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Expert Perspectives

The Year in Review: What’s the Best Fitness Technology for You?

By Shaun Francis, CEO and chair, Medcan

Our CEO explores one of the top wellness trends of 2021: The Gamification of Exercise.

This year, a new class of fitness technology crossed over to the mainstream: connected home fitness equipment. Suddenly, treadmills, stationary bikes, rowing machines and even at-home universal weight machines have sprouted screens and become connected through virtual means to a community of other fitness enthusiasts. The result? Support from peers, and the transformation of fitness into a competitive pursuit that can spur participants to work out harder than before.

Before, wearable technology like the Fitbit, Apple Watch, the Oura Ring and the Whoop band allowed us to track speed, distance, calories burned and average heart rates, among other metrics. Now, the new connected equipment pushes fitness to be even more like a game. Regardless of where you’re physically located, it’s possible to go on rides, runs and workouts with other human beings in a community, in real-time. This amps up competition with oneself, and the community of participants that exists around your chosen connected device, even when members are not together physically.

Take Peloton. The U.S. company is renowned for its stationary bicycle. (Full disclosure: I have one.) Other products including a treadmill and a subscription-based application for on-demand fitness classes. Competitors include Tonal, the wall-mounted strength-training solution, and Hydrow, a connected rowing machine. Lululemon even spent $500 million USD acquiring Mirror, an interactive fitness company known for its reflective wall-mounted smart display. There’s even a smart exercise bike for kids on the market called the Little Tikes’ Pelican.

Regardless of which product you prefer, the new technology came along at exactly the right time, because it helped people to stay fit while gyms were closed. Now, even though gyms are open and life feels almost back to normal, these products are likely to stick around. They’re convenient, and compelling. And most importantly, they make fitness fun.

The new connected technologies do raise questions. People wonder how they should be integrated into a well-rounded fitness routine that optimizes physical and mental health. No single piece of equipment can satisfy all your needs. A connected stationary bike is great for the aerobic system, and developing leg muscles, but requires other equipment to develop upper body muscles. Talk to your trainer to determine how any single device can help you achieve your wellness goals.

It’s also useful to consider whether the investment is worth it. Initial outlay can run in the thousands of dollars, plus the ongoing subscription fee for community membership. If you can afford it, I say, why not? These products can add variety to your routine and reduce the excuse to avoid exercise in inclement weather. Just like work, it seems certain that our exercise routines will remain in hybrid mode – sometimes it makes sense to work out at home, while on other occasions the gym is preferential. Connected home fitness equipment provides you with options.

So, which type of connected home fitness equipment is best for you? That question is easy to answer. It’s the one that you’re going to use the most. But let’s recognize that many of us have basements, attics or storage lockers that feature single-use fitness equipment from yesteryear, such as hydraulic rowing machines, treadmills, ellipticals or universal gyms, to name a few. And most of these pieces must be used indoors. Again, great on a rainy or icy day, but sometimes, I find an outdoor run is just the thing to dispel the cabin fever that can strike in January and February.

The new world of connected fitness can be exciting, particularly if the purchase of one of these devices provides the inspiration you need to ramp up your exercise game. Before you do make a big purchase, however, I’d recommend that you consult with a qualified personal trainer. And if you already have a smart exercise device, talk to your trainer about how it can fit into a well-balanced workout routine.

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