It’s mind-boggling to keep up with how fast technology has, and continues to, advance. From updated smart devices coming out every two years to the development of virtual reality for video gaming, it’s no surprise that fitness technology has followed suit.
Though basic innovations such as heart monitors and body analysis machines have resided in gyms for a while now, many fitness centres in the UAE are looking for new and creative ways to help members get fit while monitoring their health and progress.
Home-grown, high-end brand Talise Fitness offers several options for members, from electronic-muscular stimulation and a high-altitude training studio to Les Mills Virtual group exercise classes.
“[In the Les Mills class], ‘virtual’ instructors are projected from a large screen, providing choreographed classes,” explains Des Cawley, director of Talise Fitness Operations.
“We recognise that when a group of people work out together, it provides greater motivation and these group-exercise classes can be run throughout the day, particularly at ‘off-peak’ times.” Talise also recently introduced high-altitude group cycling classes at its Madinat Jumeirah location in Dubai. During these classes, the oxygen in the room is lowered, improving “oxygen absorption, transportation and utilisation, for an increase in overall fitness and optimisation of heart rate at rest”, says Cawley.
Fitness First Middle East is another institution constantly looking for ways to improve the use of technology in its facilities.
MyZone, a heart rate-based system that uses wireless and cloud technology to monitor heart rate, calories burnt and the time spent exercising, was introduced to the club in 2013.
More recently, the brand upgraded to a newer version, the MZ-3, which according to Fitness First’s head of fitness, Alan Holl, allows for better connectivity, provides on-the-go workout updates, and features a newly updated phone app.
“We want to encourage our members to train wherever they are, whether that be on a business trip, holiday, at home, and with the MyZone MZ-3, our members can now keep track of their progress, with no limitations.”
Considering all the technological innovation, however, the question remains, does any of it actually help one reach his or her fitness goals?
Research recently published by The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology found that, in a year-long study, “800, full-time working volunteers who wore the activity trackers recorded no change in their step count, but moderately increased their amount of aerobic activity by an average of 16 minutes per week”.
Professor Eric Finkelstein from Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore found that there was no evidence that the devices promoted weight loss or improved blood pressure or cardiorespiratory fitness, either with or without financial incentives.
This, however, is not the experience of everyone in the industry. Holl has found that while technology can provide motivation, the results depend on the type of person using it.
“We often find that members training for competitions such as triathlons or marathons are more likely to want to analyse their workouts so they can strategise to improve their performance,” he explains.
It also depends on how tech-savvy the individual is, though Holl admits that because so much of it can be as simple as a background app running on a phone, “the possibilities are endless”.
David Maris, a personal trainer at Regime Fitness in Dubai, who specialises in speed and sprint training and uses Freelap (a time tracker for sprints) with his clients, believes that though technology can be helpful in aiding a client to reach his or her fitness goals, it should not replace the trainer’s expertise.
“I believe that the trainer should trust their experience, and the technology is there to reinforce that,” he says. “The biggest benefit of technology, in my opinion, is in tracking progress, which can indicate to clients that they are both on the right path, and therefore encourage them to adhere to their routine.”
Hannah Bass, a freelance writer and editor who splits her time between Dubai and London, says: “Despite being a gym addict, I despise cardio. In fact, the only way I can make it through a cardio workout is by motivating – and distracting – myself with music.
“My headphones of choice are Jabra Sport Coach. These nifty little buds fit snugly into your ears and connect to your phone via Bluetooth rather than wire. They also have an inbuilt motion sensor that can track how many reps of an exercise you’ve done.”
Bass uses the headphones with the Jabra Sport Life app, which allows her to set and track workouts. “I prefer to blast through one of the preprogrammed circuit workouts, or create my own,” she says. “The app gives you audible instructions while you listen to tunes of your choice, so there’s no need to keep checking your phone for the next exercise.”
Yet, despite the number of success stories linked to the use of fitness technology, one can’t help but wonder at the downside of the constant reliance on these devices. Much like social media and technology in general, fitness technology can pose the issue of isolation. Holl and Cawley agree that the industry needs to ensure it doesn’t lose sight of the importance of interaction.
“While the use of technology has its place, we should be mindful that the fitness industry is a social one and therefore clubs must place emphasis on staff and customer engagement,” says Cawley.
Accuracy is another concern for Holl, who says that much of the technology available in the market today is based around estimates. Even so, as the demand for instant gratification increases, he says, wearable technology will eventually become more accurate.