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Findings from a recent survey commissioned by digital agency Accedo show that almost nine out of 10 fitness providers (87.5%) list new technologies, like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) as being important to their operations.
Pointing out that this is considerably higher than responses seen in most other verticals, Accedo Solutions Director, Shawn Zeng sees this acceptance as being part of “the very nature of working out” explaining “fitness classes are popular because consumers get that interaction with an instructor, as well as other participants, and get real-time and valuable feedback on how to improve.
“VR and AR are key to helping providers replicate that online.”
Although impacted by gym closures due to the pandemic, Zeng notes that “some players have actually benefited from the fact that consumers were forced to stay at home” seeing that “the virtual boom” may continue with VR and AR having a role in a post-covid fitness landscape.
Looking into the role these and other technologies may play in keep exercisers engaged.
The Digital Fitness Revolution
Even before Covid-19, many fitness fans were beginning to replace physical gym visits with digital video-on-demand and live streaming solutions. According to Les Mills research, this is particularly true for Millennials and Gen Z, a demographic that represents 80% of all gym goers. Following the widespread disruption of the pandemic, the report shows that these age groups are also the least likely to return to in-person health clubs (61% of Millennials report they are very likely or fairly likely to return to their club post-Covid).
Meanwhile, LEK’s COVID-19: Accelerating the Digital Fitness Boom, shows that consumer investment in digital fitness has increased by 30-35% compared to pre-Covid numbers. Gyms and other fitness providers are now facing a new challenge: welcoming back in-person gym-goers while maintaining some level of digital experience for those at home (or providing it as a complement to the in-studio environment). As this trend continues to grow, the key will be to deliver something that keeps consumers engaged wherever they are training.
Potential of VR and AR
There are a whole host of virtual reality fitness apps emerging, many are gamified and appeal to a whole new demographic embracing the game-like experience. AR can be used to combine real-world with virtual projections, turning your users’ living room into their training facility. This setup avoids some of the common pitfalls reported for VR experiences (such as the dizziness some people experience when wearing headsets) and doesn’t have the same safety concerns (since users stay present in their physical surroundings).
In addition, AR experiences are generally accessible – while often better with a headset, they can be used simply via a mobile or tablet device.
In order for digital experiences to truly resonate with consumers, they need to be successful in delivering elements of the in-club environments to the privacy of a user’s home. VR and AR will play a massive role in that, but I believe that offerings will have to become even more integrated and smarter. We have already seen a massive boom for companies selling at-home workout equipment, such as Peloton, Mirror and Tonal. While these players are looking to provide a full solution from software to hardware, the cost to entry is extremely high.
However, by leveraging a mixture of Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence (AI) in combination with the user’s existing everyday equipment, gyms and other fitness providers could offer something just as compelling at a much lower cost.
This could involve an augmented reality (holographic) trainer in the user’s living room showing them how to perform the exercises. A conventional phone or laptop camera could then be leveraged to capture movements, while AI and Machine Learning technologies could be used to analyse things like posture, movements, and intervals. If the user has a wearable fitness device, then it could also be integrated to monitor their status and make suggestions or adjust the training.
For example, if the wearable tracks heart rate, it can adjust to ensure it stays within the right zones depending on the type of exercise and aim (cardio, fat burning etc).
All of this data can then be analyzed in real-time to provide valuable data and feedback, as well as adjusting the training content to suit the individual. This approach could be integrated with both live and video-on-demand (VOD) content to create a bespoke and personalised experience for the user.
The Future of Fitness
Zeng concludes “I believe that the future of fitness will be a hybrid of both in-person and digital experiences. While many consumers are already flocking back to gyms, others have discovered a new way to exercise and some will want to take a hybrid approach.
“Fitness providers need to look at ways to engage all of these customers and Extended Reality has the potential to help them bridge the gap.”
Click here to read Les Mills research on Millennials and Gen Z.
Click here to view LEK’s COVID-19: Accelerating the Digital Fitness Boom report.
Image: Les Mills BODYCOMBAT™ featuring as a VR gaming app on the Quest Platform.
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