From newer companies like Fitbit to industry veterans like Garmin, wearable makers have been rocking the fitness industry. Now, with tech giants like Samsung, Apple, and even a variety of startups selling their own wearable fitness technology, it begs the question: How can gyms and group fitness instructors use this to their advantage?
“As trainers, coaches, and fitness specialists, we tend to shun wearables because we’re weary of their accuracy and metrics or we’re under the impression they aren’t adding value,” says Cody Carter, a performance specialist at EXOS. And that’s not a completely unjustified belief.
The University of Pittsburgh recently finished a study on how wearables affect long-term weight loss. They analyzed two randomized groups for two years. After six months, one group was given wearables and the other was asked to self-monitor diet and exercise. Both groups experienced weight loss, but the group that used wearables lost less weight than the group that didn’t use wearables.
However, all physical activity and training was self-led. Participants weren’t taught how to measure data from their wearables or use it to adjust and inform their workouts for better results. They were simply given a device and asked to meet an exercise quota, and that’s the problem.
To see the true impact of wearables, people have to know how to interpret the information and what to do with it. That’s where trainers and coaches can make a difference. In one study from Indiana University, 90 percent of participants said even though both their activity tracker and their coach were helpful over a 10-week training period, it was the combination of both that helped them maintain their goals over time.
As more research comes to light, we’re entering a phase in the health and performance industries where technology and people have to find ways to work together. When fitness professionals embrace wearables and use data to their advantage, it can improve business and help more people meet their goals.
Here’s how to harness three benefits of wearable fitness technology for group fitness training:
Wearables can make group fitness more personal.
Group exercise classes are attractive because there’s a sense of a common struggle. The only thing missing is a feeling of personalization.
“If you don’t organize the session well, people are going to notice when the group gets too big,” says Carter. It becomes hard to control intensity, which can make the workout too easy for some, resulting in boredom and making clients less likely to return.
Wearables help trainers and coaches measure the functional states of a client’s mechanical, neurological, metabolic, and psychological systems. “By evaluating any of the four categories on a regular basis, you can tell when it’s appropriate to push a person more,” says Carter.
Orangetheory Fitness is taking this premise mainstream by offering members heart rate monitors. Instructors can then monitor intensity and give tailored advice during classes. Members can download an app to see their performance stats and set goals. It’s this combination of data and personal coaching that makes it a step up from traditional group exercise classes.
By gathering data, you can make decisions based on each client’s individual baseline, stress loads, and functional states. You can design higher-quality classes that allow for personalization even when multiple clients are counting on you for a good workout.
“I think if a wearable can be our assistant coach, that can be a game changer,” says Carter.
Wearables can make health goals more attainable.
For every health and performance goal, there are metrics to measure it. “As coaches, we can help clients identify at least one thing on their wearable that’s supporting that goal,” says Carter.
For example, say a client wants to lose weight so they can be more active with their kids. “You might tell them to pay attention to sleep quantity and quality so they can recover better and make more nutritious decisions,” he says.
By providing a metric to focus on, you give your client a concrete way to engage with their goal even after leaving 6:30 spin class. Their goal goes from being a grand idea to feeling achievable through smaller, more sustainable goals that will help them achieve their larger goal over time. And because you’re tracking their progress, they’ll be more likely to come back week after week.
The caveat is you must have a plan. “You can’t have your group show up one day and say, ‘Hey, those of you using wearables, let me see how well you slept last night’,” explains Carter. “That’s not going to fly. You have to be very careful how you roll it out and what the plan is.” (To learn more about creating a plan, check out our course on wearables and group exercise.)
Wearables can help minimize overtraining and injury risk.
“The goal of training is to apply a stimulus so the body will adapt and recover and get stronger and better,” says Carter. With more data to indicate when the stress loads you’re putting on a client are either too much or not enough, you can make more informed decisions to help them train harder and recover better.
Data is especially helpful when it comes to preventing injuries, aches, and pains, which are all common causes for clients falling short of their goals. “Because we’re tracking everything through stress loads and monitoring their fatigue, we’re mitigating their aches and pains,” says Carter
So, whether it’s a faster race time, shedding pounds, gaining muscle, or simply wanting to move more and stress less, wearables and data can help prevent roadblocks that stand in the way of your clients’ success. We just have to start seeing wearables as more than step-counting devices.
One thing that’s clear: wearable fitness technology isn’t going anywhere. “Wearable fitness devices are only going to get more accurate and measure more things,” says Carter. Rather than thinking in terms of coaches versus wearables, let’s think about how we can join forces to help more people more effectively.
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