Category Archives: Fitness & Training

Fitness Club Cardio and Training Management Software – Part I

I’m in the process of summarizing and reviewing information on group cardio monitoring and training management solutions for fitness clubs.  There are a few particular features and feature categories that I’m focusing on (fitness analytics and integrations / API maturity being two of them) but I’m taking a broad look at them.  Here’s the list of the solutions I’m looking at:

Virtuagym

Accuro

Fitmetrix

Polar Club

Fitconnect

Onefitstop

Wexer

Trainerize

Fitcloudconnect

Pear

Iqniter

Myzone

Heartech

PerformanceIQ

Selfloops

Whew, that’s a longer list than I expected.   This post is just Part I of a multi-part series (how many parts?  I don’t know yet).   Obviously each of these companies comes to the market with a slightly different angle so I’ll be drawing out the differences and similarities.  If you are a club owner and want to dig into more detail on any areas in particular, email me or reach out on LinkedIn or Twitter to learn more.

 

Quantified Self Expo, Part II

Here’s my second installment from the Quantified Self Expo in San Francisco over the weekend.   It’s too bad I have other work to do because I could write about this all day.

1. Vinod Khosla – The famous Silicon Valley investor spoke about the rise of algorithms as a contributor to our health care and their ability to help doctors and other caregivers deal with the massive quantity of data becoming available.  Psychiatry was a field he picked on as having a horrible model of using very small data sets (self-reported by the patient, no less) to make important decisions.  This is changing fast.  He commented that the FDA has been fairly progressive in trying to move faster on some of the new technologies, citing the example of AliveCor, which got approval within 6 months for its mobile ECG app.  He also referred to a meta-study of medical publications which found that fully half of them contain erroneous results – something that big data and artificial intelligence ought to help fix.  Bryce Roberts, in his Q&A with Tim Chang, seemed to lean more toward my own view of wearables + analytics + big data, saying that there would be a subversive (I love that word…) aspect to how it affects health care and the medical establishment.

 

2. In my first installment I mentioned Tim Chang of Mayfield Ventures.  He made several other good points about the development process, the most important of which was that you need a really strong VP of Systems engineering to ride herd over the hardware, firmware, and web service guys who want to point the finger at each other.  One idea he discussed was that of giving away the device and selling the data services around it.  I absolutely believe this is the future for a whole host of reasons.  As Bryce Roberts pointed out, it is very hard for hardware companies to give up the device revenue and make this jump.  I believe there is an opportunity for a middle-man to step in and offer up the data services and coaching around the idea of free devices with a monthly coaching commitment.

 

4. DataSense – There has been much talk about the need to aggregate and make sense of data, and Intel’s Research Lab cooked up a web service to do just that.  There is nothing particularly health focused about it, it’s really a very generic tool for pulling data together and displaying it in creative ways, but they happen to have chosen a few health trackers to start with.  I’m playing with a beta version now.   My favorite feature was the super intuitive slider for adjusting the time-binning of data so that you could smooth out noisy looking graphs.  Any former acoustician/signal processing buff has to love that.

 

5. Inside Tracker – a more user friendly and advanced form of blood testing than you might have used in the past (say SpectraCell), with more accurate reference ranges for values (like hormone levels) based on your age and activity and specific guidance on foods that can help correct imbalances.   Interestingly, during a presentation on the product Gil Blander pointed out that they sometimes end up telling customers to stop taking supplements, because they are overdosing on specific nutrients.

 

6. uBiome – there’s been a lot of focus in the last few years on the microbiome (that collection of bacteria in your gut and other places on the body) and the importance of keeping it healthy.  We’re now getting the ability to measure and catalog these bacteria, although when I spoke to Alexandra Carmichael she admitted that the science on this is still very early on this, and the ability to tailor behavior and diet in a deterministic way with these data is limited.  uBiome will tell you how your biome looks compared to others with particular lifestyle or dietary habits (Vegans, Paleos, etc.), which I think this is pretty cool.  As Khosla pointed out during his talk, much of your serotonin comes from your gut, so what happens there is pretty important to mental health.

 

I have a few specific posts in the queue following up on some of these themes, it was a great expo and I am already looking forward to next year.

Quantified Self Expo, Part I

My notes from the Quantified Self expo in San Francisco will require two posts, so here’s Part I, with an emphasis on topics that might be of interest to trainers, fitness center managers, and coaches:

