Gyms bet on equipment that can help keep itself healthy

  • TECH
  • Sunday, 15 May 2016

Evolving gyms: As Life Fitness

That feeling when you arrive at the gym only to find your favorite elliptical out of service: What if we could prevent that?

Rosemont, Ill.,-based Life Fitness says it has brought the connectivity of the Internet of Things to gyms with its new remote monitoring service.

The company recently rolled out LFconnect Protect to more than 10,600 hotels, residential exercise rooms and fitness clubs using its premium lines of machines.

The service attempts to minimize machine downtime by timing repairs before issues become problematic. It also helps gyms plan future purchases based on the machines exercisers use most.

And Life Fitness is looking at other ways of using data to help gyms better connect and advertise to customers.

With the product, machines run a constant diagnostic check of sorts. Life Fitness employees can remotely monitor equipment error codes related to motor controllers or connectivity, as well as monitor trends and equipment stress to predict when gyms should fix or replace machines.

"They can look at information in terms of how much distance is being accumulated on these machines, how many hours people are using it, how many workouts are being performed on the machine," said Amad Amin, senior digital product manager at Life Fitness.

The service is free for gyms that own certain types of Life Fitness high-end cardio machines.

As Life Fitness technology develops, the company said it could one day better help gyms use data to market to its customers. Machines, for instance, might be able to recognize that an exerciser was a pre-spring breaker on the market for fat-burning shakes or a personal training session.

"Every club is a business of its own; they have other products and services they're offering," Amin said. "So what kind of insights can we help our club owners, our customers, decipher for this equipment and help them with some type of modeling for how to sell other services they offer within the facility?"

The Illinois Valley YMCA in Peru, Ill., which with a nearby sister facility has 9,000 members, tested LFconnect Protect before it rolled out to all customers. Sixteen of the facility's 100 cardio machines run LFconnect Protect, and the YMCA branch's chief operating officer, Mike Wallaert, said the product has kept machines from having problems.

"If somebody's favorite machine is down, it's not really good for our own business," he said.

He said the connected machines, which also offer consoles that let customers run virtual race courses or access the internet, might one day help the facility target advertising for products or classes to customers.

Using sensors for preventive maintenance is a trend that's been seen in airplanes or oil pipelines, said Angela McIntyre, a research director for Gartner, an information technology research and advisory company. But businesses need to assess whether one-off repairs are worth it to their bottom line.

"Is it more cost-effective to have a person come around and fix one piece of equipment when it needs it, or more cost-effective to go and do an annual or quarterly tune-up of every piece of equipment?"

Figuring out when equipment needs repair is just one of the ways gyms are becoming increasingly connected. Life Fitness also offers an app, LFconnect, that allows patrons to connect with the company's equipment as well as set goals and track workouts outside the gym.

That's part of a growing trend, McIntyre notes.

"Now, with activity trackers and smartwatches and the gym apps, they can get all that information about what a member does wherever they are," McIntyre said. — Chicago Tribune/Tribune Information Services

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