The Future of Fitness Tech Brings Personal Training to a Screen Near You
When we first called the digital fitness boom back in 2018, there were only a few key brands—Peloton, AKT, Aaptiv—offering workout classes you could stream from your phone, computer, or connected device. But now, nearly every major player in the industry’s found ways to take their workouts online, thanks in no small part to the pandemic. As a result, the third wave of digital fitness is officially surging. And 2022 will see the introduction of new technology that’ll allow you to finally replicate the hands-on experience of working out with a trainer IRL—but on your own, from the comfort of your home. Yep, prepare for form cues and technique tweaks to come through a screen near you via artificial intelligence (AI) programmed into smart, interactive fitness equipment, as well as your phone.
This is especially good news for anyone who wants more guidance than follow-along classes afford and misses getting personalized feedback from fitness pros at their gym or studio—but isn’t ready to head back to brick-and-mortar spots quite yet (or ever). Sound familiar? Know you’re not alone. "I think people are starting to be more aware that it’s very hard to find a one-size-fits-all [fitness] product,” says Asaf Avidan Antonir, co-founder of Onyx, a digital personal-training platform that launched in 2020. So, in order to achieve your unique fitness goals, “it’s becoming even more important to have an experience that is really tailored to your own performance abilities,” he says.
In the past, the only way to get this type of customized coaching was by booking individual sessions with a personal trainer. Typically, this would be done in person, over video calls, or via interactive devices like MIRROR: In 2019, the connected fitness system that looks like a full-length mirror (hence the name) started offering members live, remote personal training sessions with its instructors using the two-way audio and cameras built into its hardware. (Think: a really elevated Zoom workout.) But developments in AI and machine learning are bringing real-time form tracking to at-home equipment so you can enjoy a similar level of attention—without a trainer needing to be present.
Developments in AI and machine learning are bringing real-time form tracking to at-home equipment so you can enjoy a personalized level of attention—without a trainer needing to be present.
All this magic happens by means of a combo of cameras and sensors that are able to monitor your movements. (Fancy, huh?) These smart machines are programmed to recognize common incorrect movement patterns like arching your back when lifting a weight or pushing your knees out over your toes in a squat. Then they’ll offer users adjustments the same way a trainer would.
Early adopters of this tech include Tempo, a connected device that consists of a free-standing locker that houses weights with a large screen on the front. It’s both camera-enabled to provide form feedback—by way of 3D light-pulse sensors that track the user’s motion 30 times every second—and powered by AI technology that allows it to suggest the proper weights for different exercises.
In the last two years, the brand’s seen a 1,000 percent increase in sales and closed a $220 million Series C funding round to keep up with demand. Now Tempo aims to reach more people with the release of a less expensive product in 2022: Its new “Move” system ($395 plus a $39 monthly membership fee) houses a full set of weights within a low, decorative cabinet and syncs with your iPhone or TV to deliver the same type of form tracking and personalized workout recommendations as the brand’s original equipment, at a sixth of the price.
Also jumping on the AI bandwagon: CLMBR, an at-home climbing machine that launched in October, plans to roll out AI-led form-tracking in its equipment in the next few months. And the aforementioned MIRROR waded into this space in November with the launch of its connected dumbbells and ankle weights. These accessories pair with the device to provide rep tracking, form correction, and weight recommendations.
And then there’s the fitness industry’s latest unicorn Tonal, a connected digital weight machine that launched in 2018. Last year, Tonal introduced a “form feedback” function, which uses built-in sensors to guide movement and deliver on-screen adjustments to your technique. In 2021, the brand raised $250 million—including investments from big-name backers like professional athletes Lebron James, Serena Williams, and Sue Bird. Next year, the company plans to open a new production studio in New York (in addition to the one it currently has in Los Angeles), and will continue to expand its live and on-demand offerings by hiring more coaches and leveraging its current roster for performance-specific training. (Tennis lessons with Williams, may we suggest?)
While the brands discussed above are integrating form-tracking tech into their devices, others are focused on making it possible for users to enjoy the same experience with only a phone, an Internet connection, and a few feet of floor space. Onyx, for example, uses AI to turn your iPhone camera into a 3D motion tracker and recently relaunched its form-tracking iPhone app with no subscription fee. Next year, the platform plans to provide more detailed metrics so users can better monitor their progress over time.
Similarly, CoPilot (formerly DeltaTrainer) uses both motion-tracking tech and a live trainer to offer you unlimited customized coaching for $99 per month; the app connects to your smartwatch to capture your movements and deliver intel to your trainer so it can offer live feedback. In May, the brand announced that it would be using the $3.3 million it raised in seed funding to grow its team, hire more trainers, and acquire new users in the coming year.
“Our goal is to take the guesswork out of working out.” Mecayla Froerer, director of training at iFit
What’s more, thanks to the AI-driven movement-monitoring capabilities being built into your phone, fitness tracker, or larger connected devices, brands are also now able to use individualized data to create workouts that are truly tailored to you. In 2021, fitness brand iFit launched “ActivePulse” in its connected treadmills; this feature tracks users’ heart rates and uses this information to automatically adjust the intensity of a workout while it’s happening, then suggests future workouts based on your performance. And iFit plans to add ActivePulse to its bikes, ellipticals, and rowers, too, so you can get your AI-powered cardio workout through whichever machine you prefer. “Our goal is to take the guesswork out of working out,” says Mecayla Froerer, the brand’s director of training.
Then there’s Kemtai, an AI-driven digital fitness platform you can access via phone or laptop with a monthly subscription, which now offers a “workout wizard” function that uses form-tracking data from your computer camera to draw from its library of thousands of moves in order to program a personalized workout based on your ability, time constraints, and goals. As an added layer, the app also uses trainers of varying body types, so you can follow along with someone who looks—and moves—more like you.
Finally, over at Future—a $150-a-month personal training app has built the largest team of full-time fitness coaches in the US (after the military)—we can expect to see a growing group of coaches and more technological expansion come 2022. "One-on-one coaching will be the biggest trend in connected fitness next year, adding personalization to equipment, wearables, and the overall digital fitness experience," says Rishi Mandal, the brand's co-founder and CEO.
All of this, it seems, is just the beginning. "Every project we work on with our brands, one of the top priorities for product owners is personalization,” says Well+Good Wellness Trends Advisor Mohammed Iqbal, CEO of SweatWorks, which helps develop fitness technology for companies like Equinox, Beachbody, Clmbr, CityRow, AARMY, and Strava. “This is a three-to-five year trend, and it’s starting to happen now."
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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Tempo Move Lifestyle