Am I going to be replaced by technology?
Technology and digitalisation in Fitness industry
During the last couple of years, usage of health and fitness technologies has increased massively, and they are getting cheaper and cheaper. That kind of technology which was used only by athletes are now available for every regular exerciser. (Kettunen, Kari & Critchley, 2019. 3.) Because of the huge development of the fitness technology, which is not that expensive anymore, it is easy for anyone to get more information about their own health, exercising and sleep.
Fitness and health technology includes for example heart rate monitors and artificial intelligence (AI) watches, virtual group fitness classes, virtual fitness games, AI included fitness equipment and applications. The most used technology today is wearable technology, digital business platforms and equipment as well as applications (Connor, 2021). It seems that we can’t escape from the reality that technology is going to be a big part of the industry, which might have been thought to be apart from digitalisation.
FirstBeat Technologies Ltd. is one good example of how fitness technology has become available for anyone who is interested about his wellbeing. FirstBeat Technologies is a Finnish company, which provides heart rate analytics for usage for competitive sports and companies in any business field. Company has researched heart rate variableness (HRV) over 20 years and made an indicator which can transform data of heart rate to an understandable model. That data can give precise information about stress, sleep, recovery, and effects of exercising. (Firstbeat.com, 2021.)
For a long time that kind of data was only available for athletes and research centres. Now anyone can order an indicator to home and have comprehensive and precise analysis of lifestyle based on stress and heart rate variables. FirstBeat brought the tool to have specific data from own HRV for every person without need to go to laboratory and pay big amount of money for it.
Heart rate measurement and heart rate monitors are probably one of the first thing which comes to mind when we talk about fitness technology. Ten years ago, heart rate monitors were tools which could tell you about your heart rate and maybe track your daily steps with monitor connected with the fitness watch. Today you need only watch, monitor or even ring combined with your smart phone, and it can tell you about your exercising, sleep and how much you burn calories. It can also suggest how you should workout or sleep based on your bodily data.
Digitalisation in fitness industry
CEO of LesMills Media, Jean-Michel Fournier, tells in Emma Hogan’s article (2020) that technology and digitalisation in fitness industry has just begun and we can see a huge step forward in the near future. (Hogan, 2020.) According to Hogan (2020) Fournier (2020) sees that AI will be transferred to wellness and fitness especially in wearable and ingestible technology by wearing for example motion trackers or using smart bills to give information and feedback about your exercise or body activations in general.
Also Joonas Lyytinen, key account manager of FirstBeat Technologies, says (2021) that it is the direction of wellness and fitness technology. He believes that in the future people can get very specific data from their body functions. In some point we are going to have just chip under our skin, which collects all data we need to make better actions for our healthy living. (Lyytinen, 2021.)
We are going to be more aware of our fitness and wellbeing based on data of the body. Activity monitors can help people to reach goals by tracking and giving feedback based on body functions (Kettunen ym., 2017. 4.) It seems that we are going to be in that situation that electronic devices and AI tells us how we are and what our body needs then it is not that necessary to observe feeling of the body anymore.
When we went from wearable technology to digital exercising it is obvious that field of technology has also gone through a big change. For example, virtual classes, fitness games and applications has been taken as a part of exercising both at home and fitness centres. People like to be entertained and experience their workout. Fitness games and immersive fitness brings exercising to that level. CSE Entertainment and LesMills International are good examples of that. CSE Entertainment is a heath technology company, which produces virtual games for exercising and rehabilitation. CEO of CSE Entertainment, Veli-Matti Nurkkala, (2021) says that they wanted to bring “boring cardio fitness” to the next level and offer remove customers fun way to exercise by playing games with their own body.
Fitness has been always something that some people love and some hate. Making exercising more entertaining is possibility to make more people take care of their body and enjoy about it. On the rehabilitation side, CSE has solved problem that for example different tools for cognitive disease patients takes lots of space. With their touch screen game, it is possible to play multiple different rehab games.
LesMills International for its part provides concepted group fitness platform all around the world. The latest innovation is immersive fitness, THE TRIP, which is a group cycling class in front of a big screen (Hogan, 2020). Fournier tells in Hogan’s article (2020) that development of technology can bring the group fitness to the next level. Applications and streaming make it possible to do workout at home or anywhere it is needed and creates more memorable fitness experiences.
Thus, technology can help us to make practical solutions in many problems in fitness industry. It is interesting to see how much we can do with technology and it is actually good solution to many practical issues in fitness field. For example, many companies struggle with having too much different tools without room to keep them cleverly organized. Also, virtual classes and streaming makes possibilities to have workout when it is suitable time for customer. Life gets more and more 24/7 active which means that all people do not work at main office hours and workout in the evenings.
The view of the future
Even if it would feel that we have seen a lot and the development has been fast, this is just beginning (Hogan, 2020). Nurkkala (2021) agrees: Technology and digitalisation in fitness industry has only passed it’s starting point and now we are going to have actual tools and products instead of toys without specific purpose. Couple of years ago, fitness technology was in the hype position and point was to stir up the interest. Now those tools of pioneers have ripened to products which can make real value for customers. (Nurkkala, 2021.)