1. Tim Chang of Mayfield presented lessons learned from his experience as an early investor in Basis, since acquired by Intel.  I could write a whole post on the topics Tim mentioned but I’ll first share two things stood out at me.  One was his focus on (essentially) the very same behavioral feedback loop that I’ve written about before – taking data and aggregating it across devices and activity areas to drive insight, then modifying behavior.  The other was his view that even as we get more machine learning and more data, there will always be a need for a human somewhere in that loop to help the consumer.  I think this is where personal trainers and coaches can play a much bigger role in what is essentially the health care system, and they can make an impact at much lower cost than hospital networks and big pharma.
2. Spire – this is a small device that goes inside the waist of your pants and measures your breathing rate.  I’ve long been interested in breathing patterns and this device has a nice design that I can imagine wearing all day.  Although it is not quite ready for prime time when it comes to exercise and training, due mainly to the motions and jarring of movement, it could be very useful in every day settings where you want to maintain a peaceful, present mind, such as meetings, stressful conversations, sitting in traffic, etc.  The app has built in reminders and encouragement to help guide you towards better breathing.
3. Sleep trackers – Sleep tracking is all the rage, for good reasons.  A lot has been written about the wrist worn devices (Basis seems to be the leader in this category) but I much prefer not to wear a watch to bed.  Beddit and emfit both have sleep trackers that slide under the sheet and monitor your movement, HR, respiration rate and HRV through the night.  Beddit seems to be a slightly slicker design, it’s a bit smaller and it interfaces to the smartphone over Bluetooth.  The app has an alarm function that will wake you at the optimal time.  It’s easy to travel with as well, for all you road warriors out there.  emfit is very similar, but without a smartphone in the loop (and without the associated alarm functionality).  It connects directly to the cloud over WiFi in your home.  I can see benefits to each approach so it’s nice to see them both on the market.
4. Genetrainer – Ralph Pethica spoke about the work they’ve done in relating your DNA to your athletic propensities.  Of particular interest is the ability to know what type of training you might most respond to.  Anyone who has struggled to dial in their training program might find some answers in their DNA.  This is a very active field of study, as Ralph scrolled through the backlog list of specific genes that he is analyzing to see if they matter to some athletic parameters.  One of the coolest things about this expo was talking to the folks with their sleeves rolled up doing research – this is definitely not a CES like show where, for the most part, everything is fully baked and ready for the masses.
5.  Body x Labs – they are building a software platform to do full 3D body scanning via commercial devices.  I can see so many applications for this, from motion analysis (golf swing, running gait) to bodybuilding (muscle growth, fat loss) to selling clothing (the perfect fit, every time, or better yet, custom clothing).
Overall there are a lot of tools – both devices and services – that are rapidly expanding the opportunities for knowledgeable experts to build business models and new services around.  If you are serious about training people and want to stay relevant and increase your value over the long term, you owe it to yourself to think about how to take advantage of these capabilities.
In my next installment I’ll share thoughts on other devices and presentations that are less oriented toward trainers and more toward self-monitoring or more health-care related aspects of the show.

 

Feedback Loops and Fit-Tech Framework

With so many product launches and so much investment activity in the digital health & fitness arena it helps to have a framework for understanding the meaning of it all.  This post is the first in a series in which I’ll share the frameworks I use, with a few notes on some of the companies I see doing really interesting work across the entire ecosystem.

I always start by considering any new product or technology with a behavioral emphasis.  At the end of the day, it’s consumer/patient/athlete behavior that really matters when we talk about improving health, reducing costs, or improving performance.  I have another framework to look at things from a technology stack perspective which I’ll share in the next installment.

I’ve run this simple diagram by countless people, inside and outside the fitness-tech arena, and everyone seems to get it right away, so it’s been useful for me.  It’s simple, and maybe obvious, but I always find it worth stating.

Feedback_Loop

This picture is informed more by my background as a coach, athlete, and lifestyle design enthusiast than by any market study or tech trends.    The Action step is where the rubber meets the road, but it’s hard, complicated, and can take a long time to move the needle.  It’s also influenced by many factors beyond the fitness or health care arena.

A lot has been written about wearables, so I won’t say much about the data collection step.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it’s really not the things that are interesting but the data they provide and the services they enable.

When I consider Expertise + Analytics box I’m including machines & people.   Some users are curious and enthusiastic enough to dig into physiology and learn how to interpret their own data, but that’s a fraction of the fraction of people who actually keep using their wearables (the percentage may be high, or maybe not), so the emphasis here needs to be on professional service providers of one sort or another.   IBM’s Watson and health focused providers like Vivametrica, and even more niche companies analyzing specific data sets like power data from bicycles are all contributors to the more algorithmic, machine based contribution the to this arena.

Finally, motivation is critical and many social, financial, mental health and other factors play into this.  It’s surely the hardest nut to crack and it’s also where a lot of the personalization of health care comes into play.   Some of the most interesting apps focus in this area so I’ll devote a whole post to this soon.  The opportunity for fitness clubs and other activity-related social groups to contribute here and leverage the technologies already on the market is substantial, and I believe still vastly underutilized.

As always, I welcome your comments and feedback via email or the comments section.  Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn to make sure you get all the updates to the blog and subsequent articles in the series.

 

 

Power measurement for runners

I still remember when a little German company called SRM came out with this ghetto looking crankset that measured power on a bicycle.   It was so novel even some expert physiologists wondered what you’d do with the data.  Back then heart rate, cadence and speed were considered the benchmarks of training data and even the measurement of those was not widely adopted, never mind the training methods and protocols to get the most out of them.  Fast forward a couple of decades, and no serious cyclist would consider training without power.  Even the spin bikes at my local YMCA feature a power meter (calibration questions aside), and we are working on programs to utilize these data more comprehensively so that even casual riders can maximize their workout value and track their progress.  Mainstream companies like Garmin and Polar have joined and been driving forces in the the ecosystem around cycling power measurement.

Of course bicycles lend themselves to the instrumentation that provide power, but other sports not so much.  Enter Stryd.  They have a campaign on Kickstarter to fund a power meter for runners.  This could be huge – the ability to quantify not the runner’s speed or exertion, but the actual rate of work output – accounting for gradient, wind, etc.  Given that I spend more time running than cycling these days, I just might have to get in on the campaign and be an early adopter.

More broadly I think this points to the ongoing desire to quantify health & fitness activities, and just like with cycling it will spawn a new generation of data applications and experts to make sense of it all.  The forward thinking fitness businesses will be ready to capitalize on this when it goes mainstream.

You can learn more at their official website.