The rise of fitness technology

There’s a gadget for every fitness need, all designed to help motivate you and track and measure your progress.

There’s a gadget for every fitness need, all designed to help motivate you and track and measure your progress.

We live in a world dominated by technology. Now ingrained in most aspects of our daily lives, it’s no wonder it has become an integral part of our exercise regimen. 

Fitness technology has become a boom industry. The growth of the market could not come at a better time,  with  Australia experiencing an obesity epidemic.

About 60 per cent of the population is either overweight or obese, which includes more than 12 million adults and one in four children.

Some say fitness technology has revolutionised the health and fitness industry. Initially, this technology was aimed at fitness fanatics and people passionate about exercise.

However, now even occasional runners or gym-goers can incorporate technology into their workouts.

Health and wellness co-ordinator at Hawthorn Aquatic and Leisure Centre James Robortella believes fitness technology is suitable for everyone.

“Fitness technology results in more interaction, more information and better understanding for all levels of the fitness world from participants to professionals,” he says.

There is a lot to choose from, with gadgets and phone apps that measure and chart activity and progress, some specifically for exercises such as running, cycling and swimming.

Runners wear BodyMedia monitoring equipment.
Runners wear BodyMedia monitoring equipment.

Two years ago, global market research company Cint was commissioned by Life Fitness, which makes home and commercial gym equipment,  to see if fitness technology supported a better workout.

Cint conducted 745 online interviews with young people aged 18 to 30 who exercised two times or more a week. The participants were from seven different countries including Australia.

The survey found 72 per cent of respondents used some form of technology during their workout and believed technology helped them achieve their fitness goals.

Support for training

Norman Afif and Mathew Scerri both use fitness technology to support their exercise. Afif runs with the Tom Tom fitness watch, while Scerri uses the Nike app on his phone.

“I am currently training for the Melbourne half marathon. Every time I go for a run, I wear the Tom Tom Runner watch. I find the device to be extremely useful because it measures distance travelled and shows your exact route, through its GPS co-ordinates system,” Afif says.

Scerri found his phone app kept him going.

“I have used the Nike app with the attachment that fits in your shoe. The app is a great motivational tool. Towards the end of every run, I would be verbally told the amount of distance remaining,” Scerri says.

However, Robortella says while the technology can be a good motivator, the onus is still on the individual to stick to their fitness goals.

“As much as technology will allow for improved performance, the hard work has to be done by the participant and this is never something that can be substituted,” he says.

Over the years, fitness technology has become increasingly complex and sophisticated. Fitness gadgets are no longer limited to measuring heart rate, distance travelled and calories burnt.

A basic fitness band can now provide all of this information, as well as measure body temperature and sleep activity.

Ralph-Lauren-Polo-Tech
Ralph Lauren’s Polo Tech Shirt.

Last week, Apple launched its new smartwatch, a comprehensive fitness device that integrates music, apps and messaging. At this year’s US Open, fashion label Ralph Lauren also unveiled the Polo Tech Shirt, apparel that tracks a range of biometric data and streams it to your smart phone or tablet.

With so many gadgets in the fitness technology market, its not surprising many people find the abundance of technology overwhelming. A significant amount of research is required in order to save money and select the best device. (See reviews of some popular products at end of article.)

Workout details can also be shared with  friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter. Most fitness technology apps require social media to create an account.

Sharing success on social media

Social media can help maintain an active support group, which is an important part of preserving an active and healthy lifestyle. Friends are able to view each other’s fitness progress and provide positive encouragement.

After receiving positive feedback on social media from friends and family, an individual is more likely to stick to their exercise plans because there is a greater shared sense of accountability.

Manager of Kew Recreation Centre Nathan Costin says that the incorporation of social media helps connect people.

It's easy to share your progress on social media.
It’s easy to share your progress on social media.

“I think a lot of fitness technology’s popularity has to do with the fact that you can share your results on social media. You can actively track your progress and upload it on Facebook as a form of motivation for yourself and to possibly inspire others,” he says.

However, Costin suggests the inclusion of social media can also hinder exercise.

“The integration of social media in fitness technology can serve as a distraction and encourage self-obsession.”

The privacy of information is another concern associated with fitness technology. Some fitness products connect to company data archives or storage facilities like the Apple iCloud. When information from a fitness device is entered into these systems, the user no longer owns or is able to control their data.

Personal health and medical information can then be used for commercial purposes or sold onto independent third parties. The US Federal Trade Commission found that 12 health and fitness apps shared user data with 76 third parties, including names, email addresses and location details.

Some believe fitness technology can be both a blessing and a curse. Fitness gadgets can provide a sense of motivation and guidance to someone wanting to improve their health, like losing weight or improving aerobic capacity.

However, fitness technology devices can be difficult to operate and data obtained might seem obscure. There is also the privacy issue.

In coming years, fitness technology is expected to evolve and provide a greater degree of feedback.

Recently, YMCA gyms across the state have adopted Greenedesk, software that allows gym instructors and personal trainers to develop a profile of every member through an evaluation and physical assessment.

Through this software, each member is able to set themselves goals and track their own progress.

So whether you want to invite technology to your workout or not, fitness technology is here to stay.

A gadget for every sporting need

Jack Lacy road tests some of the most popular fitness gadgets on the market.

fuelbandThe Nike FuelBand is an activity tracker that contains motion sensors that monitor your movement throughout the day, including the number of steps made and energy burned. It is easy to wear, is partially water resistant and contains Bluetooth technology. However, the Fuelband is expensive (up to $180) and is occasionally inaccurate (greatly underestimating step count).

tomtom-runner-cardioThere are high tech GPS watches, the most notable example being the Tom Tom Runner.  The smartwatch is able to measure heart rate by using its own LED sensors, has its own custom targets and allows the user to race against their past performances. However, similarly to the Nike FuelBand, the Tom Tom Runner is pricey (upwards of $200) and can be difficult to operate due to its highly advanced GPS system.

sixpackabsTwo of the most popular fitness applications released this year are Runtastic’s Six Pack Abs and Rittr Labs’ Push-Ups. Six Pack Abs features 20 core-strengthening exercises that are demonstrated by an avatar to prevent injury, while Push-Upscontains 36 exercises and 13 set workouts. Despite the popularity of these apps, there are some limitations. Six Pack Abs requires a $5 upgrade to unlock all of the features, while the Push-Ups app is prone to crashing when trying to access specific workout programs.

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