Technology of fitness industry is going to provide more options and possibilities for companies, which are ready to take that pioneer reputation (Lyytinen, 2021 & Nurkkala, 2021). For example, fitness centres, personal trainers and coaches are going to have an opportunity to get more information about their customers by using different trackers and indicators. Fitness centres for its part are going to have more products and services to provide their customers. The key element is to productize different tools and services in simple and interesting way for customers (Lyytinen, 2021).
When there are many tools, services, and products to provide for customers, it is easy for a service provider to get lost. If company and service provider don’t exactly know how the technology works and how customer can benefit from technology itself, it is very confusing for customer too. Nurkkala and Lyytinen both emphasize that in the future it is very important to do branding and productizing around technological tools and services. (Lyytinen, 2021 & Nurkkala, 2021). That makes a lot of sense. Company which wants to sell their product needs to make it easy to understand for customer. It is important to plan how to make marketing and selling in that way that customer can get interested and understand benefits of buying products. There is a risk that technological products and services are on sale and available, but no-one has done anything to make it familiar for customer. Productization and marketing are the key elements to get more profit from fitness technology and sell more services. (Lyytinen, 2021 & Nurkkala, 2021).
One positive point of passing the pioneering and starting point of fitness technology’s development is that in the future it is easier to sell technological products (Nurkkala, 2021). Technology and virtuality can cause much of prejudicing and for customer it can feel far away and even scary. Especially when we are talking about health and wellness. We have passed that point that people were very suspicious about every new digital products and mind set is getting more and more open to them. It has become normal part of our life in every field. In that sense, it is natural that technology is part of our exercising and wellness too. At the same time, the new generation of customers have lived the time of digital revolution, so it is natural for them that digitalisation is included to wellbeing.
Are virtual coaches going to replace human?
AI and technology are going to have a huge role in our lives to support our wellbeing and help us to make data-based decision of healthy lifestyle (Hogan, 2020). From a point of view of a fitness instructor it is hard to stop thinking about how all technology and digitalisation is going to affect working as a sport instructor and coach. Are coaches going to be replaced by virtual coaches and is there a room for humanly knowledge when AI is developing in wearable technology?
Lyytinen (2021) does not see, that development of fitness technology would replace wellness professionals. The more information we get the more we need specialists to help customers to understand their data and make the actions which are relevant for them. (Lyytinen, 2021.) It is true that the more we get information, the more we get confused. When we get more and more data-based information about our body it causes also more questions. When we get data of our body, it is important that information is relevant and easy to understand (Kettunen ym., 2019, 16).
That makes sense. In the future, fitness professional’s knowledge and know-how are needed to help customer to understand the data of technological devices and make actions based on that. It is also hard to believe that people would not need any aspects for their wellbeing life from human point of view. Wellness and health are comprehensive things. Even if we can check our physical functions exactly, we also have psychological and social matters which affect our wellbeing. We can have information that we don’t sleep enough but what are the actions and solutions to make it better with personal basis. Every human being is individual and unique.
According to Fournier, fitness professionals and group fitness instructors won’t be replaced by virtual coaches either. He points out that group fitness instructors are the rock stars of industry which makes it hard to believe that they would be replaced. (Hogan, 2020.) People want social connections and be part of something. Even if life is busy and people are used to staying at home during the covid-19 situation, it is difficult to see that fitness industry and specially group fitness would change in that way that group fitness people will do their workouts at home alone without missing the team around them. One big part of group fitness and personal training is socialization with instructor and other participants.
On the other hand, might be possible in the future to participate to the same fitness classes with your friend at the other side of the world. Or possibility to have a class by your favourite group fitness instructor even if you don’t live in the same country. (Hogan, 2020.) Technology can make fitness industry more together. You don’t need to be in specific place to have your classes or participate. That makes possibility to offer services to any customer anywhere.
It seems that main thing in fitness technology is not what the product or service is so much as asking how to use it in business and why to use it. When keeping in mind that how to bring a real value for a customer, can success even if the development goes fast and situation in the world makes business more complicated. Digitalisation is not something which we should fear or think that it is not usable for our own business. Every fitness and wellness business can benefit from technology if there is open minded thinking and clear goal on how to get profit from different tools and services. As an instructor side, it is important to keep in mind how much new things give us opportunities in the future and how own profession can be developed by using new technology.
Connor, L. 2021. Fitness Technology Is Transforming the Industry in 2021 and Beyond. Web article. Wrote: 25.01.2021.Red: 23.2.2021.
FirstBeat Technologies webpage. 2021. Red 19.2.2021.
Hogan, E. 2020. Covid-19 has fast-tracked fitness innovation. What will this mean for your workouts? Web article. Published 10.05.2020. Red 17.02.2021.
Kettunen, E., Kari, T., Chasandra, M., Critchley, W. & Doğan, U. 2007. Activity Trackers Influencing Motivation and Awareness, 1 – 4 & 16. Jyväskylä University Digital Archive. Referred 19.2.2021.
Kettunen, E., Kari, T. & Critchley, W. 2019. Critical Experiences with Sport and Wellness Technology Digital Coach: A Study among University Students with Low Levels of Physical Activity, 3. Self-archived version of an original article. University of Jyvaskylä. Referred 19.2.2021.
Lyytinen, J. Key account manager of FirstBeat Technologies Ltd. 2021. Interview 16.2.2021. Interviewer: Jemina Laitinen. Online interview.
Nurkkala, V. CEO of CSE Entertainment. 2021. Interview 17.2.2021. Interviewer: Jemina Laitinen. Online interview.