As the digital world grows, the interconnectivity between technology and other areas of our day to day life are increasing. Fitness was one of the earliest areas to see breakout success in the technology space. From what started with the family fun fitness games of the Wii, to the modern day boom of cloud-connected workout equipment, the ways in which we can keep fit and healthy are constantly evolving.
One of the first types of exercise focused games which entered the mainstream discussion on the topic was Dance Dance Revolution which took over arcades all across the world from 1989. This was one of the early examples which mixed the medium of video games technology with the added benefit of fitness. Whilst this technology spread through arcade halls, it took quite a few years for the same type of experience to break into the home.
At the end of 2006, Nintendo introduced to the world the first mainstream offering to gamify the exercising experience, the Nintendo Wii. This console utilised the technology of motion controls to allow the users to be able to exercise whilst they play the game. This helped advertise this experience to families, thus driving up sales of the console and the bundled game to many households. Suddenly videos and marketing regarding the Wii were all over the media, cementing itself as a cultural staple to many homes at the time.
This offering of combining the gaming medium with the focus on fitness is commonly referred to as Exergaming, which saw a monstrous growth in the following years of the release of the Wii, with fitness focused games added to the available games on the system. Even launching added peripherals to cater to this growing audience, with the release of the Wii Fit balance board only a year later in 2007. This peripheral saw its own upgrades through the lifespan of the system, releasing the Wii Fit plus in 2009.
It wasn’t just through the medium of gaming in which we witnessed the growth of more technology assisted fitness equipment. Wearables have also seen their growth follow the trend Exergaming had been following. Growing up, the first experience of wearables in which I was introduced to was that of the pedometer. This device counted the amount of steps you had done and in the UK was given out for free in cereal boxes and the like to encourage the population to get more active. Whilst this type of technology did see an eventual rise in the amount of people using it to get active and keep track of it, the technology itself was quite basic and not reflective of what was to come.
The first digitally connected smartwatch I got my hands on was the original Pebble watch which got its rise through Kickstarter in 2012. This device bundled the idea of the pedometer while also working as a place to display notifications which came on the phone. This was an insight into the direction in which more smart wearables will go, focusing on a ‘phone first’ approach to their development. Whilst when compared to the more modern smart watches we are used to these days the features looked quite lacking, but for the time it was a showcase of the possibilities in which this technology could go down.
On the market today?
With that whistle stop tour around the history of computer aided workout equipment, it’s important to see how it influenced the technology we have today. Following on from the aforementioned points, smart watches have become a near staple to modern life, evolving from the humble beginnings of merely acting as a way to view notifications and track steps, to independent pieces of technology themselves, capable of running many different apps which people can develop for the technology.
Focusing on the fitness side of this type of technology, Fitbit (which coincidentally purchased the Pebble assets mentioned earlier) has defined itself within the fitness wearables market as an industry leader, offering features like blood oxygen tracking, ECG readers, heart rate tracking and stress level management. With this growth many competitors have also come to the market offering a similar selection of features at a range of prices. This increased level of health feedback and information users can get from using this kind of technology has led to an increase in more health conscious people, being able to use this technology to tailor their lifestyle and exercise to better achieve their fitness goals.
As the technology behind GPS continues to improve, the more wide scale adoption of activity location trackers have grown. Whether it be for rowers, cyclers or runners, the ability to track and share your routes has always been an appeal, the added boost to community engagement in these activities are a driving factor in keeping people inspired to keep on exercising, benefiting the companies and the public’s health.
One of the most visible growths throughout the digitisied fitness world is the growth of use and variety of smart exercise machines. Whilst equipment like treadmills, exercise bikes or rowing machines have been a part of the home gym ecosystem for a while now, the complexity of these machines were usually tied to the physical performance of the machine. Nowadays, with better connected internet around, and more people spending time at home through the pandemic, these machines offer not only the ability to exercise with them, but to also get guided classes, real-time feedback and a more unique experience.
With the guided classes part of this technology, this has enabled the selling of a service alongside the equipment. This has the added benefit of giving more value to the product for the user by being able to offer the experience of an in-person exercise class from the comfort of your own home. Whilst the mainstream market has mainly adopted these types of classes for the more traditional machines like treadmills or running machines, the future for this technology in enabling a more complete home gym set-up is bright.
With the growth of data analysis we have seen in the past decade, many applications have been found to deliver accurate feedback based on the raw data of your exercises. In competitive sport, data-driven performance feedback is crucial in developing the athlete to the top of their sport. This data can be gathered by staff tasked with getting all the crucial information about the athlete, and directly through the use of the aforementioned wearables to get a wide selection of data to perform analysis on.
There are a wide selection of applications in which this data collected can be used for including: injury tracking and valuation; player valuations; scouting new players and assisting sports betting.
Looking at injury tracking now, wearables can take neuromuscular readings to be able to gain a more complete understanding of an athlete’s body and can be used to track the progression of the healing from an injury. This data can then be used to tailor training, or therapeutic regimes to be able to lead to a more complete recovery.
What could the future hold?
As the adoption of more computer aided workout equipment becomes more mainstream, the breadth of the applications they can provide will grow. It feels like the smartwatch market is beginning to reach its peak, so we should all keep a careful look at the industry to see what the next big innovation within this space is.
With the big advancements in big data we may start to see professional sports performance tracking bring itself to the average user. Offering a more personalised home workout could lead to a better and more complete understanding of how their body works and responds to workouts.
In conclusion, the future’s looking bright in the digital fitness industry. As innovation continues, the price of entry into all of these types of technology will reduce, meaning a wider audience will have access to use and develop with these solutions. The strive towards a greater level of health and fitness within the general population can only improve all of our lives.
Nathaniel is a Web Design Executive who also writes content on technology and loves spending his days researching and building new projects, and generally complaining about new trends.