SALT LAKE CITY — The stationary bicycle first appeared in the late 1700s. Weight lifting became an Olympic sport in 1896 but its origins are much older. And exercise was a thing for ancient Greeks over two millennia ago.
And while fad and fashion have driven numerous fluctuations in consumer interest in exercise, a current tidal wave of fitness-focused products is generating big interest — and bigger revenues — thanks in large part to a single new addition that’s already earned our collective adoration.
Sure, big screen TVs have plastered the walls in health clubs and fitness centers for years, and smaller screens have long been attached to cardio equipment, providing info like speed and duration for those walking, stepping or pedaling their way to better health.
But back in 2014, Silicon Valley startup Peloton upped the ante by releasing a product that married a smart screen that features exclusive streaming content to a stationary bicycle that, while modern, isn’t really so far removed from it’s 18th century progenitor.
And the product has gone on to spawn an entirely new market for high-tech fitness equipment, worth hundreds of billions, and even has a fresh Utah startup looking to disrupt workout conventions.
The key driver to Peloton’s success has been the power of its 22-inch, Wi-Fi enabled screen, thanks to wildly popular classes that feature ultra-fit instructors with big personalities that draw thousands of participants who can live monitor where they fit into the throngs thanks to ride data that streams to Peloton servers. One class on Thanksgiving day last year drew a record 11,000-plus riders.
The cost of this group experience? The Peloton bike will currently set you back $2,245 and buyers are obligated to a one-year subscription to the company’s streaming service, which adds $39 per month to the cost of riding. Ahead of a public stock offering last September, the company claimed nearly 1.5 million subscribers of which 500,000 were active users.
That level of engagement, described by one reviewer as a “cult-like following,” has been parlayed into expansive financial success for Peloton. The company raised over $1 billion in its September 2019 stock offering and, with a current stock value that’s about 10% above its launch price, puts Peloton near an $8 billion market capitalization.
University of Utah professor of kinesiology Traci Thompson said it’s not just tech-savvy millennials and Gen Z-ers that are being drawn into heightened fitness awareness, thanks to ongoing innovations.
“I think the way technology has evolved in the wellness and fitness world has, in a lot of ways, made things widely available that used to be only accessible to people with disposable time and money,” Thompson said. “Individualized training programs and feedback coming directly to you, not too long ago, was information that was out of reach unless you could afford to see a personal trainer or have professional testing done.”
Thompson said easy tools like fitness bands and smartphone software that monitors and tracks activity, diet and even personal biometrics like heart rate and sleep cycle are in wide use, span generational boundaries and have helped pave the way for a broader comfort with new advancements. She noted the fitness interactivity elements that innovators like Peloton have engineered were making experiences that were once the exclusive domain of health clubs now available in people’s homes.
“Companies like Peloton are providing you with something that not that long ago you would have only found at a class through your gym membership,” Thompson said. “I think what they’re doing is interesting and ... I understand the appeal.”
That appeal is well on the radars of a slew of enterprises that are working to bring that big-screen interactivity into other fitness channels.
The Mirror touts itself as a home fitness trainer and, as the name implies is a mirror and large, vertical LCD screen sandwiched together. Like Peloton, purchase of the $1,495 device requires a subscription contract that costs $39 per month. The live and on-demand content from the company feature fitness trainers that appear on the screen and from whom users can visually match form for whatever exercise they’re engaging.
Tonal’s device goes for the same wall-mounted vertical screen as Mirror, but also includes cable “digital weights” that are integrated via two arms attached to the sides of the screen. Cable resistance and position can be adjusted and workout instructors appear on screen to guide training sessions. Access to those workouts comes via a $49 per month subscription on top of the Tonal’s $3,000 retail price.
And if you always wanted to join Fight Club but couldn’t be bothered to leave the house, FightCamp has just the solution. Sensors in a pedestal-mounted punching bag and boxing gloves feed information to an interface that will evaluate and rate your workout. You’ll have to provide your own screen for streaming lessons and instruction from a $39 per month subscription, and the FightCamp full equipment package — which includes the smart bag, hand wraps, gloves and an exercise mat — will set you back $1,219.
Utah startup True Adherence is looking to elevate the combination of big screen interactivity and advanced fitness technology with a device that uses video cameras and onboard processing to see, assess and correct weight training workouts in real time.
University of Utah graduate student and True Adherence CEO Kyle Poulin has a background as a professional personal trainer and saw a path by which he could translate what he did for clients into a digitally-driven system.
“I’d seen the darker side of weight training where people didn’t have a trainer and they got injured just because they were trying to get healthy,” Poulin said. “I wanted to design a system that made sure people have proper form and technique and are actually enjoying the process.
“I started working on ideas focused on creating a way to make this more efficient with computer vision and other technologies that will actually allow people to have a safe and positive digital personal trainer experience.”
The pedestal mounted True Adherence is another big, vertical screen that displays workout data like reps and duration for the user, who stands just a few feet in front of the device. But whereas the other big screen workout systems just show an instructor to follow along with, True Adherence technology offers dozens of guided weight training workouts and uses its onboard cameras to “see” and analyze the user, projecting them back as a sort of skeletal animation, with color-coded highlights showing how well, or not, your form is. Green lets you know you’re on track, but a red highlight coaxes you, in real time, to maintain your midline or stop abducting your right knee.
Poulin characterized the cardio-focused systems of companies like Peloton and Mirror as a “merging of Netflix with traditional” exercises and equipment, but True Adherence is pushing for something more focused on individual improvement and advancement in the realm of resistance training.
Poulin and True Adherence Chief Technology Officer Chris Bright said upcoming real-world testing will be an opportunity to continue to fine-tune their system while they and their team continue to work on product development.
Veteran entrepreneur and executive director of the U.’s Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute Troy D’Ambrosio is working as a consultant with Poulin and Bright, who are also students in the school’s Master of Business Creation program. D’Ambrosio said the company is on a unique innovation path.
“Fitness is one of the latest industries to be disrupted by digital technologies,” D’Ambrosio said. “Companies are finding ways to use these technologies to make fitness more engaging and productive.
“True Adherence ... is a perfect example. It is using feedback technology to help weightlifters improve their form. This is creating a new experience that never existed before.”
Correction: An earlier version incorrectly stated the price for the full FightCamp package as $1,995. The current price is $1,219, according to a company spokeswoman.