No Personal Trainer? No Problem!

How technology has disrupted the fitness industry

Next time you go to Shad, take a look around. Are many people meeting with a personal trainer, nutritionist or fitness staff? Probably not. Instead, everyone’s eyes are glued to their smartphones. From smartphone applications devoted to calorie counting to applications geared to virtual fitness competitions on number of steps taken, digital technology has completely disrupted the fitness industry.

Digital Fitness on the Rise

Wearable technology has increased from 5% to over 20% penetration of the North American population. Based on PWC’s Global Study on Wearables, over 60% of these devices are considered personal fitness devices [1]. In 2015, global shipments of wearable fitness devices were 70.2 million units and the total market is projected to be $30 billion by 2018. The widespread use of wearable fitness technology and fitness smartphone applications has resulted in a shift to mass public use of previously insulated and premium services offered at fitness centers. For example, the mass public can now receive personalized fitness video training, coaching, consultation, guidance, and community and data tracking all for a low cost, or in some cases even a freemium model [2].

An Opportunity for Equinox

Some may argue that the rise of digital technology is a huge threat to the traditional fitness industry; however, health clubs such as Equinox view the rise of fitness technology as more of an opportunity than a threat. Equinox was the first chain to partner with Apple when it launched its Healthkit smartphone app in June 2015. The app syncs with members’ wearable technologies to track fitness data, analyze member behavior, and provide users with recommendations, tips and content to improve their fitness routines.



Key features of the app include [4]:

  • Track progression: The App has a feature called “Activity” which users use to aggregate calories, distance run and sessions completed. This data is synced from a user’s wearable fitness device. However, if the user does not have a wearable then they can simply snap a photo of the workout (treadmill dashboard for example) and upload the photo to the app. This will then be automatically added to the sessions tracker.
  • Personalization: The App generates personalized content based on tracking data and workout history. It also suggests classes and workout regimens.
  • Reserve equipment and classes with friends: The app allows users to reserve equipment such as a cycling bike on the go or coordinate a workout class with friends through the fitness social platform feature.

Furthermore, as shown in this video of Equinox President Sarah Robb O’Hagan, Equinox is also actively considering ways to incorporate digital technology into its business model. One other example is through the Company’s new spinning classes called “The Pursuit”. The spin bikes are equipped with digital screens and sensory technology which incorporates gaming and digital visualization to inspire peak individual and group performance. The bikes essentially show gym members how they are performing compared to their peers. As a result, this inspires competition and encourages people to push harder.

So, What Else Should Be Done?

While Equinox has taken a step in the right direction by adapting its business model to incorporate digital technology, it is imperative that the company continue to innovate and focus on upcoming possible disruptive technologies in the fitness space. My view is that Equinox should focus on the following [5]:

  • Incorporating smart clothes in its gyms, including shoes, shorts, and pants
  • Tracking other more sophisticated aspects of a user’s health profile beyond weight and BMI – perhaps cardiovascular health
  • Incorporating skin and or sweat sensors which provide real time biofeedback to users – much more accurate than wearable devices
  • Incorporating artificial intelligence to guide workouts and interpret data at fitness centers

By continuing to innovate and embrace the digital technologies in the fitness industry, Equinox may be able to use the digital technology as a growth opportunity rather than a threat to its business model.

What is your view? Does the rise of technology present an opportunity or a threat to the traditional gym market?

(764 words)


[1] Williams, E. (2015). Digital fitness: The hype is fact, so what are some strategies and tactics? Club Industry, Retrieved from

[2] Wearables, high rents pose a challenge to gym operators. (2015, January 10). Retrieved November 15, 2016, from

[3] Equinox Tries to Make a Gym App That Isn’t Pointless. (2014, June 18). Retrieved November 15, 2016, from

[4] Equinox launches their app today, and we gotta say its pretty badass. (2014, June 16). Retrieved November 15, 2016, from

[5] Tech Disruption and the Fitness Industry. (2016, June 10). Retrieved November 15, 2016, from


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Student comments on No Personal Trainer? No Problem!

  1. Very interesting article!

    I wonder how the fitness industry can think about integrating fitness with other aspects of our lives to boost their customer base. For instance, we could imagine gyms teaming up with insurance companies to lower health premiums based on X number of gym sessions per month. Also, I wonder if the fitness world could be a main driver in the digital health world through fitness AND health tracking (e.g., device connects to your doctor whose system monitors your general health and captures any leading indicators of illness).

  2. Really interesting post! I agree that technology could prove to be an incremental benefit to forward-thinking gyms like Equinox. Those that are likely to be most affected are the fitness professionals who have spent time and money to become certified (e.g., personal trainers, fitness coaches, etc.). Some people rely on personal trainers to provide more accountability, while others enjoy developing a relationship with someone while working out – these trainers likely aren’t at risk, but the others are. A decrease in trainers would indirectly hurt gyms because they make a cut of what members pay their trainers, but they could potentially make it up by luring additional members that are seeking a gym that allows them to take advantage of technology. Going back to personal trainers, though, I wonder if there can be a world where technology and these professionals co-exist. Can personal trainers become technology experts, helping their clients most effectively use the technology, and more importantly, helping interpret the data and make more informed recommendations for their clients?

