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Summary:

Could data and connected devices make personal trainers obsolete? Fitness equipment and quantified self gear is coming on the market armed with algorithms that know if your crunches are correct and how effective your squats are.

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photo: Atlas

Gym rats and exercise fiends will soon have a wealth of connected equipment and tools that can track their movement, biological data and make exercise recommendations all based on algorithms running in the cloud. Instead of a personal trainer you might wear a wristband that tracks your workout against your goals and then suggests a few more reps.

Atlas Wearables, an Austin, Texas, company, has built a wristband that can track a variety of exercises and the wearer’s heart rate to offer up suggestions for exercises to work different muscles or just to help you meet goals. I covered the company at its launch during the TechStars demo day, because I was impressed that it had created algorithms that can track what movement a person is making. At the time, the company’s CEO and co-founder Peter Li wasn’t sure if he wanted to license the motion algorithm technology to other fitness tracking companies or to produce an actual tracker.

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“We decided to go all in,” he said in an interview on Friday. “There was so much we could do if we decided to control the whole experience.” Some of those things include building a community of users, some of whom will be fitness professionals, whose data will be used to calculate an algorithm for proper form on certain exercises. So not only will the Atlas band be able to tell when you are doing push ups, it can tell if you are doing them correctly.

The company is raising money via an Indiegogo campaign, and the final band should ship in December. It’s working with Dragon Innovations to perfect the device, which it plans to sell for around $200. Li expects to launch a software development kit and an API for companies to build products that work with the Atlas band, although he’s not sure he has the staff at the moment to support a bunch of devices and services out of the gate.

He envisions the band as something hardcore gym-goers use, not as something people wear all the time as a fitness tracker. In that scenario his competition will be more like the Garmin and Polar heart rate monitors that people wear as opposed to the Jawbone or Fitbit (see disclosure) devices. Another startup called Amiigo is taking a similar data-driven approach to exercise monitoring.

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But as cool as advanced as the Atlas band might be, I’m intrigued too about the relationship connected equipment in the gym might have with everyday fitness trackers. A few months ago I chatted with David Flynt, director of the experience development center at Precor, which makes fitness equipment, about automating gyms. He explained that Precor has been working to let people send their workout data to Microsoft’s HealthVault product and would eventually like to set up links between the Precor equipment and other people’s fitness trackers, so the machine might be better able to calculate a workout based on your existing activity from the day.

It also might produce a more accurate representation of the calories burned on a machine, but the focus at Precor isn’t just about an individual’s quantified self — it’s about how to help gym owners build a better business. Flynt said that as a business-to-business retailer, Precor’s thinking about connectivity and data as a way to help make gym owners more profitable, maybe through letting people sign up to use a machine and then texting them when one is free or through tracking a user and emailing them if they need to get to the gym.

Atlas has similar plans when it comes to helping gyms communicate with their clientele outside the confines of the gym’s four walls. While Atlas believes that the consumer will be the keeper of their fitness data, it thinks customers might share that info with a gym if it offered incentives to do so. At some point your wristband could communicate with the machines on the floor and when you arrive you could get a custom work-out that takes into account where others are and will be going throughout their workouts. This could mean a better workout with less or no waiting.

To better understand the potential for building better customer experiences or to drive people back to the gym (or your retail store) check out Jason Jacobs, the founder & CEO of RunKeeper, who will be speaking at our Structure Data conference in New York City this March.

Disclosure: Fitbit is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.

  1. Great blog! Really like trend of IoT evolving fast with applied devices and connectivity! Do you foresee any challenges in the capacity of cloud services to meet the rapidly increasing demand?

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  2. Kerstin Kitzmann Friday, February 14, 2014

    It’s really impressive. Only counting steps shouldn´t be enough for this kind of devices;)
    Unfortunately I am too far away from this very interesting Structure Data Conference:/ Will a videostream be available?

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    1. There will be a livestream for Structure Data. Check the site on the day of the event of the link.

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  3. Hmm… some of the more valuable aspects of a, good personal, trainer are:
    * Spotter – essential when doing some weight exercises
    * Motivator – you will be surprised of what you are capable of when properly motivated by a personal trainer
    * Form – advice on good form, correction of bad form
    * Nutrition – many people think this is generic and one can get it from a book, but that is not really true

    And the list goes on.

    So, no, personal trainers trainers are not going away. If your personal trainer only tells you what exercise to do, get a new personal trainer.

    I am not a personal trainer, but I had a really good one back in my early 20s, and it made a big difference. If you want to spend money on a trainer, get someone good, otherwise do not waste your money.

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    1. Atlas can help with the form question and motivation if you share your workouts and find yourself motivated by friendly competition. But yes, if you can afford a personal trainer and have a good one, it’s invaluable. But it’s expensive and hard to find a good one.

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