Personalising experiences, harnessing influencers and competing with Peloton. The future of fitness is digital – and it needn’t be intimidating. Indeed, technology offers health club operators the chance to grow and future-proof their businesses. Paul Bowman, CEO of digital fitness specialist Wexer, speaks to Kate Cracknell
Let’s set the scene: what is digital fitness, and what’s driving this trend?
Put very simply, digital fitness is fitness that’s enabled by technology.
At the heart of it, it’s about choice and convenience. In today’s increasingly digital world, consumers want – and expect to be able – to engage with fitness experiences when and where they want. It may be that they’d like to get to a health club or gym, but in practice there can be so many barriers that stand in the way of this happening. We have to look at ways of making fitness easier to consume, and the only cost-effective way of doing this is by embracing technology.
Importantly, this technology is already out there.
“Technology should never be the strategy in itself” – Paul Bowman
What does digital fitness look like in practice?
At the moment, digital fitness is predominantly taking the shape of third party apps and online fitness providers. These providers have identified and seized the opportunity quicker than traditional fitness providers, which is of course a challenge to the health club model as we know it. It’s why many operators see technology as a threat.
But it needn’t be this way: in fact, technology hands operators the tools they need to strengthen and future-proof their businesses. It allows health clubs stay relevant in a digital world, both by extending their appeal to a broader audience and by better serving existing members.
Let’s look at this specifically from an indoor cycling perspective. Say someone walks into your club and they’re interested in having a go at cycling; they might even have been into cycling before, but not been on a bike in a while. Your live instructor-led classes might be a bit intimidating for them at first – all those regulars on their favourite bikes. However, they’ll probably feel a lot more comfortable doing a virtual or live streamed class; we have a lot of data to show how these classes act as confidence-building feeders into live classes.
Even better, imagine having bikes on the gym floor, away from the studio space altogether, each with personal screens on which you’re able to run a live streaming channel. By streaming high quality indoor cycling classes direct from your studio – which could be at any club in your estate – you’re giving members a chance to take part with no sense of pressure on them at all. You’re also giving everyone access to your very best instructors.
With our technology, all of this is already possible.
Even better, our data shows there’s only a 15 per cent drop-off between levels of attendance at live streamed classes versus live classes, so there’s huge scope for operators to play with the balance – live, live streaming, virtual – to create the perfect schedule that most cost-effectively delivers the experience members want.
If you can live stream between clubs, can you live stream into people’s homes?
Absolutely – and of course, given the success of Peloton, it isn’t too much of a leap to see how all this could translate to the at-home fitness market.
Operators could quite easily partner with a supplier to sell bikes for at-home use – they don’t need to be as robust, or therefore as expensive, as commercial bikes – and live stream classes run by their very best instructors for digital members to do at home. Even if you only had one or two amazing trainers, you could get them into every living room.
It would be a win-win-win scenario: giving consumers the convenience they want, extending the reach (and revenue streams) of a club, and helping the supplier sell more bikes.
You mention digital members. What do you mean by this?
Digital members can be digital-only – people who only ever tap in to your expertise and programming remotely – or hybrid club/digital members, who still want to come to the club for the social aspect, but for whom technology offers the convenience they need to be active more regularly.
The key to digital memberships is the mobile phone – and specifically, an app such as Wexer Mobile. The club remains the hub of expertise, advice, content creation and (where relevant) in-person experiences; the phone provides the means to tap in to all of this away from the club.
CYCLING WILL BE INFLUENCER-LED, AND TECHNOLOGY WILL ENABLE THIS
It’s possible to programme anything into the app, so clubs can remotely deliver highly personalised training plans to groups or individuals. You might want to design cycling conditioning programmes for serious cycling enthusiasts, for example, to complement all the Spinning they’re doing. You could prescribe specific classes you want them to do (in the club or elsewhere via live streaming). You could programme an actual ride for them to go out and do on the road. And all of this can be managed centrally, with the club/trainer setting tasks and monitoring what members have completed. Wexer also syncs with Strava and other GPS-based trackers, so all data is in one place.
The phone is also the driver of personalisation for hybrid members within the club. Imagine walking into a club that, thanks to all the data it’s gathered through its app, knows you, what you like doing, what other associated needs you might have. Add in a few beacons and this then translates into personalised recommendations popping up on your phone as you walk into the club, pointing you towards a cycling class that’s about to start, for example, or a special offer on cycling apparel. It’s a great way to better serve the member and simultaneously drive revenue within the club.
Are there any other cycling-related innovations you’d like to mention?
Until now, most virtual cycling involved footage that the instructor had to design their workouts around. Now, we’re starting to see technology emerging that actively supports and engages the instructor.
Intelligent Cycling’s market-leading technology, available on the Wexer platform, is a great example of this. Instructors go to the portal to design their own programmes – the exact intervals they want to do – with the system then using AI to overlay virtual footage that directly correlates with the intensity of the workout: hit a tough interval, for example, and you’ll see the track suddenly rise ahead of you into an uphill climb.
It puts the instructor right back at the heart of things.
Intelligent Cycling can be used not only as a backdrop to a live class, but can also be saved and scheduled to run as a virtual class at any time. It allows for a more personal approach to virtual fitness, whereby people can choose to do classes designed and recommended by their favourite instructor.
What’s your advice for operators who haven’t yet gone digital – how should they start this process?
Ultimately my advice is: just start. Operators who don’t embrace digital opportunities risk being left behind.
However, don’t just ‘go digital’ without working out how it sits within your overall business strategy. Look at what you want to achieve, then look at what tech is available to enable this.
For example, if your goal is to drive revenue by attracting new members, your first toe in the water might be something like the Wexer Web Player – a password-protected portal that allows people to log in and do virtual classes from home, sampling your offering before they commit.
Digital transformation is about being relevant to every member – and every potential end user
If you want to add value to members using your facilities, enhancing your in-club group exercise offering can be a great idea. There are over 900 classes on our virtual class platform – everything from indoor cycling to HIIT, pilates to pre- and post-natal to golf conditioning – so there’s something for everyone. It’s a highly cost-
effective way to supplement your live classes and deliver a high quality, round-the-clock group exercise timetable.
My main piece of advice is this: technology should never be the strategy in itself. Digital transformation is about being relevant to every member, and every potential end user, by harnessing the delivery channels they choose to use. These channels might be physical or they might be technological, but you need to assess every single option and make the
appropriate choices for your target market.
What do you see as the future of indoor cycling?
There’s a lot of data to show that loyalty within indoor cycling – indeed, within group exercise in general – is to the individual instructor. The future of indoor cycling will therefore be about finding ways to harness the power of influencers – the superstar instructors with large numbers of passionate followers.
That might mean offering virtual classes led by world-leading names in the field of cycling. It might mean operators filming classes led by their own group cycling superstars and live streaming these across their estate, maximising the reach and impact of their best people. It might mean more technology evolving that, like Intelligent Cycling, engages the trainer in the
The details will vary from club to club, but one thing will be consistent: cycling will be influencer-
led, and technology will enable this.