  3. Super interesting article! It is amazing how during the past few years the whole industry has been disrupted by these wearables and how people quickly adopted their use. For the consumer, it is extremely convenient, less costly and easier to track progress. On the other hand, the less it costs the less engaged you are, and having someone on your shoulders has always had its unique benefits. This is an excellent example of fast adapting companies and how they maneuver to change their business model incorporating the technological advantages that the current ecosystem offers. What Equinox did is remarkable and should be an opportunity moving forward as long as the industry can acknowledge the change and start doing things differently.

  4. I never thought about how wearable technology was impacting the fitness industry. Your idea of developing more advanced sensors could be a huge competitive advantage. It seems as though members that have gone so far as to buy a wearable fitness tracker and buy a gym membership would be encouraged by added technological devices that can only be used at the gym. The key would be having experts (trainers) available to not only demonstrate proper usage, but to facilitate results, which would further encourage people to pay for their membership. This is an exciting future for fitness!

  5. Great read! The health and fitness market has seen a huge growth in the last decade, and gyms have been a beneficiary of this growth, but not a source of it. Therefore, I feel that it is only the gyms and traditional fitness channels that accept and adopt to the digitization of this market that will survive the coming way of “cleaning” of non-compatible business models.

    In the video interview, as Sarah Robb O’Hagan stated, fitness devices do offer a lot of data, but its the interpretation and actioning of that data that will be of most value to the consumers. Equinox has taken a step in the right direction, but must continue to experiment, and not get too comfortable even with any one particular technology going forward. The key is to stay flexible and agile because the digital marketplace has very low costs to keep changing and innovating.

  6. Amazing article! Indeed, you are right! At Shad, it is easy to find someone holding an iPhone with a personal trainner app! Well, I might start doing so as well!
    Digitalization is re-shaping the fitness industry. As you have mentioned, companies such as Equinox are treating this issue as an opportunity. They have to, although wise they will lose their business. Equinox made a smart move to partner with Apple but, as you perfectly pointed, will this be enough?
    I would love to see more incremental disruptive technologies being applied to the fitness industry, aside from the basic stuff we already have. I agree with you, having new technologies applicable to clothes, shoes, and incorporating more sophisticated aspects on it will be just amazing. I guess more and more people are willing to have “professional grade” information about their workout. I’m keen to see new developments on this subjects!

  7. Thanks for the interesting post! While I agree that technology could bring down the barriers for a vast majority of people to work out, I have some doubts on whether it would entirely replace fitness trainers. I think the fundamental value of a fitness trainer are two fold: (1) it cost money and people tend to value the service more when they have to pay for it. As such, the fitness training facilitated by trainers could require more concentration and focus by the trainee; (2) current technology still could not provide customized training and interactive feedback based on individual’s fitness level and training target. Also, studies have shown that the retention rate of some of the app-based training platforms have very low retention rate, simply because people are naturally lazy and app-based fitness programs have yet to find out an effective way to motivate people to continually work out.

  8. Thank you for the great article!
    It seems that Equinox is heading the correct direction, yet I would doubt the actual benefits for the gym per se. Although the application might actually make working out more interesting, I doubt that it will inspire new customers to subscribe to the gym (applications and free exercise usually is not part of Equinox users’ routine). On the contrary, it might fill the gym up and reduce the level of service.

    However, Equinox could potentially leverage its position and provide videotaped classes available on the mobile device, through the application, on a subscription or pay-as-you-go fee (further discounts could be provided to members). This will generate additional revenue streams without hampering the quality of the gym, by “virtually” increasing the available seats of each class to -technically- unlimited.

  9. Great find! I think the app itself is a powerful mechanism through which Equinox can learn more about each customer and customize the health improvement experience in several ways. (1) Equinox should leverage its technology and resulting data to generate new revenue streams with partners in other parts of the health management chain. For example, Equinox could partner with food manufacturers to market appropriate supplements and snacks based on customers’ specific workout history. (2) Equinox could leverage technology to engage those who don’t already frequent gyms and bring them on as new customers. Going to the gym can be daunting for those who are out-of-shape, and an in-home app experience with virtual workout videos and mobile alerts/reminders can help beginners start working out and eventually lure them to the facility. For the seasoned crowd, Equinox can partner with celebrity fitness gurus to provide exclusive in-app content like workout sets and diet plans that users can unlock for a fee. (3) Lastly, many corporations have incentives for employees to stay healthy such as gym subsidies or team fitness goals. Unfortunately solutions are often outdated and require employees to manually input progress on a desktop site. Equinox could charge companies for deploying a co-branded mobile app platform where employees can team up to workout and receive class discounts for reaching fitness goals.

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