Working out, being fit, losing weight: these are things that almost every human being focuses on at some point in their life, but only a fraction of them accomplish their goals. Let’s take off our technology hats for a moment and focus on fitness. Many people who perform cardio and strength exercises are working towards the dream of a toned body and six pack abs. The unfortunate reality is most people do not know what it takes to achieve this goal, and spend a ton of time, energy, and money hoping to achieve this vision of themselves, only to recognize that they are not realizing the desired results. Jogging two miles in thirty minutes will not get you very fit. Doing fifty crunches, then heading to McDonald’s for a Big Mac combo will not get you those six pack abs. The key to reaching one’s fitness goals is doing everything right by eating healthy and in small portions, mixing cardio and strength exercises, proper rest, proper weight, proper form; the list can go on. As someone who once dropped over sixty pounds in a few months, I understand the frustrations and amount of, not only motivation but detail needed in doing all the right things to get fit. Ask any personal trainer; many people think that just because they are exercising, they are on their way to being fit, omitting the urgency to focus on the right exercises and measure improvements in an unbiased way. Sure you are getting some benefit from doing an inefficient workout, but not enough to meet goals and expectations. This is why over the past decade so many people are relying on personal trainers, group fitness, and video fitness programs; so they can perform their routines the correct way with the intent of achieving results. These methods also hold them accountable to do these workouts and complete workout goals.
The consumer fitness tracking industry is making some of the same mistakes that some in their customer base are making. I want to first say, I have a great amount of respect for each company entering the wearable fitness space that is making an effort to find the best fitness tracking solution. The bright minds involved have used what we have learned from science to come up with brilliant fitness tracking solutions using physics and motion. Fitbit has been pushing its wristband’s capabilities to track distance, pace, elevation, steps, and calories burned on walks and runs. Moov does the same as Fitbit and tracks running, swimming, cycling, boxing and a seven-minute bodyweight workout. Not only does it track distance and calories burned, but it also monitors each athlete’s form and provides coaching tips to get the most effective workout. Lumafit uses an earpiece tracker to most scientifically and accurately measure heartbeat, and also has body strength and cardio routines that measure reps, and tracks improvements. Atlas’ wristband identifies each exercise the athlete performs, counts reps, evaluates form, and provides coaching tips. Atlas uses motion sensors to map certain motions with particular exercises to record the movements. They all provide intuitive software with a variety of analytics capabilities.
These companies have used all the data they have available to come up with intelligent, consumer-friendly solutions to fitness tracking. That being said, I cannot help but feel that if I were to purchase a wristband or earpiece as a fitness tracking device, that I would be boxed in by having to tailor my workouts to the capabilities of the tracker, instead of the tracker tailoring its analytics to my workouts. It is great to have a device measure heartbeat, distance run, and laps swum. However, this approach to fitness is similar to the human approach of doing 50 sit-ups and thinking that you are on your way to shredding your six pack abs. We need to find a way to track all the activities a man or woman performs in one comprehensive package. There will be no easy solution, but one is found and implemented, I believe fitness trackers will be something real; they will actually allow customers to achieve fitness results like never before.
Let’s take a step back and think about who our audience is for a comprehensive, all-activity consumer fitness tracker. A large group of people will not put a lot of time and money into staying healthy, and will not jump at the idea of spending significant money on a fitness tool. A lot of older people are more technology and analytics averse, and will be happier using a personal trainer instead of a futuristic fitness tracker. Then there will be a group of older people who do like gadgets, and will most likely be satisfied with the options a wristband will provide to track their heart rate, steps, and distance. Obese people will also be less likely to need an all-around tracker, as they will probably want the assistance of a personal trainer. The audience that needs to be targeted is young, working professional men and women in their 20’s and 30’s. Nielsen confirms that 40% of consumers that use phones or wearable tech to track fitness are between the ages 25 to 34, and 22% are between the ages 35 to 44. I do believe that eventually these tracking devices will be of great use to youth in their sports training and to schools for their athletic programs, but not quite yet. Like computers and smartphones, any new breakthrough technology will first need to be adopted by the well earning, technology savvy folks. If we really want this technology to disrupt the market as an all-encompassing, truly effective fitness tracker; these products must be catered to the 20-30-year-old, fitness conscious demographic. They will be more willing to spend money to achieve their goals, and to save time. So what are the athletic needs of these young, health conscious individuals? This demographic does not only rely on walking and running to achieve their activity goals. Millennials achieve their workout goals in a variety of ways; through running, swimming, core exercises, bicycling, weight training, bodyweight workouts, as well as through playing team sports such as basketball, football, soccer, softball and beach volleyball. Not only do these activities need to be tracked, but think about the added value that can be gained by tracking shooting motions, makes and misses and a variety of other sports related metrics. This will most likely require a core product and possible extensions, but I believe is the only way we will have a true, real life activity tracker for people who do different activities and care about tracking their movements, fitness, and competitive sports abilities.
So how can this be achieved? As much as there has been brilliant scientific implementation into our current set of wristbands and watches, I have a hard time seeing these products being able to deliver the complete activity tracking solution. According to Nick Statt of CNET.com, companies are still trying to figure out whether the smartwatch is the win-it-all wearable. Once you account for every kind of weight lifting exercise, bodyweight exercise, and sports motion; the number of possible exercises would be too great for a wristband to detect based on motion. There would have to be a one to one mapping for every kind of sports movement possible without any overlap. That is too much for the wrist, and frankly, that is too much for one sensor to accommodate. This is where I believe this market can be taken by using smart clothing. Each garment can hold multiple sensors in different places to provide the entire picture of a person’s activity level. Not to mention the possibilities would be endless for coaching to improve sports fundamentals and performance. Athos and Hexoskin are breaking ground in this space, and I believe they will have success in bringing us the true Internet of Everything activity tracking solution. Sure this technology will be pricey at first, but like any other new technology, you will need to start with the right customer market who can afford it. A full body tracker can add so much efficiency to our fitness and athletic goals. As the technology improves, the cost of sensors will also decrease, opening up the market demographic possibilities. In my next post, Wearable Workouts: Bullseye – the benefits and roadblocks to smart clothing completing the activity tracking solution, I go into greater detail about the current breakthroughs in fitness smart clothing, the possibility of future features smart clothing can provide to reach an optimal activity tracking solution, and the benefits and roadblocks to adopting smart clothing.