to see being developed, and the majority of people revealed that apps that help them track their food and exercise, such as Myfitnesspal, were the most useful.
— Leon Williams (@LeonW84) November 5, 2015
We asked Carly what she thought about fitness tech that is used to track nutrition:
“They have their use, however the focus on calories is not something I personally promote. I tend to consider nutrients as well as macros and individual goals, genetics and preferences,” she said.
This is a very valid point. For too long, people have focused on strict calorie-deficient diets that cut out entire food groups and send your body into a confused state. Apps that work out your daily calorie allowance such as Myfitnesspal add up everything that you consume and detract calories according to how much exercise you do. While this is beneficial if you are worried that you are regularly going over your caloric allowance, there is much more to being healthy than the amount of calories your body consumes in a day such as building muscle and promoting strength.
Will fitness tech complement the growing strength-training trend?
The last year has seen strength training soar in popularity, especially for women who may have stayed away from lifting weights previously, yet there seems to be a lack of fitness tech that actually tracks this.
“The ideal body shape has changed for women, who now want a small waist, big bums and shapely legs. Some argue that this body shape is unattainable without surgery, however I disagree,” Carly commented.
“Strength training provides women with a powerful tool for physical change and to sculpt their bodies. It arguably provides women with added confidence as well as physical strength.”
Functional training has also increased in popularity, using equipment in a way that mimics everyday movements that you would perform in your day-to-day life. With such a free range of movement, it has become very challenging to track specific exercises and weights. Fitness professionals predict that functional training will continue to grow in popularity next year.
@dwsportsfitness I think it's happening already but definitely feel more people are moving towards functional training instead of physique
— Simon de Gruchy (@Simon_DeGruchy) November 5, 2015
Factors such as building muscle and strength are still difficult to monitor, many fitness professionals say that they rely on writing down their reps and weights throughout training and taking photos of themselves to see progress. With this in mind, could the next 12 months produce a piece of equipment that focuses more heavily on tracking functional and bodyweight exercises instead of (or as well as) cardio?
5 key takeaways & predictions
We’ve established that technology isn’t a golden ticket to the body and fitness levels that you want to achieve, however, it is handy to have and can help you on your way. Things seem to be improving drastically, and 2016, as the ACSM recently alluded to, could well be the year when fitness tech really takes us by storm.
Here’s a bitesize breakdown of the main fitness tech trends we expect to see in 2016…
- Fitness tech will get smarter - We’ve already seen gadgets like the Fitbit become more personalised and this is undoubtedly the way forward. Rather than a generic one-size-fits-all device, we’ll increasingly see developers bringing us technology that fits into our schedules and way of life. Having a piece of equipment that automatically knows that you like to listen to ‘Rage Against The Machine’ during your cardio workouts is the dream, right?!
- Wearables will actually be wearable - Say goodbye to the grossly oversized and uncomfortable gadgets that weigh you down in the gym. Whether it’s hi-tech watches, ‘smart’ shirts or even fitness tech tattoos, it seems that wearables are set to become more discreet.
- Throw away the pad and pencil - In the digital era, it’s amazing that athletes and gym-goers still have to track elements of their progress on a piece of good old-fashioned paper. Next year, we expect developers to create apps that allow you to meticulously track your functional training progress without the need for a biro!
- Tech will help to raise awareness and offer advice - Knowledge is power, and fitness tech will develop in such a way that you’ll feel like you have your own personal trainer attached to your wrist. We currently use software to track our performance (counting calories and keeping tabs on distance covered, for example), but we expect fitness tech to offer more sophisticated and intelligent advice and analysis in the near future.
- Fitness tech will be more popular than ever (and should become more affordable) - 90 million wearables were sold worldwide in 2014 and 200 million were sold in 2015. How many will be snapped up in 2016? As our data shows, cost is a major barrier for many people who would otherwise use fitness gadgets. We believe that as this kind of technology becomes more mainstream, and competition in the market intensifies, it will become more affordable and accessible. This trend could start as early as next year.
It may not be 2016 just yet, but it is only around the corner. Get a head start on the January rush by joining a Fitness First Club near you. Join before the end of the year for half price gym memberships!