While fitness tech has been one of the fastest-growing sectors in the world since 2016, the pandemic might just have triggered the sharpest growth in the industry yet. In the months before the pandemic, fitness enthusiasts were starting to team their wearables with at-home fitness and outdoor workouts like cross-functional training, kickboxing, piloxing, and a variety of other new ideas.
Fitness providers were also beginning to identify the demand for virtual training and recognise the potential of online services. The pandemic and resulting lockdowns pushed both to quickly embrace these technology-driven alternatives, giving rise to an era of technology-driven fitness in India.
In 2021, as the pandemic wears away, technology will unlock ways for the industry to boost both its online and offline offerings. Here are some of the trends that will become more prominent in the months to come:
Wearable to dominate, as AI and analytics emerge as key drivers
Wearables were the top trend of 2020 and will likely maintain their hold on the fitness sector in the coming year — if not emerge stronger. This trend stems from precise health information these devices collect, allowing fitness seekers to design their workouts to address specific concerns and meet carefully identified goals.
With the increased focus on at-home fitness, users will team their virtual workouts with a range of devices, including fitness trackers, smartwatches, heart rate monitors, and GPS trackers. Furthermore, the advent of smart clothing like vibrating leggings and biometric shirts shows that innovation in the fitness wearables space has only just begun.
The focus will also be on data collected from fitness wearables that, coupled with artificial intelligence, opens a range of possibilities for the industry. Considering that wearable apps have already permeated through almost all verticals of the fitness industry, the future will likely see a growth in data-driven holistic workouts, highly personalised coaching, and Virtual Reality sports and training programmes. AI-based solutions are also likely to find greater adoption in 2021.
Fitness apps integrated with AI and machine learning, for example, can now provide virtual assistants who, much like human trainers, educate people on correct postures and provide efficient one-on-one feedback.
The technologies are also helping to enhance existing fitness tools. AI-powered wearables, for example, can detect irregularities in health data and give early warnings for conditions such as diabetes or heart diseases.
Similarly, AI-powered intelligent footwear and yoga suits can monitor movements and alert users on incorrect postures. Fitness apps are also innovating with artificial intelligence consistently to create products like smart assistants for gyms and studios or diet planners that account for individual calorie requirements based on user lifestyle.
Virtual fitness is here to stay; gamification set to rise
The concept of virtual fitness is now well past being just a method to traverse the challenges presented by COVID-19, and has established itself as one of the top emerging trends of the post-COVID world. It is attracting both sports and fitness fans, for whom the market now has abundant mobile apps and social media channels that provide on-demand libraries of virtual workouts and even remote coaching services. Patrons are also reaching out to their gym chains and boutique studios to provide virtual fitness options.
For fitness enthusiasts, the trend opens the possibility to plan training programmes, monitoring, and even inspiring to stay fit at their pace and for a lower cost. Virtual options are, hence, likely to gain ground among budding fitness fans as they work on gaining confidence and knowledge.
Furthermore, the industry expects that people who have adapted to digital workouts and online fitness classes will stick to their newly-formed habits, which are saving their resources, the time spent on workout preparation, and related travel.
The fitness industry will also witness a shift towards the gamification of fitness through AR-based gamified fitness apps. These apps are helping the industry explore newer ways of engaging with fitness enthusiasts, apart from making fitness more accessible to perhaps even those for whom it is not a priority.
Remote coaching set to get bigger
One-on-one training motivates users to exercise regularly, both at home and the gym, and allows them to track the progress from each session precisely. Similarly, trainers can also review the trainee’s progress, and make recommendations in a highly personalised manner, making the whole process incredibly fruitful.
It is no surprise, then, that 2020 saw fitness enthusiasts make extensive investments in at-home exercise equipment. In a recent study, McKinsey noted a 12 percent increase in at-home exercising in the US.
The trend is also prominent in India and is highly likely to become more popular as the country’s fitness demands continue to rise steadily. As a result, at-home gyms will be the new normal of the post-COVID world and emerge as a significant trend in the coming year. Industry experts expect this trend to drive a sharp spike in demand for highly-trained fitness specialists who implement a holistic approach to wellness, and are capable of coaching users remotely.
Tech-driven changes at gyms and fitness studios
In 2021, gym chains and boutique studios will adopt technology faster to boost their services with modern equipment. Leveraging smart, cloud-based technologies, these intelligent fitness products will help gym owners and trainers improve member performance and enhance their workout experience by combining their expertise with real-time data.
Technology will also provide solutions for hygiene concerns that have stemmed from the pandemic. For example, some fitness providers have begun using contactless or low-touch check-ins, facial recognition-based attendance tracking, and touchless payment options – thus minimising the physical contact environment.
This tech intervention will also extend to digital gym management, with feature-rich platforms enabling owners of gyms and fitness studios to seamlessly manage their operations and maximise resource utilisation for increased profitability.
These solutions will not only help fitness entrepreneurs to bolster their digital presence at a time when online fitness is fast emerging as a lucrative growth area, but also improve communication and services delivered to the end-customer.
This year will create a new benchmark in the role played by technology in the fitness industry. Beyond wearable accessories, AI-powered tech solutions will revolutionise how users approach fitness and significantly personalise services on offer, including workouts, virtual reality gamification, diet management, and even selection processes for coaches and training programems. This digital leap is unlikely to stifle as the pandemic fears ebb, and will play the primary role in defining fitness trends for years to come.
Edited by Kanishk Singh
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)